4 Ways Your College Classes Will Be Different From Your High School Classes

07/26/2013 10:35 am ET | Updated Sep 25, 2013

As you've been preparing to start college, you've likely been thinking of the ways -- both good and bad -- that it is going to be different than high school. You're going to be living in a new place with a roommate who you've stalked so hard on Facebook that you know where she spent Christmas vacation in 2002. You're going to be around all new people and have to make an entirely new group of friends. Your parents aren't going to be watching over your shoulder and nagging you to clean your room, but they also won't be there to cook for you or do you laundry. You'll finally get to go to parties that aren't constantly busted by your neighborhood cops (but beware of RAs). With all of these major changes ahead, you may have completely forgotten that college is school and you'll actually have to go to class while adjusting to your new lifestyle. Whether you're coming from a small, private prep school or a huge, public high school, your college courses will differ from your high school ones. As if you needed another adjustment to tackle your freshman year. But don't worry -- HC is here to prepare you for the whole "school" aspect of college. We've compiled five ways that your college classes will differ from your high school ones and how you can successfully adapt from the get-go.

Size Matters


Though the size of your college classes will vary greatly depending on what school you attend and what courses you elect to take, chances are you will have a few classes filled with more students than you used to see in a full day at high school. At bigger schools, intro-level lectures often seat hundreds of students (assuming they all actually make it to class). You will find crowded classes at smaller schools, too. So what should you do to make sure you don't sink in the much larger classroom pond?

Stranger no-danger
Don't be alarmed if you see not one familiar face when you walk into the room on the first day. Yes, it'll be intimidating, but just plop yourself down next to a stranger. Bigger classes, especially lectures, are all about listening and taking notes, so there will be minimal time to talk to your neighbors anyway.

Get study buddies
As the semester progresses and you get to know your lovely peers, you can mimic the tight-knit community of a high school class by studying in groups. Not only will this opportunity to discuss the material with others feel like a small class, but it will likely boost your grade too. Strategies for Success, a resource compiled by the University of Michigan advising center, explains that studying with others is helpful for sharing the workload, solving complex problems, increasing motivation, and preparing for the real world. "When students work in groups, they have the opportunity to explain concepts, discuss ideas, disagree with one another and reason through why one person's answer is different from another... being able to articulate a concept to another student often requires a fuller understanding of that concept, which then also means the student will more likely be able to apply that concept in different testing formats," the guide says. Ideally, cap the group at five or six people so it doesn't get too rowdy, and choose students that actually go to class. If you don't know really know anyone in your lecture, you can email your class's list-serv asking if anyone is interested -- it'll be a great way to meet new people.

Seek out small classes
If by the end of your first semester you realize that big classes are really not for you, talk to your advisor about finding smaller courses, such as seminars or discussions, that better cater to your needs. Unfortunately, intro-level courses are almost always big, so you may just have to stick it out until you get to more advanced courses as an upperclassman.

Goodbye Notebook, Hello Facebook


In the land of high school, laptops are usually not the norm (or allowed) and you are instead forced to rely on the good old-fashioned pencil and notebook system. In college, however, laptops dominate the classroom scene. How should you prepare to make the switch?

Use protection
You don't want to risk scratching or damaging that precious piece of merchandise by letting it fly solo in your bag. Get a cute case and keep that baby covered. Check out for cute options at discounted prices like this Relic nylon case in adorable patterns or this clutch-like sleeve!

Take note
Before classes even begin, set up a format for typing notes. Whether you dig Roman numerals or bullet points, Times New Roman or Arial, your life will be a lot easier if you find a system that works best for you and make a template so that you don't have to fuss with that formatting palette during class. Figure out whether you prefer a Word document, Google Docs, or a different system. Also, determine a specific way to label and file all your notes so that you're computer desktop is just as organized as you'll be.

Exercise self-control
Before you get too excited about toting that sleek computer to class, understand that this privilege has its drawbacks. "Obviously typing is faster, but having a computer in class is overwhelming and can be incredibly distracting," Sarah Strickberger from the University of Michigan says. If you're too busy Facebooking, Tweeting, and Pinning, there is no way you are going to absorb all that the professor says. You may think you can just rely on the textbook or notes and lecture slides posted online, but often tests will include material taught only in class. If you don't think you keep yourself from surfing the World Wide Web, try installing a program like Self Control that will block you out of sites for a certain period of time. Or, just don't bring your laptop at all. That pencil and notebook system got you through twelve years of schooling for a reason. Some students stick to notebooks from the beginning or deter to them after their laptops fail them, so you won't be the odd one out.

