A Helpful Guide to High School and College Differences

The transition from high school to college can be daunting. Head into your college journey more prepared with this guide of common differences you’ll encounter.

When transitioning from high school to college, you’ll be faced with a majorly different learning and social environment than you’re used to. From academics to extracurriculars, from making friends to having fun, life as you know it will change—and that will take some adjustment. Here are a few common differences to expect between high school and college as well as some advice that can assist you in having a smoother transition.

Choosing classes

One of the biggest differences you’ll encounter when you get to college is your classes. To start, you’ll have a lot more control in choosing your courses. When deciding which classes to take, you’ll have an advisor to help you. Advisors are specific to your major and will work with you to help you achieve your educational and career goals, similar to a high school counselor. In college, you have the freedom to choose electives and additional classes as long as you complete the courses required for your major. If a certain number of these additional credits fall into the same topic, such as business, you may be able to declare a minor. This is basically a secondary or sub-program of your degree you can earn after you’ve completed enough classes in a particular subject area. In addition, college allows you to plan your schedule more specifically so you don’t have to attend class all day for five days a week like you did in high school. This allows for flexibility for part-time jobs, extracurriculars, and down time. Overall, you’ll be more independent since you get to choose your courses according to your schedule and preferences.

Finding extracurriculars 

In high school, there’s always a variety of clubs being offered, and you may have participated in many of them. Things are a little different when you get to college—and a lot more extensive. Most colleges offer even more club options for students related to particular majors, shared interests and hobbies, athletic programs, ethnicity, academic or professional achievement, and so much more. Check out the list of all the student organizations on your future college’s website so you know what’s available before you get there, but don’t get too overwhelmed by it! You can’t—and aren’t expected to—join everything. Colleges and universities offer so much so there’s something for everyone. Figure out what captures your interest. Consider how certain extracurriculars can benefit your major and résumé, allow you to give back to the community, or enable you to participate in something fun. Be sure to only commit to the amount of clubs and meetings you can handle so you balance your time wisely between your extracurriculars and academics. 

Related: College Organizations and Activities Worth Getting Excited Over

Adapting to the social environment 

In high school, you usually travel from grade to grade with the same individuals from your hometown, sometimes with students you may have gone to middle or elementary school with. As a result, you may not have had much opportunity for new social interactions. In college, students from high schools across the country and even the world gather together and make up a diverse student body. This social atmosphere allows for new connections to be made that can lead to friendships, career opportunities, and broader cultural understanding throughout college and beyond. It can be a bit difficult to take the first step in greeting someone, but just one interaction could change your life. And if you’ve come to college with friends from high school, still try to move outside your comfort zone and meet new people! 

Attending activities and events

Attending on-campus events provides a great opportunity for social interaction. High schools typically provide limited events in accordance with a school’s schedule, staff availability, and budget, but college events can be hosted by the university or different student organizations and are often bigger and more elaborate. Dorms also have floor programs that are hosted by community advisors or RAs for resident engagement. Because there’s more freedom in who can hold events on campus, there are many more opportunities to meet others and engage in your interests. Common activities include movie or game nights, self-care sessions, concerts, informative meetings for specific clubs, and more. You’ll also find musical recitals and athletic events that are hosted similarly to high school. Options for fun and entertainment throughout the week are often never-ending.

Related: Where and How to Find Free Events in College

College can present an overwhelmingly different environment from what students are used to in high school. After all, living at school is a major change in and of itself. However, these changes are beneficial as they allow for students to have more flexibility and pursue their interests throughout their educational journeys. So have fun and explore what your university has to offer! 

If you’re looking for more crucial things to know about college, check out our blog on 3 Things I Wish I'd Known My Freshman Year. 

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About Lianna Jacob

Lianna Jacob is an undergraduate student who has gone through the college admission process and wants to share her experience with others! She enjoys learning more about her Christian faith and spending time with family and friends.



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