Toto…We’re Not in High School Anymore

Before you even enter college, there’s already this abstract idea that college work is “harder” than high school work. I remember my parents alluding to longer papers, more in-depth tests, and a lot more reading, but I didn’t really get what they meant. How would that really affect my study habits? The answer, though, is that college classes change them quite a bit.

1. College tests have a lot more information on them than their high school counterparts. Unlike in high school where a teacher hands you a review sheet and that’s all the test is on, college tests can be on anything. Some professors may hand out some sort of study guide, but most of the time it’s extremely vague.

Jillian Feinstein, a student at the College of William and Mary and a writer for The Prospect, echoes these sentiments: “In high school you’ll get a review sheet with all of the information you’re responsible for, so you just learn that. If you’re taking the extremely formulaic AP classes, you can always find sample questions…You know the format and what is expected of you.” College is completely different in terms of how much studying you’ll be doing and just how much raw information you’ll have to know. Yikes!

2. In college, you have to answer “the big question”: WHY? When you’re in high school, you just do some of the reading (and SparkNotes the rest), fill out the study guide, and voilà, you get an ‘A’! In college though, it’s not that simple. Many exams and papers are centered on the idea of the big picture; they are cumulative tests that want to see if you can synthesize the material and not just regurgitate it back to the professor. How can you use what you’ve learned to create a more complete sketch of what the course aims to teach you?

3. College studying is a much more collaborative effort. This may differ depending on your high school, but my school had an extremely strict no-cheating policy, and that meant many of my teachers were apprehensive about letting students study in large groups. In college though, this type of group collaboration is encouraged. Though there are fine lines (for example, don’t write out your essays together), working with other people can make studying not only enjoyable but also extremely helpful. A lot of times I didn’t understand a term or idea and someone else did, or a friend of mine just had a different way of looking at it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh my gosh, this is so much, I can’t do this!” But have no fear; some actual college kids are here to tell you what works best for studying in the big collegiate leagues:


1. Be exclusive about whom you let into your study group. There’s nothing worse than having a mooch in the group. To combat this, make sure everyone is contributing equally beforehand. Divvy up terms on your review sheet, or figure out who will be responsible for explaining different concepts from the course. That way, everyone feels accountable for contributing to the group’s overall well-being.

2. Write it out…For real, though. Feinstein suggests writing out all of your professor’s PowerPoint slides (or your notes!) and then memorizing them. She also recommends making notecards of all the vocab terms. Writing down material is actually scientifically proven to help you retain the info better, so when in doubt, write it out!

3. Start early…I mean it! The number of times teenagers roll their eyes when someone tells them to start something early is astounding, but let’s be real here: we all know it’s true! Look at it from a mathematical standpoint. Pretend you have to study approximately 10,000 words of notes. If you do it the day before, that means you have to cram all 10,000 words into your brain in 24 hours. But if you start studying a week and a half earlier, that’s only roughly 1,000 words (approximately two pages of single-spaced notes) per day. Sounds much more doable, right?

The Bottom Line

College is awesome (like, really super duper awesome!), but it takes balance and preparation to keep your grades up. Stay diligent, start early, write it out, and you’ll be a collegiate academic superstar in no time!

Lily Herman is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of and a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. In addition to her duties at The Prospect, Lily is a member of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, editor for Wesleyan’s all-fiction literary magazine, SAT tutor and college counselor to underserved high school students, 2016 Class Council co-chair, contributing editor for the campus blog, and a national contributing writer for

  • Bobby Schragel

    Great read! Very good points.

  • Mai McCarthy

    A brilliant read! Hopefully more students will take these great tips into account early in the college careers! Thank you for sharing, Lily!

  • Fernanda Zovath

    I particularly like the tip to write things down! When I was in college, I loved flashcards, they were very helpful for studying.