10 Ways College Is Totally Different Than High School

College is a completely different playing field than high school. Are you ready to head off to campus?

You high school teachers and advisors can only give you so much advice about transitioning into college. But a lot of this entails generalized tidbits that don’t really amount to anything. These 10 tips will prep you in some of the many ways high school is different than college, and what you can do to make sure you’re ready come day one.

1. The pace is much faster…

Thinking about this logically, you’re spending less time in classes in college than you were in high school. You’re only meeting two or three days a week, and usually only for 50-90 minutes (excluding classes like lab sciences). That means there’s a lot of content to cover in not very much time, and there’s going to be a lot of work to do outside of class. Your professors are going to move fast, and they expect you to be able to keep up. It’s going to feel overwhelming at first, but you’ll get used to it.

2. …but it’s actually possible to get everything done.

The secret to college is good time management. A lot of times in high school, you actually don’t have enough hours in the day to get all your homework done, especially if you’re involved in extracurriculars. College is totally different in that sense—it’s easy to get everything done, as long as you plan accordingly.

3. No one is going to make you do anything.

This one is definitely a double-edged sword. Sure it’s great that teachers aren’t hovering over you for seven hours a day, but that means all responsibilities are your own. You’re an adult, and everyone on campus is going to treat you like one, which means expectations are that much higher. College is like a trial run of “the real world” (whatever that means), so try and establish some good habits now.

4. Your professors will only help you so much.

College professors are completely different than high school teachers. Professors make the bulk of their salary doing academic research and publishing papers—teaching is basically a side hustle. They aren’t as accessible as high school teachers, so be sure to utilize their office hours if you have a question or concern. Otherwise, you’ll fall behind faster than you think.

5. Sometimes it makes sense to skip class.

Any parents reading this, please stop here. Okay, now that they’re gone, listen: there are days when skipping class is the smarter move. I had plenty of days where I had more pressing schoolwork that needed to get done (especially at the end of the semester), and going to sit in a lecture for 90 minutes would have been less helpful than me just staying in to work. Use this tip sparingly to save you some headaches later in the semester.

6. You have to watch your absences more.

Going in tandem with the previous tip, some professors aren’t nearly as generous with their absences. High school has a pretty standard number of times you can be absent (my high school’s was 10 per class semester), and even then you can get written notes to squeak out a few more. College doesn’t go for that. Of course, some professors don’t take attendance and literally don’t care if you show up, but your smaller lecture professors will drum it into you to never skip class. The most egregious example I had was one of my writing professors, who only let students have two absences per semester, and for every subsequent absence, he docked 5% off your final letter grade. Read the syllabus for each class and tread carefully.

7. Registering for classes is no joke.

As a freshman, your advisors definitely hold your hand to make sure you get registered for the right classes and anything you need to take your first semester. After that, it really becomes your responsibility to register for the correct classes, make sure you’re taking the right amount of credit hours, and that you’re chipping away at your major. Be sure to double and triple check your requirements, and jump online as soon as registration opens. Otherwise, classes will definitely fill, and you’ll be out of luck.

8. You have to make an effort to be social.

While there are plenty of opportunities to make friends in college, it’s not as forced as it is in high school. When you’re in the same building with the same people, there’s plenty of “forced” interactions. You’re bound to make friends simply due to proximity. Of course you’re going to share classes with people in college, but because you’re going to be all over campus, social interactions can be sparse if you don’t make it a priority. Be prepared to put yourself out there.

9. It’s easier to drift apart from friends.

Once you and all your friends head off to your respective campuses, you’re all going to get wrapped up in your own lives. It’ll be almost impossible to not lose touch with a few people here and there—and that’s okay. People who want to stay invested in your life will make a genuine effort to be there.

10. You’ll really feel like an adult.

High school can be stifling—most school districts want to hold your hand all the way until graduation, making sure you stay in line to an almost stifling degree. In college, you have free reign to make whatever you want of these next four years. It’s a time to explore and find new interests, make new friends, and start figuring your life out! Enjoy this luxury, because once you graduate and get a job, it’s tough to have that kind of freedom again.

Want more tips and tricks for starting college? Check out our extensive guide to starting college.