10 Differences Between High School And College You’ve Never Thought Of

Written by Katy Mcwhirter
Published on January 8, 2023 · Updated on May 28, 2023

10 Differences Between High School And College You’ve Never Thought Of

Written by Katy Mcwhirter
Published on January 8, 2023 · Updated on May 28, 2023

Transitioning from high school to college is an exciting time for many students and lets you step into new areas of independence, higher education, and social circles. Whether you feel fully at home in your high school or are counting down the days to college life, it’s important to recognize that certain things about these two experiences will have both similarities and differences.

From sharing a communal shower or not having a set bedtime to taking on more time-consuming homework, we spotlight some of the major differences between high school and college you may not have considered.

Top 10 Things That Are Different in the High School to College Transition

Social Life

Getting to live and study alongside people who become lifelong friends is one of the lasting benefits of college and also one that is difficult to replicate later in life. Whether you’re enjoying late nights in the dorm, meeting for lunch in the cafeteria, or taking in a show at a local venue, social life during college often makes late nights spent studying feel like less of a chore.

Dorm Life

If you’re used to having your own bedroom and/or bathroom, know that this will likely change in college. Many freshman dorms feature rooms with 2-3 other students and communal showers. It may sound less than ideal at first, but think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From movie nights to getting ready for a night on the town, you’re sure to make plenty of memories with your roommies!

Textbook Costs

High schools typically provide textbooks and workbooks free of charge to students, but this isn’t the case in college. In 2020, EdSource reported that college students spent an average of $1,200 per year on textbooks. If you’re looking to save money and spend less than the average student, consider buying used textbooks online or at a local bookstore, renting them, or checking them out from your library.

Time in Class vs. Homework

In high school, students spend about 30 hours per week in class. But in college, this number drops to between 12-16 hours per week for students taking a full course load. While this may sound like the dream, it’s important to remember that less class time doesn’t mean less homework. In fact, college classes usually have more homework and self-studying than high school classes, so be prepared to stay organized to stay on top of your studies so you’re ready when test time comes around.

More Work

Without belaboring the point, we want to make sure you understand just how much homework college entails. While you may have breezed through some high school assignments, higher education homework typically requires extensive reading, long research papers, and assignments that you’ll need to start well before the morning it’s due. College classes also utilize more group projects, so you’ll be responsible for doing work with other students. We recommend takeing a laptop to class, when allowed, for you to take notes faster as well as a college planner to make sure you never miss an assignment, quiz, or study session.


Perhaps for the first time in your life, college will require you to take on some adult responsibilities. Whether that means knowing when the oil in your car needs changed, keeping up with insurance payments, or not letting your laundry pile turn into a laundry mountain, get ready for a bit more responsibility. You’ll also be doing more grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and paying bills. It might seem like when you start, but you’ll get into the groove faster than you think.

Focused Learning/Majors

In high school, your curriculum is largely set for you and covers a wide array of topics both within and outside your areas of interest. In college you’ll still need to take general education classes (at least freshman year), but you’ll also have the opportunity to focus your learning in a particular area and declare a major that’s actually related to your interests. And sometimes you can even get credit for some of those high school courses, like language or honors classes.

You Do You

There can sometimes be pressure in high school to fit a mold or conform to what others think. This still exists in some colleges to a certain extent, but there is much more freedom for you to be yourself and craft an identity that feels true to your nature. Colleges and universities have so many individuals that you’ll have plenty of opportunity to learn more about yourself and find your people.

Critical Thinking Required

Expectations of professors in college is typically higher than those set by high school teachers, with many emphasizing the importance of critical thinking when analyzing new information and fulfilling assignment requirements. Critical thinking requires closer attention to reason and evidence and active participation in evaluating information. Not only will you need to read and memorize information, but you’ll need to learn how to apply that knowledge in research, projects, and presentations.

No Parents, No Rules

For the first time in their lives, many students will both start college and move away from home at the same time. The freedom that comes with making your own rules and decisions can feel empowering as students test the waters of independence. But this also means you will be treated as an adult in charge of your decisions — and their consequences. So as they say in the movie Freaky Friday, “make good choices!”

What Else Should I Know About Starting College?

Starting college for the first time can feel intimidating, but there are steps you can take to feel more settled and at home. Some of these include:

  • Find fellow entering students on social media and introduce yourself before you get to campus.
  • After signing up for classes, reach out and introduce yourself to professors.
  • Bring items from home that make you feel comfortable and close to friends and family.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities, like Greek life, intramurals, clubs, or even a job on campus.
  • Take part in welcome week activities that encourage getting to know others. They may seem cheesy, but it’ll be worth it to get to know other new students.
  • Create a cozy and inviting dorm area that can serve as a refuge after long days.
  • Review syllabi from each class and highlight important dates.
  • Make time for fun! This is a new adventure after all, so don’t forget to actually have some fun!


  • Is college harder than high school?
    • It’s no secret that college requires more of students. Conversely, it is also what you make of it. If you want a challenging, rigorous college experience, create it for yourself by taking a full class load and subbing the easy classes (like walking) in exchange for more difficult classes that will give you the better foundation for your major. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Is high school or college more fun?
    • Both high school and college present unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to see your friends every day, devote your time to learning, and engage in exciting and fun extracurricular activities. College offers even more opportunities combined with independent living. Just don’t forget the extra responsibilities.
  • What should I know before I start college?
    • College will be unlike anything you’ve experienced before, so make the most of it. Unfortunately, those four years go by way too quickly and are not easily replicated again. Some quick tips – make sure you have all the materials you need for your classes, setup your housing, and put money in your meal plan account. We have some other tips for 10 things you might need before your first day of class.
  • Is college less stressful than high school?
    • The answer to this question depends on many different factors. Both college and high school present challenges that can cause stress at different times. That said, age often offers more tools for dealing with stress.