High School vs College: Which is Harder?

Transitioning from high school to college can be an overwhelming experience, and both of these educational experiences are difficult in their own ways and come with their own challenges. For most, college is a greater challenge.

College is typically harder than high school because college classes cover in-depth material at a faster pace and more homework is assigned. College requires financial responsibility and good time management skills. In college, students are completely responsible for their success and failures.

Below, we will discuss some of the ways college is challenging academically, socially, and financially compared to high school.


The material covered in college classes is usually more difficult than the material covered in high school courses. College classes are usually taught by professors who have some sort of higher education such as a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.

These professors are able to teach in-depth content on topics they are experts in. After you have finished your generals, you will be taking specialty courses that are specific to your major. These classes are going to delve into topics that you may have only briefly discussed during high school.

The point of going to college is to become an expert in a specific field. High school, on the other hand, is meant to give you a general understanding of multiple topics. High school covers a variety of general topics including math, English, science, and history. In these classes, teachers provide students with an overall understanding of the topic. High school provides foundations of knowledge, while college builds on those foundations in specific areas.

Class schedules are also different in college. In high school, attendance is mandatory, but you typically don’t fail your classes if you miss more than 3. This is not the case for college students.

High school courses also have little room for change. You are assigned certain classes and teachers and it is difficult to change your schedule. A high school day usually consists of 5-7 classes, one right after the other, broken up only by a lunch break in the middle of the day. This class schedule is much more rigid than the schedule of a college student.

In college, you get to set your own schedule based on the class times available. You can pick classes based on your interests and what your major is. You also usually have multiple professors that you can choose to take the class from. College students typically have around 4 classes a day, and those classes can be spread out across any time of the day, including the evening.

Choosing your classes and your professors is a responsibility that comes with attending college. For many students, freedom regarding their schedule is a benefit that allows them to adapt their school schedule to jobs, social events, and more.

Many college professors don’t take attendance. This is very different from high school where attendance is usually a requirement to pass the class. For some students, the lack of attendance grades can be difficult. It makes skipping class much more appealing and can lead to you falling behind in homework, or stop you from gaining a sufficient understanding of the material being covered.


College is more difficult than high school because there is more homework assigned. College requires a lot of self-teaching. Self-teaching requires more time to be dedicated to studying/learning outside of the classroom.

On average, for each college credit you take, you’ll spend one hour in the classroom and two to three hours on homework each week. For a 3-credit class, you would spend three hours in the classroom each week and 6-9 hours on homework. If you are a full-time student that is taking 15 credits, it is estimated that you will need to spend 30-45 hours on homework per week.

These time estimates reveal that college students have significantly more homework than high school students. On average, high school students spend 10 hours per week on homework. Many high school students go days without being assigned work outside of class.

In college, there is usually preparation and reading assignments that are required before every class. Homework in college can take up as much time as a full-time job.

The homework assignments themselves also tend to be harder in college. Most college classes value independent learning. Independent learning requires students to teach themselves some of the material. College assignments challenge students to think on a deeper level than high school homework does. Often, high school assignments are busy work that is not extremely difficult.

There is little tolerance for late work in college. Late work policies are unique to the professor and the university you attend but typically late work is not accepted or it comes with a penalty such as a grade dock.

In high school, teachers are much more lenient when it comes to late work and some teachers will accept late work without a grade reduction. College late work policies make it difficult for students to procrastinate and still succeed.

Social Activities

In college and high school, there are opportunities to participate in social activities. For some, college can be a difficult adjustment socially. This is especially true if you are attending college in a new state and don’t know anyone. Moving to a new town can be intimidating. College can be extremely lonely if you are new to living on your own. It may take a while for you to meet people. It can be hard to leave your high school friends, whom you have known for years, behind.

In high school, you have probably attended school with most of the same kids for a lot of your academic experience. High school encourages social interaction by having lunchtimes that allow kids to socialize, there are also many organized activities associated with high school.

College is full of social activities as well, but it takes more effort to get involved in them since most classmates are not as close with each other as they tend to be in high school. This is usually due to the smaller amount of time spent in the classroom, the lack of official lunch breaks, and the size of the classes.

