The Freshman 15: High School Vs. College

Whenever I think back to my high school life, I am amazed at how much has changed since then. Gone are the days of cheerleading, yearbook editing and wishing the right guy would ask me to the prom. I no longer have to wait until the first week of school to know what classes I’m taking with whom, nor am I stuck in limbo between very defined clique structures.

Of course, life at a 4-year university has its benefits as well as its challenges, but it overall tends to differ from one’s high school experiences. This month, we’ll explore some of those differences and talk about what it really means to make the transition from high school to college!

The Freshman 15: High School Vs. College

1. Grades are much harder to bring up.
Not to scare you (well, maybe a little!), but a lot of college classes — especially the general education requirements you’ll take as a freshman or sophomore — base your grade on relatively fewer assignments than the classes you took in high school ever did. Remember all those busy-work projects you did in your 10th grade English class that didn’t require much thought but still managed to boost your grades? For the most part, you won’t see those again in college. In fact, many college classes rely on only three exam grades and don’t bother to assess you for attendance, homework assignments or additional work. That’s not to say that all classes are like that, but in classes like these, it is important that you do your very best because every grade counts.

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2. Being smart isn’t a bad thing!
Nerdiness may be in the eye of the beholder, but students who get good grades and care about the subject material aren’t going to be looked down upon. Being invested in the course content and maintaining your grades is vital in college, and everyone who wants to go anywhere in life is also going to put the same kind of effort in. Be proud of your work ethic — own it!

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3. There isn’t one set path to follow.
Whether you’re a communications dork like me or you aspire to become a Pixar animator, you have a variety of choices that you alone must make. You shape your education. When I was in high school, I felt a lot of pressure to take AP classes in subjects that didn’t interest me, and felt like I was being pushed toward a math/science education when it didn’t suit my interests or strengths. In college, you may still have to take a few of those classes that don’t interest you as much, but you will also have a greater opportunity to choose classes and major concentrations that will benefit you personally. No pressure.

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4. You take greater responsibility for your work.
Because your college classes will guide you through a major that you chose, you will find more enjoyment and fulfillment in the course material and assignments. Will you still have projects that you would rather not do? Of course… that is unavoidable! However, you will have a lot fewer of those assignments. A film major’s class project will likely relate to filmmaking, which in turn will add to his body of work and play to his interests. Similarly, a biology student will probably enjoy the dissections because they relate to her eventual career in the medical field. Because of this, students tend to be more invested in the classes within their majors and work harder to achieve the course objectives.

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5. Professors aren’t breathing down your neck.
I had a History teacher in 11th grade who berated students in front of the class for not completing their assignments, and lectured them privately afterward as well. (This same teacher also told my parents that I was “smart” but that there was “something missing,” so I can’t say I was a huge fan.) In college, your professors most likely aren’t going to talk to you in the same way. If you miss an assignment for no excusable reason, you will get a zero, plain and simple. Your professor isn’t going to insult you for it, nor will he or she necessarily remind you of future upcoming deadlines. There will still be consequences for not completing your work, but you will have to be proactive and remind yourself of those.

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6. The way you present yourself will have a huge impact on your success.
This does not mean that your image doesn’t matter in high school. However, it matters even more in college. What you put on the Internet, for example, can play a bigger role in whether or not you are accepted for certain jobs or on-campus positions. I have a professor who actually looks his students up on Facebook before the semester begins to determine whether or not any of them have questionable content on their pages. (He doesn’t do it to be judgmental of students — he actually does it because he wants to remind us of what we’re putting out there.) In addition, it’s important to present yourself as responsible and professional in various settings because you never know who might be watching!

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7. You can escape the cliques (to an extent).
Cliques arise in every major, organization and residence hall on campus, but not in the same way they do in high school. If you want to escape the people you’ve known since elementary school, you absolutely can. You’re also not limited to such defined groups… I have friends who are officers in my organization, friends I hang out with most on weekends, friends I can have my girly-talks with, friends in my major and many others. Some of them intermingle and overlap, so I don’t feel like I’m in a clique the same way many other people are. You don’t have to be part of one group, and even if you are, you don’t have to define yourself entirely by the people you spend your time with.

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8. You meet people with vastly different life experiences.
Chances are, you went to high school with people you grew up with, who lived in the same town you did and who belonged to similar socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. In college, you are most likely to come in contact with people whose religious and political views differ from your own, who challenge your way of thinking and teach you something new. I have a lot of friends who grew up in different places than I did, and I love learning about the way they each grew up. Meeting people with diverse backgrounds is important because it teaches you to get along with people who aren’t exactly like you, and it helps you gain a stronger understanding of them.

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9. You have a greater sense of freedom.
You may still be linked to your parents’ bank accounts, but being away from home gives you freedom you probably didn’t have when you lived with Mom and Dad. Missed your curfew? No problem — you create your own curfew now. Want to grow unsightly facial hair? Go on ahead… your parents aren’t going to be there to tell you how scraggly your new beard looks. (Bonus points if you’re a girl.) However, this freedom requires a certain level of responsibility. Yes, you can stay out as late as you want, but you have to decide whether it’s worth the mere three hours of sleep you’ll be able to get before your class (or if it’s worth skipping the class entirely). No, you won’t have to answer to your parents, but you will have to answer to yourself.

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10. You can use awesome free and inexpensive resources that you may never have again.
Your student activity fees and tuition grant you access to a variety of unique resources that most people have to pay a lot of money for in the real world. From gym membership to career planning to on-site health care, your university provides many things that you should take advantage of while you have the chance, things that you likely didn’t receive for free before you entered college. Many colleges also provide counseling services that would be much more expensive in “the real world,” so if you need them, now is the perfect time!

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11. Your professors will assign work without concern for your other classes.
Let’s face it — we’re all going to have days when every assignment seems to be due at once, and exams have piled on top of each other. (For me, that day is going to be April 3.) In high school, some teachers are aware of what others are assigning, and will try to schedule their due dates around that because many of their students are in both classes. But in college, your speech professor won’t care that your statistics test and government paper are due on the same day that you have to deliver your speech; rather, he will continue to schedule assignment due dates at his own convenience.

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12. Your professors care about the material and have relevant work experience.
This is not meant to knock down any high school teachers — many of them are extremely well-qualified and have a love for the subject they teach! I merely mean to say that your college professors will definitely be interested in their course matter and often hold graduate degrees in that subject. Your professor may ultimately hook you up with an internship or give you important job advice down the line. Most likely, your art history professor didn’t decide to teach art history because it was an available teaching position, but rather because he or she conducts important research in that field and truly knows a lot about it.

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13. Your email address cannot be ridiculous.
I’ll admit, I still have my childish email address linked to my Facebook… but I do not give it out to anyone! To all of the LilHotties and SexyMamas of the Internet world, create a more straightforward jane.blart@website.org address that you can give to potential employers and professors. A professional email address (instead of something you picked out in fourth grade) can make or break your success in a way that it never did in high school.

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14. You will live with someone you don’t really know.
Most high schoolers live with their parents/guardians and siblings, not with people they barely know. However, many college students are assigned to live in dorm rooms with complete strangers, which requires them to develop more patience and respect for others’ space. Random roommates don’t always work out well, but many times they do.

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15. You develop more real world experience than ever.
You may have had a part-time job in high school, but as a college student, you will be able to experience major-related internships and on-campus opportunities that relate to your future career. College gives you the chance to pursue your dreams by exposing you to the right people that will help you make it happen!

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What differences have you noticed between high school and college? What other college topics would you like to read about?

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