How College Classes are Different than High School Classes

A professor lectures a class.

Rowan Blog contributor Bianca Gray is a senior English major with a concentration in Shakespeare Studies who transferred to Rowan from a private college. She shares her advice on what first-year students can expect when taking college classes. 

The transition from high school to college can be nerve-racking in more ways than one. Traditional first year college students are thrown from a lake to an ocean with no firm understanding of how different high school is from college with only secondhand accounts to go off of. However, these secondhand accounts can be used as points of reference when navigating your first steps of adulthood.

Today, let me help you to better understand the differences between high school and college classes to better prepare you for your college experience.

For starters, the size of a college class can greatly differ from that of a high school class. Key word: can. Dispel the widely perceived misconception that all college classes take place in huge amphitheaters with 100 other students and a professor who doesn’t know your name and never will. While this is the case at larger institutions, it is not true to all colleges and universities.

Many universities hold classes that are only 30 students max, relatively similar to high school classes. For example, Rowan University currently has nearly 20,000 students enrolled at their school now and averages about 20 students to a class. This is the norm for many different schools. Not to mention, the more you progress in your major, the smaller these classes usually become. And, if you choose to go to a small or private institution, the average class size would probably be 15 students. 

An instructor speaks with a student inside James Hall.

Moving onto how the classes themselves differ, let’s talk about the differences between the instructors. Of course, there will always be the professors who are tough graders, sticklers for rules, and maybe a little boring. That’s inevitable. But trust me, the positive experiences with professors will greatly outweigh the negative. Most of them are super understanding of how difficult students’ lives can be and are always willing to make accommodations within reason. Some professors don’t even ask to be called by their official title of ‘professor’ or ‘doctor’ and actually prefer to be called by their first names. That isn’t to say that high school teachers can’t be laid back. In my experience, I find them to be more by the rules of the school, whereas college professors have the freedom to run their classrooms by their own set of rules. 

A college class usually runs about 15 minutes longer than a high school class. However, you don’t really notice the time difference because you most likely won’t be having your classes back-to-back like you do in high school. On any given day, a college student can have four classes to no classes depending on their major and how they make their schedules. Not a fan of Mondays? Well, you can schedule your classes for Tuesdays and Thursdays. College allows for students to have control of their schedules in a way that high school doesn’t. 

A student explains his assignment to his professor.

The most similarities these two types of classes have to each other is usually through their grading systems, but there are still differences present there as well. Speaking from personal experience, the grading system at my college is more relaxed than it was at my high school. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are higher expectations in college class and the work is more challenging which is probably the reason for the differences in grading. 

Just like high school, attendance is important and a major determinant factor for your grade. While a college professor won’t hound you as much about your attendance as a high school teacher, a lack of attendance at class can show your professor that there may be something going on in your personal life or that you aren’t taking the course seriously. In either case, the professor is going to reach out once the absences become excessive. However, if it’s a one-off thing, a professor isn’t going to care if you oversleep and miss your morning class with them but attend your afternoon class that same day. They put trust in you as an adult and that you’re aware of what’s expected of you and that there are consequences to your actions.

These are just a few of the differences that I noted between college and high school classes, but keep in mind that your experience may be different from mine. Every college experience is unique in some way and that’s the great thing about it. I just hope that my words can make your transition from high school to college a bit easier.

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Story by:
Bianca Gray, senior English major

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