How is College Different from High School?


How is College Different from High School?: Pointers to Help Students Make the Transition  to College

By: Cheryle D. Snead-Greene, Ph.D., Head Academic Coach, Prairie View A&M University, NTA Board Member

*The top 10 ways that high school is different from college are listed below:

1. In high school… Your teachers constantly remind you of due dates and upcoming tests and quizzes.

1. While in college…Once the professor lists the dates on the course calendar or syllabus, he or she assumes students are capable of obtaining this information on their own without the constant reminders.

2. In high school…Students basically attend school every day for the same hours – so there is quite a bit of structure and sameness to your days.

2. While in college…Classes typically meet only two or three times a week and students have large gaps between classes, leading to very little structure – and often a bit too much freedom that some students cannot handle well.

3. In high school…Students often spend time in class completing assignments to fill class time – what some students refer to as “busywork.”

3. While in college…The bulk of class time is spent taking notes or participating in discussions – not completing homework or other graded assignments.

4. In high school…Teachers often teach to the test – typically feeding students all the information needed to study for exams.

4. While in college…Professors often lecture about much more material than you’ll ever be tested upon — for the sake of knowledge — though you will still need to understand both what material will be tested and the best way for you to study it.

5. In high school…Many students could do very well academically by simply studying an hour or two a week – or by cramming for a test the night before.

5. While in college…The best students cite the importance – and need – to study and prepare for classes on a daily basis. The standard rule is students need to spend three hours of work outside of class for every hour spent in class.

6. In high school…Your teachers are both subject experts and trained educators and in theory know the latest and greatest methods to teach the material.

6. While in college…Your professors – many of whom hold doctoral degrees – are experts in their fields and trained researchers (who must continue to publish to stay academically qualified to teach), but their teaching methods and lecture styles may be completely different from anything you have experienced.

7. In high school…Your teachers keep a watchful eye on your progress and will contact you or your family if your grades are faltering.

7. While in college…Your professors may well be aware of your progress – or lack of it – but most expect their students to initiate discussions about grades and/or seek assistance – all of which is done during your professor’s office hours.

8. In high school…Your reading assignments are fairly light, and some is done in class — whether through individual reading or lecturing straight from the book.

8. While in college…You can expect a very heavy load of reading – all of it done outside of class. Some of the reading may be discussed in class, but even without discussing it, the professor may choose to test you on it.

9. In high school…Students are often spoon-fed all the information, with a focus on facts and memorization.

9.While in college…Students are expected to think – and learn – beyond the facts to develop complex understanding of information and theories from multiple sources.

10.In high school…Students who are struggling can get extra credit for completing additional assignments, improving your overall grade.

10.While in college…Students who are struggling are encouraged to seek extra help and tutoring, but very few college professors offer any type of extra credit.

*Data from

Article from the National Tutoring Association Newsletter Winter 2016

Test Taking Tip 5: Extended Answer Questions

  1. You should have at least 3-4 paragraphs.
  2. Remember to indent each paragraph.
  3. Always proofread your work for spelling and grammar mistakes.
  4. Budget your time and try not to rush the conclusion.
  5. Always remember to answer the question that is asked.


The introduction paragraph should rephrase the question to prompt.  It should also include the topic sentence or thesis. There should be about 3-5 total sentences in the paragraph.  It should begin general by rephrasing the task and end specific with the thesis.

Body Paragraph

There should be at least one body paragraph.  It should flow and be organized logically.  If there are multiple topics, there should be multiple body paragraphs.  For comparisons there should always be at least two body paragraphs.


The conclusion should begin specific by stating the exact conclusion.  It should then become more general towards the end of the paragraph.  The conclusion should also be 3-5 sentences.

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Test Taking Tip 4: Short Answer Questions

  1. Always rephrase the question in the answer.
  2. Keep the answer short and to the point.  Normally 1-3 sentences should be enough to answer the question.
  3. Write in full sentences.
  4. Check your spelling and grammar.
  5. If it is a math question, remember to show all of your work.

