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High School and College Classes, Are They All That Different?

In movies college courses are usually represented by a large lecture hall filled with hundreds of students with glazed eyes as they stare at a board filled with figures a professor has frantically scribbled down.  Now, is this what college is really like and how different is a class at a university from a class at high school?  The answer: very different, at least at first glance, but there are similarities hidden among the drastically different schedule layouts.

The university offers many different class types, some are held in a lecture hall where you are surrounded by hundreds of your peers, while others are held in classrooms where the class is equal to that of a class in high school, or in some cases even smaller.  The first difference you will find between a high school class and one in college is the grading scale.  In high school and college, classes are graded on a A-F scale, however, in college you can choose to instead make the class a pass-fail class.  This means that if you receive a score that is above a certain percentage you pass, if it is under you fail, there is no in between.  While this grading scale may appeal to some, in most cases it is not ideal for a transcript.

Another difference is size and class length.  I took a biology course last semester where I had lecture with about one hundred other students, twice a week for a little over an hour.  Also as part of the class I had a lab session once a week with about fifteen other students for two hours.  Now you may notice a lot of differences with this layout from the one used in high school.  For one, I do not have class every day, most classes will have lecture two to three times per week and at least one discussion.  How often in the week the class is held determines the length of the class.  If a student has a class once a week it will usually last around three hours, but if they have the class three times a week it is about fifty minutes long.  Most lectures are not as large as the one I had for biology, for example, my political science lecture was about as large as a normal high school class.  You may also notice that my lab was considerably smaller than my lecture, the smaller size in labs and discussions allow for more one on one attention.

In addition to their discussion, students can meet with their professors or TA’s (who run the discussions and labs) during their office hours.  Office hours are set times where the professors and TAs are required to be in their office, waiting for students who need their help.  Unfortunately these hours can be on any day and at any time throughout the week, so they may occur while another class is in session, in which case the student must make an appointment.  This setup is very different from coming in before or after school to meet with a teacher according to your schedule.

In high school teachers will attempt to involve everyone into a class discussion or group project to allow everyone to receive participation points.  In college the professor may offer additional ways to gain participation points, like the student’s level of involvement in online discussion posts, comments in class, or timely return on assignments.  However, in the end the responsibility of participation rests on the student, professors will not tell you what your grades are or where you need more work, they may post your test grade on a website but it is up to the student to calculate where their efforts are needed.

A humorous similarity I found between high school and college was the attachment students have to their phones.  However, to me it seemed that college students experience even greater separation anxiety from their phones than I have observed in high schoolers.  During a class it is not uncommon to hear a variety of beeps, rings, and buzzes throughout the lecture.  Most professors ignore the devices and how often their students use them, but some won’t hesitate to threaten to take them.  My writing teacher announced on the first day that he would not tolerate the use of cell phones in class, it sent me right back into memories of the first day of every high school class.

One of the biggest differences and yet similarity I have observed between high school classes and college classes is academic drive.  Since most college students are paying for the courses they are taking, they have more of an incentive to show up for class and do well so that they don’t have to retake, and therefore repay for the course.  There will always be people who will complain and cause distractions in college and high school, in college however, most choose not to show up for class on those days, therefore allowing the rest of the class to concentrate.  Unfortunately there is no freedom in high school from the individuals who would seek to cause the rest of the class to share their misery.  However, not all students experience a greater academic drive, some slack off when released from the pressure of their parents.  It seems that no matter the environment there will always be students unwilling to learn.

High school classes and college courses are very different when it comes to grading scales, the size and length of the class, the availability of professors and teaching assistants, interaction between the teacher and the student, and student involvement.  However, there are many classes offered within a university that are strikingly similar to high school, the most common are freshman required courses which act a bit like a bridge between the high school environment and the university campus.  Although college freshmen are handed a new life filled with new freedoms coupled with new responsibilities, most are well prepared by the efforts of their teachers in high school.  

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