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

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

Download these resources for free at

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

Download these resources for free at

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

Download these resources for free at

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

High School Transcript


As a senior there is not that much that you can do about your transcript. Your transcript consists of all of your classes and the grades from each class.  If you are unhappy with your transcript there are a few things that you can do.

  1. You can study and try to improve your grade.  You can attend extra help, go to peer tutoring, or hire a professional tutor.
  2. You can try to take an extra elective or two.  High schools offer many choices of electives.  It is also helpful to see what your interests are to help you decide on a possible college major.

As an underclassman you still have many opportunities to improve your transcript.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  Start taking control of your education now.  Study and maintain a good average. Take a few electives instead of extra study halls.  You will be surprised; you may find a new interest or hidden ability.

College Recommendation Letters


Colleges and most jobs require a letter of recommendation.  In high school you ask your teachers for the letters of recommendation.  You should try to get 3 letters.

Remember that you are not the only student. Ask the teacher early so they have time to write all of the letters.

  1. When you ask the teacher be polite and remember to say please and thank you.
  2. You have teachers from all 4 years of high school, you can ask any if them for a letter.
  3. Try to give the teacher all of the forms at once so they can include the same letter easily.

If you are an underclassman you still have time. Make sure you have a few teachers that are able to write a letter of recommendation for you.  If not, now is the time to try to connect with some teachers.  Personalized letters look better for colleges the the teacher must know you to be and to write one.