4 Differences between High School and College that may catch you by Surprise

Students are currently adjusting to their first year of college and may be surprised to find that some of their grades are a little bit lower than expected. It would seem reasonable for a student who had a 4.0 GPA in high school to assume that all of their college classes will result in the same high grades. However, once in college things are fairly different when it comes to grading, study habits, and student/teacher relationships.


1 – The grading system

The majority of universities allow professors to grade their classes as they see fit within reason. Some professors will put the majority of the weight on assignments while others will focus mainly on exams. There is not a universal standard that may have existed in high school so students should be prepared to approach courses differently. It’s important for students to figure this out straight away by looking at the syllabus. If a student knows they suffer from test anxiety, they should look for classes taught by professors who focus more on assignments. The grading system is not necessarily set in stone, but it is stricter and less forgiving than the high school environment (READ: “5 Things to do with a College Syllabus”).

2 – Late assignments

In high school, students will often receive partial credit or a free pass on at least one assignment per term. In college, this is simply not the case. If an assignment is due the last Monday of each month, then it will always be due the last Monday of each month without excuses. Additionally, students in college often complain that they caught the flu or some such reason right before the assignment is due, explaining that’s why they were not able to finish. They will likely be met with a response from the professor that they had three weeks to finish the assignment, and they shouldn’t have waited until the last minute. This can be a huge wake-up call for many freshmen, and they should be prepared for a much stricter grading system overall.

3 – Study habits

Students in high school are often able to absorb 75% of the reading material and still receive A’s and B’s on their exams. Many high schools support a memorization study system that allows students to learn facts just long enough to excel on the test and then forget about everything that happened in class up until that date. College students, however, will be expected to have a comprehensive understanding of the information to the point that they can answer complex questions that demonstrate this ability. In addition to straight multiple-choice tests, students will have to deal with free response questions, oral presentations, and in-class writing assignments as intense as a take-home research paper. Additionally, students should know that it will take them more time to study for a test in college than it took them in high school. To start, they should probably double their study time to be on the safe side and then adjust based on their current grades (READ: “7 Tips to Settle in at College”).

4 – Student/professor relationships

Once in college students are adults and professors will expect them to take the initiative to ask questions or come to office hours if they need help. This is in contrast to high school where most teachers looked for students who were struggling and reached out to help. In order to succeed in the college environment, and eventually a career, students will need to be able to develop a mature relationship with their professors and open the lines of communication themselves rather than waiting for the professor to do so.

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