How College Life Differs From High School Life

By Danni White on September 13, 2017

We all know in our heads that college is extremely different from high school. Our parents told us. Our teachers warned us. Our older siblings came home on holidays with all the stories of college life’s pains and joys. But just like many things in life, college is what you make of it. It can be super awesome, downright terrible, or a complete blur for four years.

Nearly every freshman gets butterflies in the stomach as freshman move-in day and orientation week approaches. But just how different is college life from high school and how much more difficult will it be?

Here are a few pointers to consider as you make the transition from high school graduate to college freshman.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you half-assed it in high school, you will be doomed in college. This isn’t your super-easy pop history quiz once a semester or 250-word paragraph (called an essay) you were asked to write in high school. College means work, and work means long assignments that require research and reading beyond the classroom lecture.

In high school, everyone may have won a trophy for participation, but in college, professors don’t just give out A’s for effort. There is always something to learn, and when you think you’ve covered a subject from end to end, you’ll likely discover something else that you’ve never heard of before.

Image via College Humor


Professors in college are also different from teachers in high school. Your teacher may have come to you if she sensed you were struggling. She may have reminded you of homework due or stayed around after class to assist you or provide you with the information you missed due to sickness, conflicting schedules, or plain tardiness. This is not the case in college.

In college, professors expect you to come to class on-time and to come prepared. If you need help, you must ask and if you want a professor to help you, most likely you’ll need to make an appointment within their office hours which are not typically 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Professors may not take roll but they can tell if you don’t show up and how many times you’ve missed. You are expected to identify how you learn best, take notes (or be smart enough to ask a classmate for them), do research, summarize large amounts of information, and think deeply about specific topics.

In high school, you may have been spoon-fed to get through. In college, you’ll be given a menu and asked to make sense of it within different contexts. Professors are SMEs (subject matter experts) and typically cannot be fooled by sloppy work. In high school, you’re expected to listen; in college, you’re expected to listen AND have an opinion: wise enough to listen but smart enough to hold a conversation about the topic you’re studying.

Image via Reddit


There is a term called “helicopter parents” which is simply parents who hover over their children to ensure they don’t make a mistake and have everything they need. There is no such thing in college unless your parents live with you in the dorm which is unlikely. Having no parents around means no one is reminding you to study for that Friday afternoon test or get going on that 20-page paper due in two weeks. It means no one ensures you eat, exercise, do laundry, shower, or wake up on time.

No parents means no one will check your grades or read you the riot act if you don’t straighten up and fly right. Parents can give their opinion about your life and what you do, but they cannot force you to do it. (Although, they probably can if they are paying your tuition, car note, meals, and weekend recreation fees.)


In college, professional and sometimes famous and accomplished people come and talk to the student body about their lives or jobs or offer some words of wisdom. When they do, you should sit up, listen up, and learn up. But expect to be given opportunities in which you go out and learn first-hand. Some of the most important lessons you will learn are not those that the professor taught, or that some famous person told you about, but those in which you go, do and see for yourself.

Image via College Humor


In high school, tests are taken frequently, and if you don’t show up to take one, then make-up tests are often available. High school teachers tend to schedule and even reschedule tests in accordance with student-related or school-related events to avoid conflict, and often hold review days to explore main concepts, sometimes almost giving the test answer.

This does not happen in college. Tests are given periodically and often cover large amounts of material. Makeup tests are rarely in a college’s vocabulary and tests are scheduled without regard to school or student-related events. Professors expect you to organize the material and manage your time well enough to study for the test, show up on test day prepared, and apply information to new problems and situations.


It sounds almost like a curse word nowadays, but unlike high school, college demands that you grow up and be responsible. You may not have an 11 p.m. curfew, but it is up to you to get proper sleep. There is often time and even whole days between classes, but it is up to you whether to spend that time studying or partying. Since no one is around to help you set priorities, it is up to you to balance your schedule, manage your time, and if not, face the consequences of not doing so.

Balancing life with school is difficult, but it is not impossible. College isn’t the 13th grade; for many, it’s the pathway to an incredible future. Conscious modification to your study habits, personal responsibility, and work ethic can go a long way in transforming teenagers into mature adults who are ready to take on the world.

Danni White is a developmental psychology graduate student at Liberty University. She works in the digital publishing, media, and technology industries. After this degree, she will go on to work on a PhD in social psychology in which she hopes to do research on perception and social cognition’s impact on human behavior. She hopes to apply this research in corporate HR departments and community-based organizations. In her otherwise limited spare time, she blogs, writes and reads. She loves coffee, sports, music, cooking, meeting new people, and binge watching Netflix.

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