Transitioning from High School to College Academics

Taking the shock out of the change

Even if you were at the top of your class in high school, you might be in for a shock after your first college exam. At the university level, there are fewer assignments, so every grade counts. But by following a few pointers, you can smoothly make the transition to college-level work.


For starters, create a schedule that sets you up for success. That means that if you’re not a morning person, avoid those 8 a.m. classes. It also means striking a balance between work- or reading-intensive courses and lighter, less time-consuming ones. Also consider taking an elective for a grade—anything from canoeing to belly dancing. In addition to being fun, these classes will “cushion” your GPA.

Success in the Classroom

Go to class. Every day. It sounds like common sense, but when mom’s not there to wake you up, and the professor doesn’t bother taking attendance (many don’t), the temptation to skip class is great. But showing up enables you to make sense of the material and to learn what your professor considers most important. Take thorough notes, but also identify a reliable classmate whose notes you can copy in case you’re ever absent.


Plan on doing the bulk of work outside of class. Unlike high school teachers, most college professors don’t check homework. Still, they’ll assume that you’ve been following the syllabus and doing the assignments. Stay on top of all reading assignments and review for exams by taking the self-test at the end of each chapter. Many textbooks also come with a CD-ROM or Web address, providing access to chapter outlines and practice tests.

Take studying seriously. You might have coasted through high school on homework and participation points alone, but in most college classes, exams or writing assignments comprise the bulk of your grade. In some cases, your grade may consist of only one or two tests. If you fail one, then your final mark is down to a C, at best. Bottom line: plan on studying. It’s best to head to the library because dorms are notoriously full of distractions.

Getting the Help You Need

If you find yourself struggling in a class, ask for help immediately. Each professor holds office hours, a block of time set aside for addressing student concerns. Many colleges also offer free tutoring, editing, and study-skills workshops. If you have a learning or physical disability, then find out what additional resources and accommodations are at your disposal.

For more tips for successfully transitioning to college-level work, visit these Web sites: offers strategies for memory improvement and advice on studying specific subjects.

Dartmouth University offers a variety of tips on how and where to study, plus aids for concentration and memory.

You can improve your study skills by avoiding these ten common mistakes.


This article was written by Dalia Wheatt

Dalia Wheatt is from Cleveland, Ohio. She has worked as an editor, freelance writer, and Spanish teacher.

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