High School And College – What’s The Difference?

By Marcus D. Dumas, MPH, CHES 

Being a first year college student can be fun but there is one thing you must know going in. Yes, college is a totally different experience than high school. Late night cram sessions. All-you-can-eat pizza and dessert in the caf. Sorority/Fraternity Rush every fall. But, what you may not be prepared for is just how different college will be from high school as it relates to academics. How you might ask?  Lets look at it from two different angles.

emory_pro_class_3_2016The Work Is Different

First, lets discuss the course load.  The work you will receive will be harder if you never developed some foundations in high school.  There will be more of it. You will have a shorter timeline to complete the work. Most assignments are done outside of class. And many times, this work is not checked by the professor but instead it should be used as practice to prepare you for your exams. What you will come to find out is there will be more material to read in comparison to what you received in high school, but you will also find out that everything is not significant.  The professor will give you multiple readings to reiterate the importance of the topic or to help you understand the topic from multiple perspectives.

In addition to this workload, you must identify the skill sets that are needed to adapt to this new environment.  A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Become familiar with the resources available to you
  2. Develop skills to succeed in the classroom (follow instructions, think critically, manage time, take responsibility for your learning and be an active learner)

The Teachers Are Different

Let’s discuss the difference between your high school teacher and the college professor. They’re definitely different. In college, the professor expects the student to be more involved in the learning process.  It can be seen as a partnership. As much as you learn from the professor, he/she is learning from you, the student.

In high school, the teacher will remind you of due dates. In college, everything you need to know is found in the syllabus.  You are not told what to do explicitly but instead expected to figure out what will work best for you. In high school, your teacher will read the book for you but in college, the professor provides the cliff notes and additional information via a lecture, but you are expected to become familiar with the material ahead of time.

Georgetown Course InstructingHow To Get Ready For All The Change

So how do you properly transition from high school to college? Your first year in college is not a continuation of high school in that there is no 13th grade, but instead this is truly a different environment. Before beginning college, it is important to understand that you will be challenged on a different level than what you may have experienced in high school.

The workload increases and the deadlines are closer because there is so much to discuss for each course. You are expected to come to class prepared…meaning you should review the assigned readings before class or at least have an idea of what will be discussed so that you can actively participate instead of trying to figure out what the professor is talking about.

Learning does not end when the professor lets the class out, the true learning will occur outside the classroom.

You are an adult now and must take responsibility for yourself, which means after the first day of class, dissect the syllabus for the course and create a schedule of what you must do for the course. This leads us to time management; if you were not organized in high school, college will force you to manage your time more wisely. In high school, your day ended when class let out but in college when the class lets out, that is when you must go back to study the material and fill in any missing pieces.

Learning does not end when the professor lets the class out, the true learning will occur outside the classroom. At the end of the day, college is the environment that transforms teens into young adults who will change the world. Do not get anxious if this scares you. It is important to understand many succeeded in college before you and many will do it after you. This is your time, so press forward and become successful yourself. And when all else fails, never be afraid to ask for help.

Discover the excitement of college this summer with a pre-college summer program! Go to class. Explore campus. Get ready for college. Find out how a pre-college program can help you prepare for the transition and all the change it will bring!


MD Speaking Marcus Dumas has worked directing Blueprint’s pre-college summer programs since 2015. A graduate of Morehouse College, Marcus first begun public speaking during his first semester as a Man of Morehouse when charged by his elders to “Never forget where you come from and always go back to inspire others to achieve greatness.” A Health Educator by training, Marcus enjoys working with young adults, which led him to a position as a Professor at Georgia Perimeter College teaching courses in both Public Health and Personal & Community Health. To keep him focused on his mission of being an agent of change he has uses the following mantra to encourage him daily, “ASPIRE TO INSPIRE BEFORE YOU EXPIRE!”