Your High School Teachers Were Wrong About College

High school seniors, if you’re headed to college next semester, chances are that you’ll go in with false expectations. You may have heard from your parents or your high school teachers that college is insanely difficult, that you need to have your life figured out before you consider a school, or that college is one big party. These sayings, and the ones listed below, are popular myths about college.

Misconceptions About College

1.  College is ten (thousand) times harder than high school. 

You get out what you put in. If you work hard in your classes and keep up with your work, then you’ll be fine. I remember having packets of papers to take home for homework every night in high school to turn in the next day.

First, your classes will be every Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Tuesday/Thursday, meaning you have at least two days to do your homework. And homework typically consists of reading assignments or math problems. There’s no more busywork (or at least not a lot of it).

If you live on campus in college, you won’t have your parents nagging you about doing your homework or going to class. But you’ll have to be responsible for yourself. You’ll have to set your own study hours and keep up with your homework on your own. That’s often one of the biggest learning curves in college.

2. You need to have your life figured out before you choose a college

Roadmap to different possibilitiesWhile it’s not a bad idea to have a general idea of what you want to do with your life, you don’t have to have everything set in stone. I decided to be an engineer (half at my parents’ wishes) when I applied to NC State, but when I took typical “weed-out” courses like calculus and physics, I changed my major. And that’s okay. Even people I talk with who are in all sorts of majors have no idea what the want to do with their lives.

Sometimes, a college will have a program for students who are undecided about their college major. NC State has a program called First Year College which walks students through the different career choices and a handful of self-assessments. When I was in the program, I was able to take all my general education courses first while I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I learned about my learning style, my MBTI personality, and subject preferences. At the end, I had figured out a major and was on track to graduate within four years.

If you’re still trying to figure out where to go, read these 25 myths about college to help you narrow down your choices.

3. You should only major in something that’s practical

Woman with circuits superimposedWhen you do get to college, make sure you major in something you–not your parents or your friends–want you to do. This is now your education. If you truly love something, pursue it regardless of money. Your passions will drive you to a money-making career path.

Generally, this is the one opportunity you will have to do something you love. Engineering, a very practical major, did not work out for me in college. I loved English, so I decided to major in that. After talking to my parents about it, they agreed it was a good fit. (The tears and anguished calls to them while I was taking those weed-out classes definitely helped seal the deal.)

And it’s not true that getting a liberal arts degree won’t pay the bills. cites the comparison between history majors and computer-programming majors: the top-earning 25% of both groups earned nearly the same median yearly lifetime income, around $85,000.

4. Your professors won’t remind you about deadlines. 

This is one that I remember from my 12th-grade English teacher. I can tell you right now that this is far from it. Professors will hand out syllabuses (syllabi?) the first day of class with deadlines listed on it. Should you lose that piece of paper, it’s on the course website. And even then, professors will remind you of deadlines at least a week in advance. Some professors are different, but the ones I have had reminded me of deadlines almost every week.

5. Your professors will never accept late work. 

Every professor responds to late work differently. Some will accept it with a reduced grade. Others will let you have a time extension provided you have a university-approved excuse. And still others do not accept late work, period. Your professors will let you know their policies on the first day of class, when professors hand out and go over syllabuses and class expectations.

6. Attendance is always required.

In general, attendance is mandatory for freshman-level courses. Beyond that, it’s up to your  professor. If you do have a professor who says he or she does not take attendance, keep in mind that skipping class can harm your grade. My English literature professor never took attendance, but had quizzes periodically. Missing three quizzes really brought my grade down.

Keep in mind your time preferences, too. If you have a hard time getting up in the morning, don’t take a class at 8 AM. Schedule a later time so that attendance won’t be an issue.

7. You have to buy all of your own textbooks. 

Personal textbook stackNone of your textbooks are sitting in the classroom for you to pick up and use for the semester, so you’ll have to get your own book to use. (Besides, professors don’t have their own designated classroom to use. Various classes meet in the same room at different times of the day.)

However, depending on your professor’s class policies, you can opt out of buying your own book. You can rent one, buy a used copy, buy an older edition, check one out from the library, or borrow one from a friend. That way, you won’t end up spending thousands of dollars.

Sometimes, you don’t end up using your textbook. Maybe you needed it for one assignment halfway through the semester. But you bought the book anyway because it was “required.” That happens, and it’s frustrating. You can’t know how much of the book you’ll use until at least the first week of classes. My advice, recommended to me by my friends, is to wait until the first week of the semester is over before you consider buying the books.

I wrote a post about alternatives to buying textbooks from the campus bookstore, which may be helpful when you are looking to get a textbook for class.

8. College is one giant party. 

From Greek life to Spring Break, the movies make it seem like college is nothing but an alcohol-saturated four-year rave. But it’s all up to personal experience.

While Greek life does offer parties, fraternities and sororities also focus on philanthropy and academics. Campus events provide free shirts and food, and club meetings often have fun end-of-semester events. Alternative Spring Break trips are popular in college and let you travel the globe to make a difference in others’ lives.

9. All your classes will have over 200 people in them

You’ll have a mix of large and small class sizes in college. The larger classes will be for general requirements (GEPs) like beginning chemistry and calculus, but you’ll have fewer classmates as you get into your major concentration.

Average class size can only tell you so much. NC State’s average is 35, but I’ve been in 200-person chemistry classes and 6-person honor English classes. You can find a more detailed record of class size averages on sites like CollegeData, which will list class sizes by percentage. Most class sizes at NC State are between 10 and 39 students.

College is Just Different

Good or bad, college is an experience that’s entirely separate from high school. Even then, you’ll find fun that’s different from your friends’, and that’s okay. If you’ve heard of any other college myths that your high school teachers told you, be sure to tell us in the comments.

College is ultimately up to you, and your experience depends on what you make of it.


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