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The Differences Between High School and College and the Importance of Student-Faculty Interaction for College Success

by Dr. Drew Appleby, IUPUI Professor of Psychology

Page 1: The Differences between High School and College

In High School

In College


Academic expectations are not always high, and good grades can often be obtained with minimum effort. This is especially true for bright students who have discovered they don’t have to expend much effort to earn high grades. Unfortunately, part of being “cool” in high school often depends on the ability to project the appearance of not working hard. Academic expectations are much higher, and minimum effort usually produces poor grades.

Teacher-student contact is close and frequent with classes that usually meet 5 days a week. Teachers are usually very accessible. Classes meet less often—sometimes only once a week—and faculty are usually only available during their office hours and by appointment to address student concerns.

The teacher prepares a lesson plan and uses it to tell students how to prepare for the next class period (e.g., “Be sure to read Chapter 3 in your textbook.” or “Don’t forget to study for tomorrow’s test.”) The instructor prepares a syllabus, distributes and discusses it on the first day of the class, and expects students to follow the syllabus without having to be reminded about what will be done or what assignment is due during the next class period.

Students are assigned daily homework, which teachers collect and check to insure that assigned work is being done. For example, a term paper will require many intermediate steps before the final paper is submitted. Instructors assume students have learned how to “keep up” with their assignments in high school and can be trusted to do course work without being constantly reminded or assigned “busy work” homework.

Parents, teachers, and counselors give advice to and often make decisions for students. Students must abide by their parents’ boundaries and restrictions. Students must learn to rely on themselves and begin to experience the results of their own good and bad decisions. It is their responsibility to seek advice when they need it and to set their own restrictions.

Teachers often contact parents if problems occur. Parents are expected to help students in times of crisis. Students have much more freedom, and must take responsibility for their own actions. Parents may not be aware that a crisis has occurred because the Buckley Amendment protects their sons and daughters’ privacy.

There are distractions from school work, but these are at least partially controlled by rules at school and home (e.g., curfews, dress codes, and enforced study hours). Many distractions exist. Time management and the ability to prioritize become absolutely essential survival skills for college students.

From my point of view, the major difference between high school and college is that college faculty assume their students are responsible adult human beings.

This leads me to believe that successful college freshmen are those who live up to faculty expectations by acting in a responsible and adult manner.


> Page 2: The importance of the connections students can make with faculty and staff
> Page 3: A three step strategy to facilitate student/faculty connections

> Return to General Tips

This page last modified on June 27 2005
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