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High School vs College Life: Fun Must-Know Differences

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: August 30, 2019

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: August 30, 2019


There are some very big differences between high school and college life. Both are fun in their own ways and both have unique experiences to offer you. But there is no denying that there are some fun and important differences between the two in terms of social life, academics, and sports. Finally, one of the biggest differences is how much more you are in control of everything. We’ll go over all of these differences here, and get you the lowdown on high school vs college life.

How Different Are College and High School?

In short, they are extremely different. In college, you can create your own future and your own identity. You get an entirely new social group and newfound independence. You are in full control of who you become.

College is unlike high school, where your identity and reputation has remained the same for a while. You choose your classes and can study anything and you are treated as an adult in those classes. So say goodbye to cliques, set schedules, and mandatory classes, and say hello to choice and independence.

Welcome to college!

High School vs College: Academics

From homework to class time to exams to teacher-student relationships, high school vs college life has its differences.

1. Time Spent in Class and Attendance

Your professor likely won’t be taking attendance, and even if they are, it’s up to you if you want those participation points or not. Your involvement in the class is also voluntary. Your teacher will not call on you like they did in high school, and it’s up to you if you want to do the bare minimum on projects and assignments or really take the time to learn and grow in a subject. Your relationship with professors is also up to you. You can choose to get to know them for networking, or choose to be an (almost) anonymous student in the crowd.

Many students studying at a college library

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2. The Workload

Truthfully, college courses and materials will be more challenging than in high school. But that does not mean it is more challenging to succeed. Some even say college is easier than high school! Exams can be long, writing assignments are frequent, and there are more debates and discussions. Just study hard and be sure of what the teacher is assigning and you’ll be fine.

3. Grades and Graduation

It is your sole responsibility to ensure that you are getting the grades you want. There will be no one to remind you of deadlines, or to push you harder. If you want a bit of a push, try to join a study group in your major or classes but ultimately, it’s still your choice whether to succeed or not in college. Graduating on time is also under your control. You need to make sure that you are both taking and passing the classes you need to graduate from your program on time.

4. Textbooks and the Readings

In high school, textbooks are given to you, but in college they are very expensive. However, you will definitely get your money’s worth, because college is all about textbook reading. Expect to be assigned several chapters of a textbook per week, in addition to research papers, opinion pieces, and other types of books.

5. Class Size, Style and Variety

During college, you will be challenged, but in a good way. You will feel that your mind is being opened in a way that you enjoy, as there is much less rote work in college. In addition, you will finally be studying exactly what you want to study. In the first few years you may find yourself in larger classes, but they will get smaller as courses become more specialized.

At University of the People, as well as with many other flexible, online schools, the most fun part of college academic is the freedom you have to complete classes. You can arrange your flexible coursework for whenever works for your schedule. So whether you are a parent that is struggling to have a healthy work-life balance while you study, or just someone who wants to enjoy the best of all worlds during school- UoPeople is a great choice for you!

High School vs. College: Your Life Won’t Look the Same

University of the People student studying at library

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One of the most fun but also scariest differences in high school vs college life is that you are in the driver’s seat. You are in complete control of your time, your schedule, and your study habits. This can be a fun change because you are finally free to study and organize your day in a way that is best and most productive for you. On the flip side, this can backfire if you don’t organize your time well, or don’t implement enough self discipline.

1. Dorm Life and Roommates

Whether you are living on campus, off campus, or in the Greek community, chances are you will be cohabiting your room or living space with others in college. This is a great opportunity to learn to live with others, make the best friends of your life, and have an amazing support system. If you didn’t choose your roommates or housemates (or even if you did), keep an open mind and establish rules in the beginning.

2. Healthy Lifestyle and What to Eat

Worried about the freshman 15? While it can be tempting to eat whatever you want during college, and hard to stay on top of your health due to a busy schedule, staying healthy and fit is possible. Take advantage of your school gym or intramural leagues, and make the decision to eat healthy by making good food choices and avoiding too many tempting delivery and dessert options.

3. Time Management

In high school, your family members, teachers, and coaches had much more say in your schedule. Now you are on your own and need to learn how to manage your time. Create a weekly calendar for yourself with due dates and events, and make sure to review and update the calendar often.

4. Adulting: Responsibility and Independence

You are now an adult living on your own. That means increased independence and increased risks. It’s up to you to make responsible choices about drinking, drugs, intimacy, academics, and time management. There will be temptations in college to stray from your main purpose of getting an education. Create a strong social support for yourself to help you in college, and start each year with the right intentions.