There are many college classes that consist of 100 students. These lecture-based classes can be impersonal compared to a smaller high school class. The professor simply cannot get to know all 100 students well and there is little time for discussion.

In high school, your teachers get to know you well over the course of the semester, and there are many opportunities to get to know your classmates through group work simply because the class sizes are small.

Despite how intimidating a college campus’s social scene might be, once you are adjusted to your new home, there are many opportunities to meet new people and experience new things.

Many universities have football and basketball games that students love to attend. There are usually parties and you can join fraternities and sororities. Socializing is great, but it can lead to students neglecting their homework and education. Finding balance at college can be difficult because it is your responsibility to succeed in class while also having fun.

Financial Costs

One of the greatest challenges that come with being a college student is financial responsibility. In college, you are responsible to provide yourself with basic necessities that may have been provided by your parents before you moved out.

You are responsible for buying groceries, clothing, and paying for any social activities you participate in. College students must learn to live without some of the luxuries they grew up with in order to save money.

Aside from living expenses, many students have to pay for their education. The average in-state student attending a public 4-year institution spends $25,487 for one academic year. In-state tuition is cheaper than out-of-state tuition.

Out-of-state tuition averages $27,023. College is very expensive and leaves students with large amounts of debt after they graduate. Considering student loan interest and loss of income, the ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree can exceed $400,000. (Source)

College has become very expensive, and it will become more expensive over time. The average cost of college has more than doubled in the 21st century. High costs and financial pressures bring economic stress to college students who are already stressed by their college workload.

The costs of college usually force full-time students to get jobs to support themselves. For students who are taking large workloads and many classes, this can be stressful. Balancing work and school is very difficult in college. It can also be difficult to find a job that is willing to work around class schedules, not to mention that jobs in college towns are hard to come by.

Along with tuition, students also have to pay for housing. Many students live in college dorms. This is housing provided by the university that is close to or on campus. The average cost for room and board at a public university is 8,887 dollars per year. At a private university, the cost of room and board is 10,089 dollars per year.

Prices for apartments and dorms can vary depending on the apartment’s location and the amenities available. Housing and tuition are the two major expenses that a college student worries about. There are also smaller things like books and computers that students may have to purchase. (Source)

For many students, scholarships are the only way they are able to afford school. Scholarships require students to maintain the grades necessary to keep their GPA. Scholarships can be taken away if students are not able to get and keep the necessary grades while at school. Applying for scholarships and staying up to date about scholarship opportunities is the responsibility of the college student.

In high school, these expenses are usually not an issue. Most high school students live with parents who provide them with financial support. Public high school is also free. Books and computers are often provided to students for little to no cost.


As a college student, you are responsible for reaching out for help with classwork. In high school, it is common for counselors and teachers to reach out to students who are struggling. This is not the case at more colleges and universities.

If you are falling behind in class or struggling to understand certain concepts, you must make the effort to contact professors or counselors. In college, you are responsible for knowing your professor’s office hours and making time out of your day to talk to them.

You also have the responsibility of understanding your major and its requirements. It is your responsibility to pick a major that you will enjoy and succeed in. Once you have researched and decided on a major, you also need to have a good understanding of your major’s requirements to graduate.

Each major has different class requirements and will be unique to each student. Understanding your major and planning your classes and schedule around that major is a big responsibility. You can always consult with academic advisors but it is also up to you to reach out to those people.

Overall, college can be challenging because, for most college students, this is the first time they are independent and responsible for their own success. Independence can be appealing, and it is necessary, but it is a large investment and can be overwhelming. College requires you to be able to budget your time and your money.

Thoughtfulness is important as a college student. You have to thoughtfully spend your money and decide what your financial priorities are. You also have to be thoughtful in the classes you take.

College requires you to be motivated in your studying. It is meant to challenge you mentally and make you smarter. College students must learn to balance a social and academic lifestyle. Getting caught up in the excitement of college parties and activities can be detrimental to academic success.

In high school, these responsibilities and mindsets are less of a concern. Homework tends to be minimal compared to college classes, and financial issues are not as great. High school is not without its difficulties, but those difficulties are meant to prepare you for the college experience.