Differences Between High School and College

College is a time of great identity development—during their undergraduate experience, students start to understand who they are and how they interact within the world. Most students who enroll in college are living away from home for the first time, and it may be more difficult to engage with them as they begin growing and developing socially.


Whether this is the first time you’re dropping off a student for New Student Orientation or you’ve had children away from home for years, asking engaging questions can help start a conversation and build a deeper understanding of your student’s experiences. Try asking open-ended questions and avoid rapid-fire questioning or an interrogative tone. Ask from a place of curiosity, and be sure to respect if they’re not in the mood for questions—you can always catch them at another time.


Examples of engaging questions to ask:

  • What are some things you like about WPI/class/your social life/etc.?
  • What are some things you would change about your experience?
  • What’s the best thing that happened to you today?
  • What are some of your goals for the term?
  • What made you laugh recently?
  • How can I support you?
  • If they’re upset about a specific situation, you can ask something like, “Do you want me to listen, or do you want to problem-solve together?”



Preparing for the Differences Between High School and College

High school and college experiences are much different, so much so that it can be overwhelming—and not just to students. We’ve adapted this list from the Office of Accessibility Services of some of the most prevalent differences to help both you and your student prepare for this adjustment.



High School College

Time is structured by others.

 Students structure their own time.

Classes are arranged for students

Students arrange their own classes.

Students are told what to do and if behavior is out of line.

Students are responsible for their own choices/decisions and consequences.

Students may not have to study outside of class.

Studying increases significantly outside of class.

Teachers assign regular homework.

Professors may assume work has been done and won’t check.

There are many opportunities for grades.

Less opportunities for grades.

Teachers take attendance.

Professors may not take attendance.

Students are told exactly what to study.

Professors expect students to cover material on their own.

Parents/caregivers may wake students up to prepare for school.

Students are responsible for getting to class on time.

Family members may help with scheduling and self-care activities (laundry, doctor’s appointments, etc.).

Students manage their own scheduling and self-care activities (laundry, getting a haircut, etc.).

*Adapted from the WPI Office of Accessibility Services information