No matter your high school experience, you are sure to find a wide range of differences between high school and college. Here are some thoughts on my transition from Catholic high school student to college freshman, some tips to make your transition easier, and a list of the top 5 things that surprised me about college.
What You Take to College Shapes the Experience
I attended an all-girls Catholic high school. Sitting next to a cute boy during geometry class was out of the question. When I bought a stylish outfit at the mall, I couldn’t wear it at school because I was stuck wearing the same skirt and tops everyone else wore. Not having time to do my hair and makeup before school was not a concern for me because there were no boys to impress.
Here are some of the things that definitely got this Catholic high school graduate’s attention in the first few weeks of college:
- Sitting in lecture halls that could hold more than 300 students
- Not having nuns as professors
- Being in an academic setting with male students
- Accidentally writing my high school honor code on every single graded sheet of paper: “I have neither given nor received any unauthorized information on this work”
- Learning about different views, cultures, and religions from my diverse community of classmates
- Not having to wake up at 6 a.m. every school day
- Learning that college students can go out and party “on a school night”
- Falling in love with caffeine
My life as a Catholic high school student made those experiences shocking. Under the heading of things most people can relate to, here are the top 5 things that surprised me about college:
5. You Make Your Own Schedule
You have the freedom to schedule the classes you need, limited only by availability.
Madison Yannatelli, a USF freshman majoring in psychology, says one of the biggest differences she experienced in college was not having to sit in classes all day. “A lot more freedom,” she says. “I don’t have to be in school for six hours (straight). I won’t have classes some days, which is really nice.”
Bottom line: A little focus on time management skills can go a long way.
4. You Can Pull Pre-Exam All-Nighters in the Library
If you ever pulled an all-nighter in high school for a test, it most likely was at your house or a friend’s. At USF, the library is open 24 hours a day from Sunday through Thursday.
My first all-nighter in the library was for a Conflict in the World midterm exam, one of the hardest courses I have taken at USF. I ordered McDonald’s for dinner and breakfast without having to leave the library, thanks to Uber Eats.
I finished, took a 45-minute nap, took the exam, and got an A.
3. The Freedom Is Exhilarating But Brings Accountability
Whether it’s your classes, your sleep schedule, or your homework schedule, it’s all up to you. Parents or professors don’t hover over you about your grades or social choices.
“The main difference between college and high school is the freedom you have,” says Joshua Fiallo, a senior majoring in mass communications. “No one is over your shoulder telling you what you have to do or what you can and cannot do. At the same time, you have to really be on yourself about your homework because no one else is going to tell you to do it. But you have the freedom to choose if you want to go out on a Thursday night – no one is going to tell you no.”
Kiannyz Morales, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, also cites accountability.
“It’s a lot of balancing in college,” Morales says. “In high school, it’s so structured. In college, you get to pick whatever, and you can sleep in to later times, or you can have super-early classes like in high school. You have breaks in between, which is nice because I like to take naps. You also have the freedom of not having to worry about your parents.”
2. You Really Don’t Have to Wake Up Before 8 a.m.
Colleges have 8 a.m. classes, and you might sign up for some, but you have the freedom not to go. Your grades hang in the balance, but you have the freedom to choose – and suffer the consequences.
1. You Learn the Significance of Choices
Welcome to college. It’s time to worry about the real-life effects of choices. With an eye to the future, it’s important to network, take on internships, and sharpen your trade skills.
As an aspiring multimedia journalist, I knew I needed to expand my experience in photography, videography, and writing. On Friday nights, when most college students are out for happy hour, I network at events throughout Tampa, handing out business cards and meeting people while looking for internships and freelance opportunities to strengthen my trade skills and portfolio.
“It’s a big difference, the feeling of independence you get,” says Leda Silveira De Fario Alvim, a freshman majoring in advertising. “You can do whatever you want because you don’t have your parents on top of you, but with that comes great responsibilities.”
As for tips on career success, the trick in college is keeping your eye on short- and long-term goals and realizing how they are related.
Managing Change Is the Key to Success
No matter the number of differences between high school and college or their strangeness, none of them should make you fearful about the overall experience. College presents a chance for a fresh start, to focus on studying what you are passionate about, and to educate and prepare yourself for your career and life.
About Chaveli Guzman
Chaveli Guzman is a graduate of USF's mass communications program and the former multimedia editor for The Oracle, the university's student-run newspaper. In her free time, she is a freelance photographer, videographer and writer.