Back to School: High School vs. College

While I stock up on dorm essentials for my freshman year of college, my brother packs up school supplies for his freshman year of high school. It doesn’t feel like it’s been four whole years since I was in his shoes, but in just four years he’ll be in mine.

There is a nice parallelism to be observed in the processes we are each undertaking, but there are also some key differences worth noting.

  • College students are expected to take on adult responsibilities. Since, at 18, I am now legally an adult, there’s a lot of my information (including academic and medical records) that my parents can’t even access. And although my brother and I each have multiple forms to fill out in preparation for the school year, his are addressed to our parents, whereas mine are labeled with my own name.
  • Also, there is so much paperwork. To be precise, a lot of it is completed online — including confirming your enrollment, uploading your immunization record, applying for housing, signing up for orientation, and even paying your term bill (though you can do that last one in person, if you prefer) — but not all; for example, I had to address and submit a paper envelope for my official high school transcript. Considering that my high school only requests that you update your data, a lot of which is transferred from your middle school records, I was surprised and a little overwhelmed to discover just how much official documentation is required to register for college.
  • Orientation sessions focus on different things, though they contain similar programs. High school orientation leaders, at least at my school, spend the half-day session showing their groups around the whole school (it’s not all that big), playing icebreaker games, and answering any questions the freshmen have. Meanwhile, Rutgers OLs and other staff spend most of two days (in most cases; there are single-day orientation sessions) presenting a crash course on various aspects of student life — housing, dining, the bus system, extracurricular opportunities, etc., etc. — as well as introducing incoming students to the school’s culture through seminars and group discussions on inclusive language, the integrity policy, and more.
  • Back-to-school preparation for college means a larger budget and larger haul. I’m not recommending that you go out and buy a lot of things you don’t need, especially if your parents will be paying for most or all of it, but moving into a dorm does necessitate new (or, at least, new to you) items: extra-long twin sheets, extension cords, cleaning supplies, storage containers, and lots more (you can Google “college packing list” for more specifics, or check out the ones that have been posted on this blog!), in addition to the usual stationery. Some students also take the opportunity to get a new laptop, though of course it’s not in any way a requirement.
    • While several of my high school teachers had supply lists and supply checks, particularly in freshman year, I’ve been told that most college professors don’t do the same. So if you’re in or entering high school, it’s a good time to experiment with different organizational systems (notebooks? binders? folders? accordion files? You have a lot of options) and figure out what works for you! Your habits might need a little tweaking when you get to college, but I imagine it’ll be helpful to have an idea of where to start.
  • As high school students anticipate spending every day with their friends, college students say goodbye to friends from home. I’ll acknowledge that this might not apply if you and your high school friends are all attending Rutgers, though it’s quite possible that you won’t see as much of each other if your schedules don’t match up. But since my friend group will be splitting up over the next month or so, we’ve been making sure to enjoy the time we spend together this summer.
  • College students have a lot more say in their schedule. Sure, my high school offered a limited number of elective courses, but for the most part our class schedules were set for us. While Rutgers advisers will create your schedule for your first semester (though many of the Rutgers schools will have an Academic Planning and Advising, aka APA, day for you to request certain classes), from spring semester onward it’s in your hands. Additionally, you have more flexibility in class times: you probably won’t have class for every period of every day, so there will be more free time in which you can study, participate in extracurriculars, or just relax. Of course, with great flexibility comes great responsibility.

[tl;dr College students are seen, and for the most part treated, as adults; therefore they take on the responsibilities of their back-to-school preparations, which are more extensive for college than they were for high school.]

And, of course, whatever grade you’re starting this fall, you absolutely can and should take advantage of the proverbial blank slate. Set and strive for new goals, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Grades are important but not everything. You know the drill.

Best of luck to everyone for the upcoming school year!