6 Big Differences Between High School and College

Although the journey from my hometown to UC Davis only takes 30 minutes, walking onto campus for the first time was like entering a different world. Thousands of new faces, eclectic traditions, sleek architecture, wild turkeys, and a sense of freedom — it was unlike anything I experienced in high school.

And college is different from high school — filled with different experiences, resources, and opportunities that will shape who you are. Every student has been where you are now, myself included. And although UC Davis and its staff are more than prepared to guide you through this next chapter, I want to offer you some of my personal experiences, so you’ll find yourself familiar with the campus you step onto in the Fall.

students play games in common room of dorm

Life away from home

Life in college dorms is fun: Think about all the euphoric montages you’ve seen in movies and television, the get-togethers, and the iconic nights. You can find those at UC Davis. No matter where you end up living on-campus, you'll quickly find great Aggie spirit in every dorm.

While you’ll be ready to take on the tasks of independent life, college life means thinking about what your needs are outside of school.

If mom used to make your lunches in high school, then you might consider the Tercero Residence Hall, which boasts two separate dining commons, including one specializing in international cuisine.

Has a gym routine been a constant part of your high school life? Segundo boasts a close distance to the Activities and Recreation Center as well as the basketball courts and the Student Health and Wellness Center.

If independence is what you seek, Cuarto Hall might be for you. Residents live in suites with adjoining single rooms, located closest to downtown Davis.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the new responsibilities you have, whether to yourself or to your new roommates. A time-honored stress reliever for students all over campus is petting the Tercero cows. It’s easy to let your worries get washed away petting a curious heifer. Caution: They do drool.

students raft down colorado river

Academic freedom

Adjusting to the UC quarter system can be a change, especially if you're used to block and semester systems.

Separated into Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters, each ten weeks long, with Summer split into two optional smaller quarters, you’ll have ample opportunity to explore a wide variety of classes.

Among my favorite classes from the last few quarters have been Shakespeare in Popular Culture, Environmental Justice, Healthcare Economics, and Climate Change Fiction. And that’s not even counting unique general education courses like Coffee-Making, Wine Tasting, or Tractor Driving.

It can be surprising how much faster time passes by in college. Completing three to four classes in ten weeks means the first day of class blurs to midterms, and the midterms quickly blur into finals. Doing the assigned work at the pace of the quarter system can be challenging, but let me tell you, cramming it all in at the last minute is far more painful.

Luckily, as a college student, you have more academic freedom than in high school; the syllabus handed out in every class lists all the upcoming homework and test deadlines, hugely helpful in planning which week to study in the Shields Library and which week to take a camping trip with friends. And if you find yourself on the heels of a busy quarter, you always have the option to pick a smaller course load.

Time management in college

Instead of back-to-back classes with your free time measured in minutes, what you do between college lectures is entirely up to you. It’s a double-edged sword: more time means having to balance the things you want to do with the things you need to do, and sometimes I mistake an extra slice of pizza from the CoHo right before class as the latter.

Whether you need to decompress or study, the sheer quantity of available spaces for students on campus means that planning your day the way you want is easy. I might take a moment to sunbathe on the lawn of the Quad, surrounded by circles of students chatting or playing spikeball, before dropping into the Student Community Center to print out an essay at the Computer Lab, and then pause by Lake Spafford to watch the wildlife.

And unlike high school, your choices aren’t just limited to campus, either; downtown Davis is just a few minutes walk away from the heart of campus, with a host of coffee shops that pepper the Davis streets. I prefer Mishka’s, but every college student finds their own preferred place to study and sip. But be warned: you will be judged on your favorite.

Working in your field

Many high school students come into college with part-time job experience. But being on a top-tier research campus means that opportunities for jobs and research can be paid as well as helpful in exploring the career field you’re interested in.

As a student studying English, I was able to work as a student writer at UC Davis’ Energy and Efficiency Institute, as well as Strategic Communications, learning to apply the writing skills I’ve polished in classes.

And academically, UC Davis offers fellowships and scholarships intended to get students familiar with the research in academia, whether you’re a STEM student or a humanities student like me. I’ve been able to travel to the Huntington Library in Los Angeles and present an academic paper at the UC Davis Research Colloquium thanks to the funding and advice available to me and every student interested in research.

student poses by world map in global learning hub

Seeing the world

Chances are, college already presents you a chance to be away from home.

College offers you another chance to be away from home; to visit another country entirely! Every department offers students a chance to enroll in UC Davis classes at universities around the globe, such as Design in Japan, Biological Sciences in Ireland, and English in London. Additionally, the Global Learning Hub is dedicated to sending students to pursue internships, research, and other academic opportunities across the globe, specializing in placements for students studying International Relations or Political Sciences.

With the covid pandemic still an international crisis, many facilities have suspended operations in accordance with state and county public health laws. operations will be subject to the orders of the shutdown until officials deem it safe to reopen.

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