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Discovering college life

What do you think?

Before you get started, think about how you would answer the following questions.

  1. What are three things you are looking forward to in college?
  2. What makes you want to go to college?
  3. What are some differences between high school and college?
  4. Will there be any differences in how you get accommodations?

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What is college life like?

College life varies based on the college you attend, the location, the size and what courses you decide to take. To learn about what college life is like, you can talk with people who have been to college, visit college campuses and continue learning about college before you become a college student. Some major differences between high school and college include class size, contact with professors, workload and grades. For example, class sizes may be much larger than you are used to. Large lecture classes may hold 100 to 200 students. You will probably have less contact with your professors. The workload and expectations are different as well. You may have weekly reading assignments but have fewer, larger projects to turn in for the semester. Your grade may be based on only two tests for the whole semester — meaning it is important to plan your study schedule and how you use your time.

Equally important to differences in academics are the increased opportunities to have a social life, especially if you live in a dormitory. Your dorm or campus may offer weekend activities or you may be invited to go out during the week. You will have to decide when to do laundry, what time to get up for class, when to eat and if you want to participate in a student organization.

One of the biggest changes in college is that you have much more freedom (for example to set your schedule, choose your major and go to class), coupled with more responsibility. You will be responsible for your accommodations in college. It is a big change from high school when your parents and teachers may have put your accommodations in place. To get accommodations in college, you may have to give your professors a letter explaining what accommodations you need. Without this letter, your professors won’t be able to provide you with accommodations. You are also responsible for deciding on your course work and for advocating for what you need.

Check out the differences chart below to find out some other interesting changes you can expect!

Differences between high school and college

Area High School College
Personal freedom
  • Less freedom – living at home with parents
  • More freedom – living in a dorm with a roommate
  • More structure – have classes all day long
  • Less structure – student sets up schedule
  • Smaller size
  • Varies but classes can have 100 to 200 students
  • Frequent contact – may see teachers every day
  • Less frequent contact – may only see professors one to three times a week
Study time
  • May be able to get studying done in a study hall or spend minimal time outside of class on studying
  • More rigorous demands with more readings and independent work
  • May need to study two to four hours a day
  • More frequent tests on less material
  • May have only a few tests a semester
  • Tests may cover many chapters or be cumulative
  • Total grade for the class may be based on many grades
  • Total grade for the course may be based on only a few grades
Physical environment
  • All classes are in one building
  • Classes are spread throughout the campus
Legal protection
  • IDEA: entitled to services through a Free and Appropriate Education
  • ADA: must be eligible for services
  • Reasonable accommodations
Special education classes
  • Classes are specifically for students with disabilities
  • Classes include students with and without disabilities
  • Some colleges may offer specialized programs, but could involve additional fees
  • School evaluates the student and provides the student with documentation
  • Student must provide the college with updated documentation of the disability in order to receive accommodations
  • Student’s IEP is generally not considered documentation
  • Teacher and parent advocate for services
  • Student must advocate for accommodations and services
Receiving accommodations
  • Accommodations are set up through the IEP process
  • Student must start the accommodation process by contacting the person/office on campus in charge of accommodations