What's the Difference Between High School & College?

KristinaW

Member
I remember high school well and I remember college well. All six and a half years of it. I attended four years of high school just like most other people, but after that, I went to community college for three and a half years, undergraduate as a transfer student for two years and then graduate school for another year. I think that's six and a half. And I'm sure there's a summer and half a semester hidden in there somewhere. My point is, I think I know what I'm talking about when I compare the differences between high school and college.

At first glance, both institutions seem pretty much the same. We're students, they're teachers, and there are a whole bunch of classes. When you get down to it though, there really are some rather distinct differences. Let's talk about grades for a moment. In high school, it sort of doesn't matter how many times you fail. You just keep going and taking those failed classes over and over and over again. In college, things are slightly different. If you fail enough times, you're out. In college, you need to maintain a certain GPA in order to remain at the institution. In high school, they just want you to pass to get the heck out of there.

High school is mandatory. College isn't. Well, if you drop out of high school at 16, it's not really mandatory anymore, but you get the idea. High school is also free for the student. It's free because the generous taxpayers of the local area foot the bill. When it comes to private colleges, the student or student's family pays the bills for tuition and room and board. If you go to a state school, the taxpayers pay for some of the bill, but not all of it. So basically, the high school experience is free for the student, mandatory, and not performance based. The college experience, however, costs money for the student or student's family, optional, and based on performance. You see? I told you these two things weren't the same. But wait...there's more.

You know, ancient universities from way back when (2,500 years B.C.) weren't set up anything like they are today. Today, universities are highly structured, organized to a tee, and give grades at the end of each semester. Students are expected to give presentations, write papers, and interact with professors and other students in a certain fashion. Back, then, universities were set up to be institutions of scholarly learning. They existed merely because the crown, church, or state allowed them to and as far as organized classes went, well, they sort of didn't. Scholars ran the universities and if a student came from a wealthy family or somehow had connections, they'd be allowed to attend to learn from these scholars. Students read books they found of interest available at the university and they'd also attend lectures given by the elders, and if they found themselves in luck, the elders would critique the younger and fresher scholars on their work and interests. So basically, the students were simply the younger and less experienced of the elder scholars. Everyone at the university was considered a scholar though.

Today, things are obviously different. In today's university, professors spend much of their time focusing on how the students are doing and what they're learning. Not all of their time, mind you, but much of it. Professors are responsible for creating classes and nourishing the student's experience. The idea of the university remains the same from ancient times though - it's a center for scholarly study and many of the original goals still remain.

Let's discuss what goes on at the university for a moment. It's a lot different than what goes on at local high schools. Remember, as much as the two differ (high schools and universities), high schools can be incredible launching pads for life at the university. Teachers in high school are very informed, many have advanced degrees, and many are ready and willing to assist you in learning whatever you'd like. But at the university, the goals responsibilities of both professor (teacher) and student are quite different.

1. There's a huge difference between how high school teachers and college professors were trained for their jobs. High school teachers were actually trained to teach, while college professors were trained in their area of expertise. So you may have an earth science teacher in high school who was never an earth science major in college. They might not know anything about earth science, but they sure do know how to teach. Conversely, college professors rarely teach out of their disciplines. Sure, they may have taught while they were in graduate school, but many of them never trained specifically in the art of teaching itself. I can tell you from experience that there really are some lousy college professors out there. The worst are the ones who are so smart that they don't know how to communicate anything. For example, you can have an award winning physicist teaching a class. He might not even speak English. Or he may speak English, but horribly. I can't tell you how many accounting professors I had who I couldn't understand a word from. They were awesome at accounting though. It's your job to figure these people out and to benefit from them.

This isn't to say that all college professors can't teach. Some of the best instructors I've ever had were in college and believe it or not, some of the worst were in high school. Go figure. Anyway, the modern college professor makes much more of an effort when it comes to the actual teaching part of their career than ones of the past. These days, professors develop themselves by attending teaching conferences and presentations, by reading, and by taking courses on how to effectively make their points to classes full of students. Although, some do think of themselves as professors of yesteryear with their long and boring lectures and their big finals, although, these types are becoming more rare.

2. When it comes to their jobs, high school teachers are primarily that - high school teachers. They view themselves mostly as instructors and they spend most of their time forming classes and grading homework and papers. While college professors do the same thing, they don't primarily view themselves as teachers, but more so as scholars. Sure, they're responsible for teaching, but they're also responsible for doing research, writing books, giving presentations, doing consulting work, and interacting with the community in which they belong. Teaching is just one part of what they do for work and I can tell you from first hand experience, it may actually be a small part. I can remember a few professors of mine who really didn't like to teach at all. They were usually busy running around working with their graduate students and consulting gigs.

3. When it comes to what they teach, public school teachers pretty much have their hands tied. They're handed a curriculum and are told to go off and get it done. This is a far cry from what things used to be like. Back just a few decades ago, high school teachers had much more control over what they taught to students. But, with today's homogeneous teaching standards, many schools across the country are forced to administer the same information to students. Conversely, college professors have much more latitude when it comes to what they teach their students. Oftentimes, they even get to make up their own classes. Back when I was in college, I took two very memorable courses: The History of AIDS and The Psychology of Prejudice. The AIDS one was pretty good, but the prejudice one attracted almost every freak from campus and consisted of a professor who never really committed to the class. My point is, while many courses (Accounting, Psychology, Finance) are consistent among professors because there is a core curriculum that must be conveyed, there are many other courses that are creative and seemingly spur of the moment. College is fun like that.

4. This is the big one. This is the one you need to quickly get used to after transitioning from high school to college. In high school, there's a lot of hand holding. Teachers are there to teach and to give lots of face to face instruction that focuses on what goes on in the classroom as well as the homework students complete at home. High school teachers will track a poor student down and encourage him or her to complete assignments and to do better. They'll even call the student's parents if need be. Yeah, I remember that. In college though, you can forget about all this. While in high school all the learning revolved around the teacher, in college, it revolves around the student. It's up to the student to do well, to complete assignments, and to go the extra step to get the best education possible. No one is going to chase you down in college. If you fail, you fail. And beyond this, most of the work in college is done outside the classroom. Going to class is primarily to listen to a lecture and get an assignment. It's on the student's own time that the great majority of work will be completed. Most classes are treated as meetings between great efforts. To merely catch up with what the student has been doing alone or within a group. At a university, professor offer a path for learning and it's up to the student to follow that path.

I can tell you that once you get out of high school and make it to college, after the first few weeks are over and you're used to the way things work, you'll love them. You can work as hard as you want (I mean very hard) and the sky really is the limit. College is a time to become who you always thought you'd be. Professors are colleges and universities are becoming much more student oriented and they're there to help as much as you need them. They offer office hours and tutoring and all that. But, you will need to be the primary driver of your own learning as no one will hunt you down to complete your assignments. Remember, it's you who sought them out, not the other way around. Use them as much as possible.
 
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