5. Money

You will also be forced to be either more or completely financially independent. Try to set up a budget as soon as possible that fits with your income and your lifestyle. Speak with your financial aid advisor at the beginning of college and whenever possible throughout to make sure you are doing what you can to either reduce tuition or quality for financial aid. You might need to find part-time work to make ends meet while you are in school as well.

High School vs College: Social Life

New school, new friends, new you! College is a whole new way to meet people and to make new, lasting friendships.

Four students and a dog enjoying a social break from school

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1. New Friends = Diverse Social Life

In college, you will gain so many new friends — from your new living or studying spaces, from classes, extracurricular activities, and part-time work. This leads to a much richer social life than the one you may have had during high school. Your social calendar will be much more varied as well. With new things added such as club meetings, new volunteer opportunities, study groups and greek or dorm events if you choose to live on campus.

2. More Social Opportunities

Your more jam-packed calendar will lead you to meet countless people, and those people will introduce you to more people! You will have endless opportunities to meet others and will constantly be forming new friendships until you find the ones that stick.

3. More Student Diversity

College is full of students of more varied backgrounds than the classmates you spent your high school years with. In high school, you are all from the same area and are all of the same age. In college, you will meet people who came from all over the country, as well as international students from across the globe. There will be students much older than you, as well as people with differing opinions and backgrounds than your own.

4. Multiple Social Groups

Due to your varied social experiences in college, you will end up with multiple social groups — one of the reasons your calendar is so full! Make the best of all these new social experiences while you can and don’t be overwhelmed. You will soon get into your groove and find the groups that you really click with and topics you are truly passionate about that will stay in your life past college.

5. Student-Teacher Relationship: Being Treated as an Adult

At very large universities, you will no longer be able to see your teacher as your friend, or someone who knows you personally. In high school, you see your teachers in small groups every day, and for years throughout the school grounds. A personal relationship usually develops. That is not often the case in college — but use this to your advantage! The fact that not everyone has a personal relationship with professors makes it that much more unique and beneficial to you if you do. Get to know your professors from the start, and what research they are doing or what projects they have been a part of and see if you can get involved somehow. Never too early to start networking!

6. Try to Stand Out to Make New Friends

First of all, it will be harder to stand out in college, simply because there are so many more people there than in high school, and everyone has a wide range of interests and talents. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Put yourself out there, share who you are, and stand out in your own way and you’ll be rewarded with friends who share your interests and values.

High School vs College: Sports

Whether you are a player or a fan, there are some fun differences in college sports.

Student athletes ready for football kickoff

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1. School Spirit

This one will of course depend on the high school and the college you attend. Some colleges don’t have sports teams, but if yours does, be ready for some fun! College sports becomes a big part of social life and the school spirit experienced in college is unavoidably contagious. Even if you are not a sports fan, you might get wrapped up in cheering for your school, or feeling pride with a big win. In addition, college sports are something that people of all ages attend, so you might continue your fandom and game attendance for years after you graduate college.

2. Being a Player

If you already play in high school and are looking to play college sports, make sure you know what you are getting into. Being on a college sports team is much more similar to a part-time job than an extracurricular in terms of commitment, effort and time. Playing in college is a big deal and a serious decision. Being on a sports team in college can also lead to bigger things such as being drafted for a national team, or coaching.

Prepare Yourself for Transition

Blackboard with message about success

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1. Does High School Prepare Students for College?

Unfortunately, most people say that no, high school doesn’t prepare you for college academically or socially. You may be in for quite a surprise your first quarter of college, but remember you’re not alone — many freshmen students have a rocky start to college. If you took AP or IB classes in high school, you may be better equipped for college because you know what to expect academically.

2. Is College Easier Than High School?

College can be easier than high school in certain ways. While yes, it is more academically challenging, there are several things that make college easier than high school. First of all, you are taking less classes and therefore have less due dates and class material to keep track of. You also get a clearly detailed syllabus with class schedule, timeline, grade explanations, and student expectations in the first week, so you know exactly how the semester will go. You can plan ahead and be prepared for every class. Finally, college is easier because you are studying topics that interest you and you are naturally more motivated to study those topics of interest.

3. Is College Better Than High School?

Absolutely — college is the best time of many people’s lives. You are independent for the first time, you get to choose your classes, your social life, and your schedule. This is all very different from high school, where most things are chosen for you, and you have been with the same people and had the same reputation for some time.


In conclusion, high school vs college life does have many differences, but most of them are positive differences. After you graduate high school, you are ready for anything if you put your mind to it!

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At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.