Transitioning from high school to college is a BIG deal because high school and college can be very different for many students Here we will help ease some of those anxieties of change and hopefully answer some questions you’re wondering about the transition process!

Understanding the differences

Course levels in college can be divided up into different levels such as:

  • Elementary (introductory classes)
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

GER: In order to successfully graduate from college and earn a degree, you have to complete a certain courses to fulfill certain requirements. Colleges typically require students to complete minimum courses, also known as general education requirements (GER). Colleges will list what is considered general education requirement courses at their institution. 

Major requirements: In order to complete a major, to get a degree in the major, you will need to complete the major’s requirements. You might spend time completing the elementary or introductory courses in order to take the major courses. These are typically the last classes you take to fulfill your major/degree requirements.

School/College: Many four year colleges split and categorize their majors into different disciplines which can be be housed in different “schools” or “colleges” at your institution. For example, the major Chemistry can be housed in the College of Letters and Sciences at your institution. How each different majors, minors, certificates are grouped into the schools and colleges will be dependent on your institution.

Requirements and Prerequisites: Similar to high school, in order to take advanced classes or the next class in sequence, you will need to fulfill the requirements to taking that course. For example, you’ll need to take algebra before you can take geometry, therefor algebra is the prerequisite or required class in order for you to take the geometry course.

Course structure will vary at different college/universities, but there are similar course structures across higher education institutions such as:

  • Lecture
    This is a large classroom where the professor(s) teaches for the entire class and students take notes. Lectures can seat hundreds to students. You might have a discussion course while taking lectures.
  • Discussion
    Discussion or sections are smaller sized classrooms that are required as part of a lecture class. This is where you’ll talk and engage in dialogue about information and content from the lecture and ask questions.
  • Seminar
    Seminars are a small group of students working with the professor usually on specialized or focused areas. Students focus on presentations, research skills, discussion, and are more career oriented.
  • Laboratory
    Labs are taken in addition with science lectures to experience conducting experiments and completing assignments.
  • Studio
    Studios might be separate from classes/subjects that are hands-on to allow students to have an environment where they can create and study. Examples of courses that can have studios are art and drawing courses.
    Independent Study
    Independent study courses are structured outside of a regular lecture by the professor and student to focus on doing a research project and/or require research papers.
  • Source:


  • Similar to high school, you need a particular amount of credits to graduate from high school, you also need a minimum amount of credits to graduate from college.
  • But remember that college is different where you also have to complete major/degree credits and requirements.
  • Each college/institution will be different and have specific requirements for how many credits are per course and are needed for graduation and obtaining a degree.


  • Classes or courses that are more advanced will require introductory or intermediate courses to take them also known generally as prerequisite courses.

Schedule structure

  • Like previously mentioned how courses are structured in college, your schedule will be structured based on your courses. Depending on your major and degree interest, you will have a combination of lectures, discussion, labs, etc. These courses are not full day in length, some of them are 50 minutes to 90 minutes and will vary based on institution.

Frequency of classes

  • Due to the way courses are structured, you might not have class every day or for a full day. You might have two to three classes every day, some might only be in the mornings, or afternoons. This will allow you to have more time to study, work, and other activities.

College’s focus is to prepare you for a specific career or field of expertise. Courses that you take will build your knowledge and skills needed to be successful in an area.

There are majors that will be heavily specialized and specific such as engineering, but there will be other majors such as English which you can invest towards many different fields such as an editor, teacher, writer, etc.

Both high school counselors and academic advisors in college serve similar roles of supporting students in areas of academic planning and career planning.

Some differences are that counselors also help prepare you for college through financial assistance of scholarships and help you through selecting colleges that are appropriate for you.

Academic advisors may support you by referring you to resources on campus, send you career opportunities, and connect you with students and professionals related to your career field/interest.

In high school, due to a smaller number of students, there is a close knit of support within your community such as teachers and counselors that will support you if you reach out. The one-to-one support from teachers, counselors, specialists, and coaches is more readily accessible to students due to the localized space between students and the support systems.

You will be able to get support from teachers and counselors from visiting them after school, during lunch or via appointment.

In college, due to a larger population of students, resources for students can be split up into centers or departments that students will have to seek out or continually navigate to obtain support. Having these resources in different areas of the campus, centers, or departments allow support to be specialized and focused. Students will need to be self-advocates and more self-sufficient to receive adequate support for their needs.

College resources and support consists of Tutoring, group tutoring, peer learning, writing centers, academic services.

Prepare for:

You can get some culture shock when you transition to college. There are differences in:

Learning culture:

There can be a shift/change when it comes to the learning culture between high school and college. For example, while in high school you may have been learning information to pass your classes since you need to fulfill a certain amount of credits and get good grades for college. But in college, you might shift your mindset from just learning to pass a class to attaining knowledge and information to apply for future use in your career and occupation.

Social culture:

There might be a shift in social culture as well in how you interact with your peers and colleagues. College students might interact with each other for various reasons such as to build a network for future career opportunities or due to similar career interests. Also students might build social relations with professors and employers to learn from them and seek guidance.

Socioeconomic culture:

In college, you might meet a variety of students that come from different socioeconomic statuses since students can come from all different parts of the world whereas in high school students might have been from similar socioeconomic backgrounds due to being the same city and district.

Class going culture:

College class culture will vary from high school as well for example, participation level, attendance, and asking questions. Depending if your college is a large campus, you might attend lectures that are attended by well over 200 students whose attendance is not taken and not every student is expected to participate in discussing what is being taught.

Extracurricular culture:

In college, there might be many student organizations, intramural sports, local organizations, and professional sports that you will be involved in. Students will engage in these different extracurricular activities for different reasons such as creating networks, improving their skills in an area, being up to date with information surrounding the organization’s mission, or practicing to play the sport professionally post college.

It’s important to start building relations with your professors, TA’s, peers, and employers because there might be future career opportunities that can be shared with you and presented to you through your relationship to that person.

You can also further your knowledge and interest in your career field through building relationships.

Read more about how you can build and maintain professional relationships while in college here. Click on “Maintaining Professional Relationships”.

In college due to the course structure, you might have more free time versus when you were in high school which were day-long.

Some students will engage in activities to fill up their free time such as greek organizations, student organizations, part time work, research, volunteer, etc.

Make sure you allow time for you to adjust and adapt to having a more open schedule so that you do not overwhelm yourself with many activities when you first get to campus.

Want to learn how you can be successful with managing your time in college? Visit our College Success Strategies page here.

With new change to taking college courses, it might increase in difficulty and expectations of performing in those courses. Because of this, you will need to change and prepare for a shift in your studying habits because different courses in college may require different studying skills and strategies.

Want to learn studying skills? Visit our College Success Strategies page here.

Similar to having more time in college, you might have money to spend in college by yourself or you might have less money to spend in college so you have to learn new ways to effectively spend money so that you have enough to sustain your time in college.

You’ve got to make sure you manage your finances well and understand what are the expenses and costs that you have to meet and which expenses you can be more flexible with. Make sure you have a plan when it comes to saving, spending, and investing.