The Difference Between High School and College Academics

Whether it be a worried parent or a striving student, the question that always seems to be of concern is, what is the difference between a college level course and a high school one? As a student who has just completed only my first year of college, the lingering recollections of high school academia are still enduring and the juxtaposition of these two very different atmospheres an easier task.

Every article, magazine, or book existing will warn you of the most evident discrepancies between these two institutions.

They will tell you that if you will be attending a large, public university, the class size may be an overwhelming adjustment and the formation of a relationship with any of the staff an impossibility. Or if you are enrolled in a smaller and more private university, the small student to teacher ratio is an assurance that more focus will be dedicated to each student.

They may warn that the attendance system, no longer mandatory but optional, can become a liberation resulting in efficiency or a catapult into submission. Daily, carefully overlooked homework are now replaced by either longer, more difficult projects or sometimes even voluntary assignments.

But what they all fail to emphasize is the mentality behind the approach.

The complete control of your learning process is a double edged sword. This newfound independence can either become a monumental weapon or your greatest destruction.

In high school, what they teach in class shows up on the tests. In college, what they teach in class is the starting point to understanding the material appearing on the midterms.

High school classes test if you remember the material. College courses test if you not only understand but can apply them.

College courses not only demand a deeper level of understanding but necessitate creativity in order to be able to answer the problems given. The ability to adapt and react to questions never introduced in class or homework before or may even be outside your scope of understanding is what differentiates successful students from those who aren’t.

However, it makes sense that college courses push the students into uncomfortable dispositions. After all, the merit of a college degree is warranted on its ability to prepare them for jobs they will later undertake.

But this is also not to say that the student with a higher level of intelligence will always outperform those who aren’t as advanced. This is to place emphasis on the importance of strategy.

Knowing not necessarily what to learn but how to learn is what distinguishes those who thrive in the college environment and those who regress.

The mistake a lot of students make is convincing themselves that because they understand every homework assignment, every project, every discussion, and every lecture, they truly understand the course. This then leads to the loss of pursuit of additional understanding.

Therefore, it is not the lack of intelligence but rather the lack of intuition that leads to failure in achieving the grade desired.

So how do you test your understanding? How can you develop this intuition?

Recently, I wrote a Physics book and Math book as experiments to see if I can give this intuition. I wanted to make the connections and draw the linkages for the student that neither professor nor teaching assistant will discuss in class. I wanted to fill in the gaps that others may not be willing or do not have the time to close.

The reason these books are unique from any other physics or math book existing is that they were designed with the intent to develop strategy and focus on visualization rather than emphasize all the details of theory. This is not to say theory is unimportant, but a simple google search can answer any question not involving application.

Physics is one of those subjects that take little time to understand but an immeasurable amount to fully learn how to apply it. F=ma is a clean and straightforward formula that is easy to remember, but combined with several forces on surfaces of friction that are rotating, it can become extraordinarily complicated.

This physics book is an assembled collection of problems ranging from easy to difficult. Each were specifically selected in order to point out certain concepts and were deconstructed into step by step solutions including labeled free body diagrams. This bombardment of problems of all sorts is intended to develop problem solving strategy by already outlining the plan needed to implement.

This isn’t to expect that the exact same pulley or forces question will appear on the midterm or final. This is so that when a more complicated or similar pulley construct does show up, the student knows exactly what steps to take and exactly how to break the problem down with what they already know.

Flexibility and the ability to see and react are skills this book strives to develop.

Linear Algebra and Differential Equations are math topics that actually take longer to grasp an understanding rather than problem solve. This math book is unconventional in that it implements flowcharts, diagrams, and illustrations rather than wordy descriptions.

Don’t just have an understanding. Have a visualization.

Visualization is a skill many teaching aides fail to emphasize and thus a technique students tend to neglect. However, a simple flowchart detailing the step by step process of determining the dependence relationship between vectors or circular maps indicating the equivalence between statements can be crucial when faced with a series of 20 True/False questions on the midterm.

Seeing the bigger picture can help magnify the possibly overlooked connections between the smaller details.

Ultimately, there is no doubt a college course has greater intensity than a high school one. After all, pioneers of a field are now responsible for your learning.

However, stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the territory of higher expectations leads to the shaping of a much more than average individual.

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