More Textbooks = Mo' Money, Mo' Problems


Gone are the glory days when your school gave or lent you the textbooks you needed each year. Now, you have to pay to buy or rent textbooks. Lots of 'em. Most of your classes will require several textbooks and books for the semester (your professor will post this information online or in the syllabus), and you will be responsible for hunting down these pricy publications. How should you proceed to ensure the least amount of damage to your bank account?

Ask your elders
Before you even begin your hunt, consult a wise upperclassman or your RA. These veteran sources will know of the best locations on campus as well as online resources to buy or rent books. Many schools have online forums or Facebook groups for students selling their old textbooks to post on, and these offers will often be cheaper than a bookstore. Find older students who have taken the class in question -- they might still have their books lying around and even if they don't, they'll be able to give you great insight into your future workload.

Compare campus bookstores
If there is more than one bookstore on campus, make sure to compare prices and rental options. Used books will always be cheaper than new ones, so unless it's in utterly unusable condition, opt for the sloppy seconds. If you are not bent on highlighting, renting is a cheap alternative to buying, and you won't have to worry about selling your books at the end of the course. Another cheaper route is finding loose-leaf textbooks, which are unbound. All you have to do is put the pages in a binder and you're set.

Look online
Once you've compared bookstore prices, check online to see if sites like Chegg, Amazon, or eBay have any better offers. Just don't forget to factor in shipping costs!

Professor Problems


In larger-sized classes, you're not going to get to know your professors as well as your high school teachers... unless you make the effort. In high school, your teachers knew--at the very least -- your name, what you looked like, how you learned, and how you performed academically within the first few weeks of the year. Your professors, who teach hundreds of students per day and sometimes aren't the ones who grade your work, might not even be aware of your existence on Earth by the end of the semester (or ever). Don't let this happen. Forming a relationship with a professor (note: not the kind that Aria and Ezra have on PLL) can be incredibly helpful in your future, whether for research opportunities or recommendations. Here are the first steps to building that bond.

Whenever you're talking to a professor, whether in person or via email, always present yourself as politely and professionally as possible -- there's lots of alliteration in that sentence, so you know it's good advice. "All of my lecture professors were pretty well-respected in their fields, so there is an element of intimidation," Alexandra Fen from Washington University in St. Louis says. This is not meant to scare you; it is just necessary to understand that professors a bit higher up on the totem pole, and it can be nerve-racking to approach them. Just make sure you address them with the proper title (i.e,. Professor or Dr. -- check the syllabus), leave out the "um, like"s, make eye contact, smile, and you're golden.

Seize the powers of office hours
All professors will have office hours, or scheduled slots of time when you can come see them outside of class to ask questions or talk. "I soon learned how important it was to go to office hours," Sarah from University of Michigan says. "I can't stress enough how helpful it was to form relationships with my professors and instructors."

"I'd say to make a goal out of visiting each professor's office hours your freshman year," Alexandra says. For the first meeting, think of a question you had on the material from a recent lecture, or pinpoint a topic you are especially curious about or have a strong opinion on, and go introduce yourself. Aim for one or two follow-up meetings throughout the semester about other topics or assignments. "After the first few meetings, you'll be more comfortable talking to professors. That way, when cultivating a strong relationship with a professor becomes crucial (for recommendations), it'll be no sweat," Alexandra says. During her freshman year, she found that professors genuinely appreciate when students make the effort to come to office hours. "In my experiences, college professors regard their students more as equals. They are not only teaching you, as in high school, but they're much more interested in your take on the material, your thoughts, what you want to do after college, and such." she explains.

Get to know the assistants
You will have TAs (teaching assistants) or another form of instructor who will lead the smaller discussion sections of your big lectures. They may be lower on the totem pole, but they are important too, especially if they are the ones reading and grading your assignments. Seek help from them on papers or practice tests to show that you care and are working hard. Participate in discussions so that they see you're following the material. Asking or answering questions in class is the easiest way to boost your participation grade and show interest. These little efforts will go a long way.

To read one final way college classes differ from high school classes, be sure to check out the full article here. is the #1 online community for college women with national content on Style, Health, Love, Life, and Career, supplemented by local content produced by teams of students at 200+ colleges across the country. Want to start a chapter of Her Campus at your school? Apply here.