High School to College Transition

Frequently, students go to college directly after high school. Many students, however, do not enroll in higher education until several years after their high school graduation. Both groups have something in common: they are new to college with expectations of education based on high school experiences.

High school and college learning environments have several key differences which require significant adjustment for new students.

Possible differences include:

1. Academic Environment

Class instruction time

  • A year-long high school class (equal to one college semester) has approximately 145 hours in class.
  • A one-semester college class has approximately 45 hours in class.
  • College students must account for a minimum of 100 hours of reading, studying and homework outside of class time.

Class structure

  • Professors mainly instruct through lectures.
  • Classes meet less frequently and for fewer hours per week.
  • Class discussions often raise questions instead of answering them.
  • Attendance policies vary considerably.
  • Students choose their own schedules and have more time between classes.

Campus environment

  • There are usually more students on campus.
  • There are more social distractions.

Class activities and assignments

  • Reading assignments may compliment or supplement lectures, rather than parallel the content of the lectures.
  • There is little to no class practice work.
  • Assignments and tasks are often less structured.
  • Instructors place more emphasis on understanding theory than application of theory.
  • Effective, independent library use becomes critically important.

2.  Grading and Testing Practices


  • A grade of A or B may require more complex work.
  • Simply completing an assignment may only earn a grade of C.
  • Some classes base semester grades on only two or three test scores.
  • Instructors usually do not monitor individual students’ progress.


  • Tests may utilize a variety of questions.
  • Essay exams become more common.
  • Lectures and readings present a greater volume of information, so predicting test questions becomes more difficult.
  • Exams are more comprehensive since fewer tests are given.

3. Knowledge Acquisition

College students must develop effective strategies for:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Notetaking
  • Identifying main ideas
  • Marking textbooks
  • Independent monitoring of progress in learning

Student responsibility

  • Instructors will rarely suggest ways to learn material.
  • Instructors will provide fewer visual and study aids.
  • The ability to identify main ideas becomes more important.
  • Students should individually seek supplementary information.
  • Students must independently recognize their need for help and initiate requests for such assistance.

4.  Extent of support

  • Relationships with family and friends may change.
  • Students receive less individual feedback.
  • Environment is more impersonal.
  • Students often are given very little direction.

5.  Academic achievement

  • Classes move at a faster pace with more independent work.
  • High grades may be more difficult to earn.
  • Increased academic competition

6.  Summary

  • College classes require increased self-monitoring.
  • Increased independent studying is necessary.
  • Students take responsibility for time management.
  • Students must develop personal motivation for success.
  • The responsibility for learning shifts from the teacher to the student.
  • College attendance is a choice, not required like high school.
  • You pay to go to college.
  • Programs offer more choices and possible decisions.
  • Establishing the attitude of a dedicated student becomes essential to success.


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