The difference between high school and college can be summarized in one word: freedom. In college you’ll find that you have more free time, more choice over which classes to take, and ultimately more control over your own destiny. However, as was so eloquently put in one of the best movies of all time, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
One of the biggest surprises for me when I first arrived to college was how much more free time I had. When I was in school, I would wake up at 7am, attend class from 8am to 3pm, go to track practice until 6pm (participating in at least one afterschool activity was unofficially required at my school), and get home at 7pm. This left only a couple hours to do all my homework and take care of all the essentials (showering, eating, etc). Except for the weekends, there was really no time to spend time with friends or pick up a new hobby. Even if I did want to see my friends, since they often lived so far away, this meant asking my parents to drive me, which was not always an option. Now, let’s compare this to most American colleges. If you take a standard course load of fifteen credits, you will spend approximately fifteen hours in class. This is less than half the amount of time you spend in class in high school! Furthermore, if you ever want to see one of your friends, it’s as simple as walking a couple houses over. Therefore, the natural question arises: What will you do with your extra time? Learn a new hobby? Intern? Join a club? It’s all up to you! (if you want to find out more about how to decide on which extracurricular activity is right for you, see my other blog post on the topic).
Another aspect of college to which students struggle adjusting, particularly those from other countries, is the freedom to choose your own classes. Many American high schools offer a limited class selection, but usually still require students to take at least one class from each of the major disciplines (math, science, history, English). Meanwhile, high schoolers in other countries often have no choice at all over their schedules. In many countries, this trend continues through college as well. Take Russia, for instance, where universities operate on the “group system,” whereby students are placed into a group of 15-20 students and take every single class with the same students for all four years in college. Most American universities, however, favor the “liberal arts education model.” This system emphasizes educating the whole person, and students are therefore often both encouraged and required to take classes outside their major. Though this might seem strange at first, you should use this as an opportunity to explore new subjects you would otherwise never have the chance to study. When else will you have the chance to learn spoken word poetry, psychology, or how to survive the zombie apocalypse (yes this is a real class at Michigan State University) from some of the smartest people in the world?
However, as I’m sure you’ve seen in countless Hollywood movies, not everyone is ready to handle such a large responsibility. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take time to relax and hangout with friends every now and then. Rather my biggest advice would be to make sure that partying does not become your whole identity, and that you are able to continue to make the most of these foundational years of your life to set yourself up for success after you graduate.