Academics: Making the Adjustment from High School to College

It’s quite common to be nervous about the differences between high school and university academics. In general, as a high school student, your daily schedule was very structured with several hours of classes and activities each day. Several classes lasted an entire year, had no more than 25-30 students and were spread out over 9-10 months’ time. You studied to prepare for tests, and reading assignments were short in length and often reviewed in classes. Your teachers laid out a schedule and reminded you of important deadlines.

As a college student, you will have to learn to manage your time in order to keep up with course readings, projects, exams, and deadlines. It’s important to recognize a few key differences between high school and college classes. For example, college classes don’t meet daily, they last for 12-15 weeks, may include hundreds of students, and you may need to invest several hours outside of class to learn material. It may take some time to adjust to this new style of learning, but here are some tips to help you as you adjust to college academic life.

Read the syllabus! Your faculty member will provide you with a syllabus on your first day of each class. This provides an overview of the course, assigned readings, materials, and description of projects, papers, and exams with their due dates. The syllabus will help you to plan out your time.


Write down important deadlines from each syllabus in your calendar or planner and set times to study and complete assignments. Students should plan for spending 2-3 hours studying per subject per week outside of class time.


Participation is valued. Showing up and being on time, asking questions, and attending office hours are all ways you can show participation and engagement with classes. Some faculty will have attendance policies, others will not. Either way, the expectation is for you to show up.


Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is ok if you are having difficulty learning new material. Faculty members host office hours so students can ask questions and seek clarification on materials. Colleges and universities also have tutoring programs and labs for students to support their learning.


Be timely with assignments. Review your syllabus to so you know what readings you are covering so you can complete them before class each week. Turn assignments in on time and don’t wait until the last minute to complete them.