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Monday, July 14, 2014

Is College Harder Than High School?

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The common culture surrounding college is a bit like a rhinoceros with a peg leg. It just doesn't make much sense. Depending on the source you're going to, college is either, an awesomely fun opportunity to get drunk and party or the most stressful time of your academic career.

The media is always spreading this perception of college as a fun place to go and do fun things. Naturally, it tends to ignore the boring parts about that little “going to class thing,” because it's not particularly entertaining. All they portray is the good stuff (or two seconds of a person stressing out as they try to study.) That's obviously not a very balanced perspective of college life.

High school teachers tend to give the exact opposite impression. They'll lecture students constantly about having to prepare for college. “Well... you can slack off now but you MIGHT NOT BE PREPARED FOR COLLEGE,” they'll tell you with a tone that sounds like your mother not-so-subtly hinting that you should do something. Many students that pay attention closely to these lectures start to think that college is some crazy rigorous academic boot camp. This view of college is just as insane as the media's image.

The Real Difficulty of College

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Is it academically harder? Well... I'll get to that but this is absolutely essential to understand first.

The hardest part of college for most student's is adjusting to regular everyday life. During high school, most students have parents that coddle them and offer help whenever they need it. Most students don't concern themselves with laundry, or shopping for groceries, or dinner, or anything mildly related to maintaining a home. Most don't even know how to maintain a schedule. This is where most students fall short (even if they blame their grades.)

The students that are used to doing their own laundry, buying groceries, and paying their own bills don't have nearly as many problems in college. Staying in high school 6 hours a day makes doing all those things a major challenge. If you're used to doing them through high school then college for 3 or 4 hours of class a day is a breeze.

Even the students that think they're struggling because of social pressures, or time limitations, or course challenges are really just talking about the consequence of their failure to manage their own daily life. One of the most common example's of this uses time as the excuse. Many students that fail blame their lack of time. They say they don't have enough time in their day to get the work done. That's usually complete crap. Those students usually just haven't learned to manage their own schedule right. Instead of planning for work in advance, students spend hours doing things that only feel like necessities because they haven't planned right.

When you're going to college, the most important factor you need to consider is your non-academic life. That will be where you succeed or fail. You need to learn how to set priorities in your daily life. There will be some days when you need to make tough decisions. That's generally a sign that you need to reassess what you're really looking for out of your time. You can't do everything you want. Make sure you decide on what you do consciously instead of stumbling through it.

Academic Challenge

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Many teachers make college sound like it's an unbelievably challenging environment. That is, typically, wildly untrue. Most colleges don't accept students on merit unless they're absolutely qualified and capable of competing with the academic workload. With that in mind, it does make some difference.

If you're going to a typical state university then you're probably not going to struggle with the actual academics of your courses. The challenges you will face should be close to right in line with going through high school. If you manage your life properly then you will not need all-nighters to get great grades.

If you're going to a less typical college with high standards (MIT, etc.) then you're going to probably end up struggling more. The word struggling might be a little harsher than required. Generally, you won't struggle because, if you've been accepted you're probably, again, right in line with where you should be academically. That being said, the pace is not going to be the same as a state university. That means you'll probably need to manage yourself a whole lot better than a regular college student.

If you're a good student through high school then you should have absolutely nothing to worry about academically going into college.

(I know. This belief is completely counter to the mainstream messages but it's true.)

People love to make things sound more challenging than they are.

Teachers don't want to say, “Yea. College is a breeze.” That will not motivate high school students into working hard for great grades. In a little more insulting, but no less true perspective: Most education major applicants don't get rejected from schools. That means, unfortunately, there are more “less well-endowed” teachers intellectually. (Of course, that's not all of them. It's just more likely they find it challenging than some other majors.)

People that fail to graduate from college often announce horror stories about the challenges but they're also wildly biased. No one wants to admit that they are solely responsible for their own failure to graduate from college. That leaves them blaming the college instead.

Don't believe the hype. College isn't all that bad... Unless...

Personal College Torture

You don't have to struggle through college but many students do end up adding to their own personal challenges unnecessarily.

College is not guaranteed to be a breeze.

No one should go into college expecting to get perfect or even nearly perfect scores. I know, it's possible but it's an absolutely insane waste of time and energy. Students that spend too much energy trying to perfect everything are the same students that end up driving themselves nuts and hating their lives in the process. Don't fall into that trap.

For typically good students, college is as difficult as you make it. If you require a 99 or 100 score to be happy then you're going to need to study all-day, and everyday to be “happy.” In most cases, studying that much will take away your happiness anyway.
Great grades aren't the only way a student can end up drowning in their own workload though.

Some majors are not appropriate for some students. I know, it's not something anyone likes to admit but it's true. A student that hates math IS going to struggle to get an engineering degree. A student that hates English is going to hate getting an English degree. This should make sense to most people.

If you don't like a subject then don't do it! It's not an investment if you're setting yourself up for a life you'll absolutely hate. I'm not one of those “do only what you love” people but really, don't do what you hate and expect not to struggle.

It goes farther than that though.

Medical (and a few other majors) are notoriously difficult. While most students that don't hate the major can survive the course load, don't expect to dominate everything in one of those competitive majors. That's just asking for disappointment.

So... college is appropriately harder than high school but don't stress out about it. It's right in line with the next level of your education. The hardest part is managing your personal life. If you can take care of that then your academic life is going to be no more challenging than high school.

(Oh... and the parties are never as fun as they look on TV.)

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