High School vs. College: General Overview

Family Modules

Module 1 Part 1



Objective: The student will list and define at least three accurate examples of academic integrity violations in the college setting.

Estimated time 30-45 minutes

This is the first of four lessons in a series of high school/college comparisons in Module 1.

Materials needed:


Classroom curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with high school curriculum Module 1 Lesson 1.

Learn About It

How much does college cost?

In 2014-2015, the average yearly total for tuition/fees and room/board for full-time undergraduate students was $18,943 for public 4-year institutions and $42,419 for private 4-year institutions. At 2-year institutions, the total for tuition/fees (not including room/board) was $3,347 for public schools. These totals are for one academic year.

(Source: College Board http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/ average-published-undergraduate-charges-sector-2014-15)

How do people pay for college?

  • Parents and/or students save money ahead of time
  • Scholarships and/or grants (do not need to be paid back; may be restrictions on receiving them)
  • Student loans and/or parent loans (must be paid back with interest)
  • Work-study or other student employment

High School vs. College

High School is Mandatory

  • Students can be required to attend until a certain age.

College is Voluntary

  • Students choose to attend.

Students choose to attend college for:

  • More income potential
  • Personal growth/desire to learn more and become better educated
  • Career preparation/degree is required for many jobs
  • Exposure to new experiences and people/to gain a broader perspective
  • Expectations of others (usually parents)
  • Other

Graduation Requirements

High School

  • Graduation requirements are similar for all students. Students are not responsible for knowing what classes to take.


  • Graduation requirements are complex and differ by year of entry and major. Students are responsible for knowing what classes to take and meeting graduation requirements.

High school requirements are determined by the state’s standards and the student’s track (i.e., technical, college prep, etc.).

The student’s teachers, guidance counselors, and other school administrators are responsible for knowing which classes students must take and for enrolling them in those classes.

College requirements vary tremendously among different majors. Many schools have a basic foundation curriculum that all students must complete, usually consisting of several courses in English, social sciences, science, math, humanities, fine arts, and health/exercise. However, even within these requirements, there is often significant flexibility. Once a student completes the foundations courses, each major, minor, and concentration has different requirements and options.

A student’s advisor will help to determine which courses are required, but the ultimateresponsibility for keeping up with the requirements and completing the degree progra lies with the student. Advisors generally only provide input and guidance.

For more information, visit the “Digging Deeper” section at the end of this lesson.


High School

  • Graduation requirements are similar for all students. Students are not responsible for knowing what classes to take.


  • College is a learning environment. Students are responsible for their own learning.

This is a critical difference between high school and college, and many first-year students who have difficulty do not realize that the responsibility for their learning now lies solely with them.

Many professors are willing to go the extra mile with students to make sure that they are learning the information. However, it is the student’s responsibility to learn and seek out the professor’s help when needed.

Professors are generally going to assume that students are learning what is being presented, unless the student tells them otherwise.

This video highlights a few of the differences between high school and college that you will learn more about in Module 1. [Transcript]

Parents Chime In

Some students understand this point better when given this explanation.

Teachers vs. Professors: There is a reason that college instructors are generally called professors instead of teachers. In high school, your teachers were responsible for directly teaching you things and making sure that you learned them. That’s why they’re called teachers. To “profess” something means to declare or announce it. In college, the professor is only responsible for announcing the information. It’s up to you as the student to actually do what it takes to learn it. That’s why they’re called professors.

Students with Disabilities

High School

  • Accommodations granted by a student’s IEP are designed to ensure the student's success in meeting academic and IEP (or 504) goals.


  • Accommodations granted by Disability Support Services are designed to ensure that a student has equal access to a college education, but do not guarantee the student's success.

Services for students with disabilities are governed by different laws in high school and college.

The laws that govern high school basically guarantee that students with a disability must be given an education that is appropriate for them based on their abilities. The focus is on monitoring student performance and student success.

The laws that govern college students with disabilities guarantee equal access to the college’s curriculum with reasonable accommodations. However, if students put forth their best effort and work up to their potential in college, they can still fail. Colleges do not make any fundamental changes to modify their curricula or standards for students with disabilities.

Independence and Responsibility

High School

  • Students are usually told what to do, monitored to ensure that they do it, and given frequent feedback on their performance.


  • Students are expected to take responsibility for finding out what to do and how to do it, accomplish necessary tasks, and accept the consequences of their decisions.

Incoming first-year students often say that they are looking forward to increased independence. However, it often does not occur to them that along with that independence comes the need to take responsibility for aspects of their education that other people may have supported until now.

Students who practice taking initiative, self-monitoring, seeking out feedback, and completing tasks independently in high school are often better prepared for the increased responsibilities of college. That does not mean gradually abandoning all supports (e.g., accommodations) related to having a disability. Students will have access to accommodations in college, but they need to be able to self-advocate for and use those accommodations.

Optional discussion points:

How can you start to take greater responsibility for your education while you’re still in high school?

Follow Up

Review with your parent or family member: Consider the differences between high school and college as they pertain to the questions listed below. Enter your answers for each question in the corresponding columns for high school and college.

High School College
What courses are required for me to graduate from high school on a college-preparatory track? What courses will be required for me to graduate from college in the major of my choice?
What happens if I do not understand something in high school? What happens if I do not understand something in college?
What accommodations do I receive in high school for my academic work? What accommodations do I expect to receive in college for my academic work?
How often do teachers and parents provide reminders about upcoming assignments in high school? How often can I expect to receive reminders about upcoming assignments in college?

Info Graphic courtesy of Casey Anne Cruz at www.behance.net.

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will identify key differences between high school and college and apply this to their personal expectations and goals.

If so, congratulations!

If not, review High School vs. College examples again and discuss the questions at the end of this lesson. Have your parent review this with you.

Digging Deeper

For more information...Digging Deeper:

Online Catalog Examples for Reference:

Community College Links

University Links