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Have you ever had one of those days where everything was due on the same day? Like one of those train wreck days where you had two tests and a paper due on the same Monday afternoon?
Those days are awful.
In high school, they can kind of just creep up on you. You don’t have any clue what is around the corner and on Friday your math teacher might just spring it on you:
“Test on Monday!”
You planned to spend all weekend studying for your chemistry test Monday and finishing that paper for English class. How is it possible that you can get to studying for this math test also?
You tell your teacher about the conflict, and they say, “Too bad. That is life.”
Well it might be life in high school, but that isn’t life in college.
Despite what so many of your teachers tell you, things don’t necessarily get harder.
In a lot of ways, life in college is easier (and better).
This lie is everywhere, but it just isn’t true.
If you are already the type of high school student that is ambitious and motivated, life is about to get way better.
This is why:
1) College Means No Surprises
In college, those awful surprise tests and papers you find out about several days in advance will cease to exist.
On the first day of every class you take in college, you get a syllabus. A syllabus tells you every assignment you will have all semester. It tells you each reading, every test, and all of the deadlines you need to know.
I have no idea why syllabi were so rare in high school, but I only had one teacher that even attempted to give me a syllabus, and even that teacher didn’t stick to it.
In college, a syllabus is practically the rule of law.
Knowing everything that is ahead of you and being able to plan so you can manage your workload alleviates a lot of stress.
2) You Have Fewer Assignments
In high school, you get homework every night and quizzes at least once every couple of weeks. College is completely different; you are rarely assigned anything that is due more frequently than once a week.
And many classes only have one or two papers due the entire semester.
No more stupid assignments just to prove you did the work.
Writing an outline for each chapter of your textbook?
Organizing your binder in a particular order and having it graded?
Filling in a worksheet with multiple choice comprehension questions on the reading?
These are classic high school assignments that don’t exist in college. It is on you learn the material, and you are not micromanaged on how you do it.
In college, the amount of output you have to produce is way less than it is in high school.
And the output you produce is more meaningful. You are asked to solve complex problems and analyze text deeply.
If you can get that understanding by reading the book, fine. If you can do that by taking thorough notes in class, that is also okay.
Nobody cares how you learn just that you learn.
3) You Take Fewer Classes
Does taking six to eight classes sound normal?
While perhaps the norm in high school, most college students would find the number outrageous. Colleges encourage students to take no more than five courses per term.
And at some colleges, like Colorado College, students only take one class at a time.
By junior and senior years in high school, ambitious students fill their schedules with tons of AP classes.
AP classes are supposed to be college-level courses!
And yet, many times students take six or seven of them at once – more than students would ever take in college.
And these motivated students also lead school clubs and organizations, study for the SATS, create their college list, and apply or scholarships all at the same time.
That is crazy!
When you get to college and find out that a semester involves taking sometimes half as many courses as in high school, it is a huge relief. Instead of jumping between more subjects than you can wrap your head around, you can finally immerse yourself into each field you study.
And you’ll still have plenty of time for extracurricular and social life.
Taking fewer classes is less stressful and means you can invest more deeply into each thing you do.
4) Professors Respect You
Do you ever get the feeling that your teachers don’t respect you?
In high school, teachers prided themselves for their ability to keep students in line more than their ability to inspire them to learn.
Perhaps teachers have different approaches at small private schools but this kind of attitude is quite pervasive at large public high schools.
Many teachers and administrators at my public high school operated under the assumption that high school students are unmotivated, lazy, and always doing the bare minimum to get by. Some students were lazy and unmotivated, but their skeptical the attitude affected us all.
Do your work.
It was a rigid place, and it felt limiting to those of us who were giving school our all.
It shocked me how much respect my college professors respected us and were flexible. They didn’t want us to stay up all night writing papers or stressing out.
No more, “That’s life. Too bad.”
Instead, they told us, “Life is tough. We get it. We’ll work with you.”
It amazed me how many professors said on the first day of class “If you have three papers due on the same day, come talk to me now so we can find a solution.”
And they meant it.
In college, professors respected us. They assumed we had good intentions and were willing to work with us to find a solution that wouldn’t compromise our health and wellbeing.
5) You Take Classes That Interest You
You’ve probably heard the quote “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
The truth is, even when you do things you love, you may not love everything that you do. Even the most exciting activities involve unpleasant tasks.
But doing things that you love is a lot better than doing things you don’t like. And in college, you get to choose classes that interest you.
In high school, you probably had a few electives, but at most liberal arts colleges, at least one third of your courses will be electives. The second third will be related to your major (hopefully a field interests you), and the last third will likely be devoted to some type of requirements.
You can choose one of the many schools offering awesome core curriculums that will basically guarantee you a well-rounded and comprehensive education. However, at most schools, the required classes are much broader than in high school.
In high school, everyone takes biology, but in college, you can fill your science requirement by taking astronomy, geology, meteorology or even something less conventional like Harvard’s “The Science of Cooking” and Santa Clara University’s “The Science of Garbage” (yes seriously).
When you have thousands of options and can choose to take classes that interest you, school is a lot better.
6) You Get More Sleep
On my brother’s first day of college back in August, the dean lectured the students saying:
“The best piece of advice I can offer you is to get enough sleep.”
In high school, on top of the busywork, heavy course load, and the other commitments top students are expected to partake in, school starts outrageously early.
Most American high schools start before 8am meaning that students often have to wake up between 6am and 7am to get to school.
How many teens what to wake up at that hour?
Most of our bodies aren’t designed that way. Teens naturally operate on a later schedule than adults.
Most teens can’t fall asleep before 11pm. They also need at least 8-9 hours of sleep per night. The math doesn’t work. Most arrive at school sleep-deprived.
Walking into the classroom groggy just trying to keep one’s eyes open makes it near impossible to fully concentrate in class and enjoy learning.
In college, you have much more control over your schedule. Most semesters, I didn’t start class until 11am.
And starting class before 9am wasn’t even an option!
Choose classes at the hours that work best for you, and you can go to class fully awake ready to make the most of your day.
When you are well rested, everything feels easier.
For now, take heart. You must keep chugging along but know that good times are ahead!