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Test Taking Tip 3: Multiple Choice Questions

  1. Eliminate answer choices that you know are wrong.
  2. Look at the choices if something is repeated in multiple answer choices it is more likely to be correct.
  3. Look for the relationship between the answer choices; which ones are similar, which ones are different.
  4. Look at other questions in the test, another question might help you eliminate an answer choice or two.
  5. Depending on how the test is grade (if you do not lose more points for wrong answers than blank answers) always take a guess.

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Test Taking Tip 2: Stress Management

  1. Take 30 second breaks during the test.
  2. Close your eyes and breathe.  Take a few deep breaths.
  3. I know this next one sounds weird but it really does work.  Picture your eyes floating in water.
  4. Remind yourself that you can take this test. Remind yourself that you will pass this test. Remind yourself that you will do well on this test.
  5. Relax and know that this is not the end of the world.  You will get through it.

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Test Taking Tip 1: Time Management

  1.  Budget your time

Figure out how many questions are on the test and how long you have to take the test.  Get a general idea of how far you would like to be when time is half way.  Get a general idea of how long you should spend on each question.  

2. Which questions to answer

Read the question and decide if you can answer the question in a reasonable about of time.  If it will take twice as long as you decided you have, skip it and come back to it if you have time.  Always remember to go back to questions you skipped.

3. When to answer randomly

Different tests are designed differently.  Some tests such as the Redesigned SAT Exam and ACT Exam allow a limited amount of time to complete the test.  During the last seconds of the test, it is a good idea to fill in any answer if you did not have a chance to answer the question.  Since you do not lose points for a wrong answer, there is no penalty for taking a guess.  You never know you can get some of the correct.  Other tests like the Current SAT Exam, take off points for wrong answers.  In this case it is better not to randomly fill in answers.  Finally, other exams such as the GMAT Exam take off more points for a blank answer than a wrong answer.  Again, it is better to randomly fill in an answer than leave it blank.

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College Level Courses in High School


Many schools offer a variety of college level classes including AP, IB, or classes provided by a local college.  Many of these classes require a minimum grade average to enroll and continue the class.  The are many advantages to these classes.  Taking college levels classes in high school shows colleges and potential employers that you are serious about your education.  These classes can also help prepare you for college level work with the support and help your high school teachers provide. Lastly, the count for college credit.  These classes will allow you to take less general education classes in college since you already completed them.

Recommended Downloads:High School Course Planning Sheet

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Elective Classes in High School


There are many options for electives.  Electives are offered in every subject area of the core classes.  There are a certain number of elective classes that are required. Students are required to take 1 credit of art or music, and 2 credits of physical education over 4 years. However,  students need 22 credits to graduate. To receive enough credits students must take additional electives.  Electives allow you to explore different subjects and topics.  This can help you realize what you enjoy and what you would like to study in college or what field you would like to work in.


Recommended Downloads:High School Course Planning Sheet

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Core Classes in High School


Always select your core classes first.  These classes are required for graduation.  They include math, science, English, social studies,  and foreign language.  Many schools offer multiple levels of these classes including Regents level, honors, and AP.  There might also be options for core classes.  College look highly upon students that took additional core classes.  This includes an extra year or two of your foreign language or an extra science or math class.


Recommended Downloads:High School Course Planning Sheet

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Requirements for High School Graduation


These requirements are for the NYS Regents Diploma.

All students are required to have 4 English credits,  4 Social Studies credits,  3 Math credits, 3 Science, 1/2 Health credit,  1 Art or Music credit,  and 2 Physical Education credits.   The Regents Diploma  requires 1 Secondary Language credit and the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation requires 3 Secondary Language credits. Students also need  a total of 22 credits to graduate. These additional credits are earned through electives.  All students are also required to pass the following Regents Exams with at least a 65: Comprehensive English, Global History, US History, and Checkpoint B Language other than English. The Regents Diploma  requires 1 Math and 1 Science and the Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation requires all 3 Maths, 1 physical science  and 1 life science.

Please check with you local school district to check for additional requirements.

Recommended Downloads:High School Course Planning Sheet

Download these resources for free at