Many, if not most high school students, have only a vague understanding of how different their college environment will be. In contrast to the structure of living at home and attending high school, the increased personal freedom experienced at college also means a tremendous increase in individual responsibility. The following comparisons will be helpful to understand these differences as the student prepares:
Classes: Much more free time to manage
High school students attend school six hours a day, 30 hours a week for a minimum of 180 days per school year. Teachers and parents monitor the student’s attendance and textbooks are provided by the school.
At college, students are generally in class only 12 to 16 hours per week on a semester, trimester or quarterly calendar. Depending on the individual college, the student may need to attend evening and/or Saturday classes. Professors may or may not take class attendance. Textbooks are the student’s responsibility and may cost upward of several hundred dollars per semester.
Instruction: Get ready for a big difference
Teachers will assign daily homework, check that it is completed the following day and remind students to turn in their assignments. They are available to assist students understand the material and will usually supplement presentations by putting important information on the board or Smart Screen. Teachers in the public system have received special training as educators and have passed rigorous examinations to work in the education profession.
In contrast to the high school classroom of 20 to 30 students, college instruction may take place in large lecture halls holding several hundred students. College professors will usually distribute a course outline (a.k.a. syllabus) at the beginning of the term that will list the required readings, dates of examinations and due dates of long-term assignments. Nothing more will be said about this. Students are expected to approach the professor if they need assistance. In larger universities, appointments may need to be scheduled weeks in advance. Professors may be talented researchers and authors in their field but not trained as educators. Subsequently, they don’t always discuss material directly in line with the textbook, may make important “suggestions” (take these seriously) for additional reading and present freestyle lectures without writing on the board thus leaving the student to determine the main points when taking notes.
Study Time: Count on devoting much more
While in high school, students will absorb most of their instruction in the classroom and have supplemental homework to complete for the following day. These include reading assignments, short papers or completing specific textbook exercises. Students can easily access a resource room teacher for additional help, if necessary.
College students can expect to spend 2 to 3 hours on outside study for every hour they spend in the classroom. Substantial amounts of outside reading – sometimes 3 to 5 times what the student has experienced in high school – is required and may or may not be reviewed in class. Students must seek out their own tutorial assistance if having difficulty.
Tests and Examinations
Tests are given frequently to cover limited amounts of material and may emphasize memorization of facts. Makeup tests are usually available and accommodations/modifications are guaranteed to special needs students as an entitlement under education law.
College testing varies considerably but usually involves infrequent assessments covering large amounts of information. Pop quizzes may be given without prior announcement. Makeup tests/examinations are rarely administered without a medical excuse. Tests may also require greater analysis and synthesis of material via written essay more than multiple-choice recall. Accommodations for special needs students must be arranged in advance with an A.D.A. Documentation evaluation and the student must meet with the professor to self-advocate their eligibility.
Grades in high school are given for most assigned work. Good homework grades can help offset a poor test grade and vice versa. Students may graduate when they have passed the minimum number of required courses with a grade of “D” or better.
Grades may not be given for all assigned work in college. The opportunity to earn extra credit for missed assignments or poor grades is minimal. Some professors will “recommend” a number of extra credit projects and curve class grades according to who did the most additional work. A grade below a “B” in a major course usually means the course must be repeated. Confirmation of a degree will be permitted only when curricular requirements have all been met satisfactorily.