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How College is Different From High School

College life is not like high school life. How soon you adjust depends on how prepared you are.

For many students, college is their first real taste of freedom. But the lack of outside guidance can lead to problems.

"Some [students] do not know how to handle this freedom and unfortunately make negative decisions that can impact their success during the first year," says Kansas City high school counselor Rob Lundien. "For example, making poor financial decisions, skipping classes, and not managing time effectively."

"From a fairly structured high school schedule to a not-so-structured college schedule, students sometimes develop the habit of procrastination," says Mark Boggie. He is the assistant dean of student services at Cochise College in Arizona.

Time management skills are critical, says Boggie. You might only be in class for 15 hours a week - but you need to account for homework and study time on top of that.

"It is recommended that students spend double the credit value of the course in weekly study time and homework completion," says Boggie. "This means, for a three-credit class, the student should expect to spend at least six hours a week reading, studying and completing assignments.

"Mastering the skill of self-scheduling is of great value for students," he adds. "There are advising and counseling offices at college that can guide students through the process, but the more students have control over the process the better."

Another major difference between high school and college is how the courses are set up. In high school, classes are fairly small and generally meet every day. College courses might have 100 students and meet two or three times a week.

College courses can also have both a lecture and a lab component. High school teachers and college professors also have very different approaches to teaching.

"College instructors expect students to take responsibility for their learning," says Boggie.

"Don't expect your parents to email or call the professor to bail you out of trouble when you miss a due date, or earn a low score on a test," warns Lundien. "The responsibility to be successful is totally up to the student."

You will experience many differences in your freshman year at college. But by learning how to navigate this year successfully, you will ease the transition to college life and set yourself up for greater success in years to come.


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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.