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Office of Academic Advising

High School vs. College

Everyone expects college to be more challenging than high school, but often the reasons for this difference are not made clear. It is not only that more work is assigned and that the expectations are higher. The real difference between college and high school has to do with the way learning is structured. In college, learning does not take place primarily in the classroom, and you, not your professors, are responsible for what you learn.

In high school you devoted 40 hours each week to learning, about 30 hours each week in class, with an additional 10 hours each week studying at home. At New Paltz you will also spend about 40-45 hours each week devoted to learning, with 15 hours each week in class and an additional 30 hours on your own. Although the total number of hours dedicated to school has not changed drastically, the ratio of class time to homework has.

Also, because more time is allocated to homework in college than in high school, the expectations on you are much higher. You are now responsible for organizing a majority of your study time. In high school, your teacher planned most of this time for you. In college it is YOU who must be responsible for this time. Managing this shift in responsibility is one of the most important things you can do to increase your likelihood of success.

Next, let's look at how class time is used in high school versus college. In high school, your teacher often spent time going over the assigned reading and the assigned problems in class or going over important points again and again. In high school, the teacher takes responsibility for helping you to learn the basic facts.

In a college classroom, the professor expects that everyone has read the assigned material and has done the assigned problems before coming to class. The professor will not go over the material point by point. Class time is devoted to building upon the basic facts, discussing implications and applications, and sharing recent developments in the field.

If you come to class without doing the assignments first, you probably will not understand the discussion because it assumes that you already know the basics. This is especially true with courses where knowledge is sequential, such as mathematics or science. Each time you come to class unprepared results in you falling further behind.

Knowing the differences in the way learning is structured at college can help you be successful. The key is to understand how important your time is and to use it well. Think of school as a full-time job with regular 9-5 hours. If you have sports or club activities during the day, then you will need to schedule evening hours to make up for that time. If you are a night person, then go ahead and schedule your homework time at night. Remember to include about eight hours of sleep and time for meals too. Here are some tips for using your learning time effectively:

  • Plan a balanced schedule of activities including school, work, sleep and fun.
  • Study at a regular time and place.
  • Take good class notes and study your notes as soon after class as possible. If this is not possible reserve some time the days of your classes to review the material.
  • Limit blocks of study time to no more than two hours on one subject at a time and spread these blocks throughout the week.
  • Make up for unexpected events that use up study time; remember academics are your primary responsibility.
  • Try to identify the main points of each course and relate these main points to the other material.

College is different than high school, but you can be successful and still have fun. There are 168 hours in a week. If you use 45 of them for learning, and 56 for sleeping, that leaves you 67 hours to meet people, join a club, hear a concert, go to an art museum, take a walk or keep up with the news. You can do it all. Get yourself a good planner, do your scheduling, and have a great year!