Home » Ours Are Ready for College. . .Are Yours?

Ours Are Ready for College. . .Are Yours?

Many people ask me how a student who never had a formal class could possibly survive in college.  Southern Methodist University has a great table in their Admissions material that aims to help incoming students prepare for the differences between high school and college.  I’ve added a third column on the right for what the Agile Learning Center student would experience.

How Is College Different from High School

* High school is mandatory and usually free. * College is voluntary and expensive. Your education has always been voluntary.
* Your time is structured by others. * You manage your own time. You’ve always managed your own time.
* You need permission to participate in extracurricular activities * You must decide whether to participate in co-curricular activities. You’ve always decided what activities interest you.
* You can count on parents and teachers to remind you of your responsibilities and to guide you in setting priorities. * You must balance your responsibilities and set priorities. You will face moral and ethical decisions you have never faced before. You have balanced your responsibility to your community and set priorities weekly.
* Each day you proceed from one class directly to another, spending 6 hours each day–30 hours a week–in class. * You often have hours between classes; class times vary throughout the day and evening and you spend only 12 to 16 hours each week in class You don’t expect learning to only happen within a rigid schedule.
* Most of your classes are arranged for you. * You arrange your own schedule in consultation with your adviser. Schedules tend to look lighter than they really are. You have always arranged your education with the help of a facilitator.
* You are not responsible for knowing what it takes to graduate. * Graduation requirements are complex, and differ from year to year. You are expected to know those that apply to you. You have always been responsible for your own success or failure.
* Guiding principle: You will usually be told what to do and corrected if your behavior is out of line. * Guiding principle: You are expected to take responsibility for what you do and don’t do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions. * Guiding principle: You are expected to take responsibility for what you do and don’t do, as well as for the consequences of your decisions.
* The school year is 36 weeks long; some classes extend over both semesters and some don’t. * The academic year is divided into two separate 15-week semesters, plus a week after each semester for exams. You know how long something takes to learn by learning it.
* Classes generally have no more than 35 students. * Classes may number 100 students or more. “Classes” can have as few as one to many.
* You may study outside class as little as 0 to 2 hours a week, and this may be mostly last-minute test preparation. * You need to study at least 2 to 3 hours outside of class for each hour in class. Since you’ve chosen your curriculum, any extra study is a choice, not a chore.
* You seldom need to read anything more than once, and sometimes listening in class is enough. * You need to review class notes and text material regularly. You know that mastery means iterative cycles of learn, do, think, apply.
* You are expected to read short assignments that are then discussed, and often re-taught, in class. * You are assigned substantial amounts of reading and writing which may not be directly addressed in class. You know how to learn without coercion or hand-holding, because it’s all you’ve ever done.
* Guiding principle: You will usually be told in class what you need to learn from assigned readings. * Guiding principle: It’s up to you to read and understand the assigned material; lectures and assignments proceed from the assumption that you’ve already done so. * Guiding principle: Nobody can tell you what you “need” to learn but yourself.  It’s up to you.
* Teachers check your completed homework. * Professors may not always check completed homework, but they will assume you can perform the same tasks on tests. You don’t need babysitting to achieve success.
* Teachers remind you of your incomplete work. * Professors may not remind you of incomplete work.
* Teachers approach you if they believe you need assistance. * Professors are usually open and helpful, but most expect you to initiate contact if you need assistance. You’ve always known how to ask for resources you need.
* Teachers are often available for conversation before, during, or after class. * Professors expect and want you to attend their scheduled office hours. You’ve always planned appointments with the experts in your community to leverage their mentorship.
* Teachers have been trained in teaching methods to assist in imparting knowledge to students. * Professors have been trained as experts in their particular areas of research. You already know how to learn; what you need most are subject matter experts.
* Teachers provide you with information you missed when you were absent. * Professors expect you to get from classmates any notes from classes you missed. You’ve always been responsible for your own understanding.
* Teachers present material to help you understand the material in the textbook. * Professors may not follow the textbook. Instead, to amplify the text, they may give illustrations, provide background information, or discuss research about the topic you are studying. Or they may expect you to relate the

classes to the textbook readings.

You’ve always engaged in the learn, do, think, apply cycle with new information, so extrapolation comes easily to you.  You’ve been an active documentarian of your learning for years, and have a thorough understanding of the most efficient note-taking strategies for you.
* Teachers often write information on the board to be copied in your notes. * Professors may lecture nonstop, expecting you to identify the important points in your notes. When professors write on the board, it may be to amplify the lecture, not to summarize it. Good notes are a must.
* Teachers impart knowledge and facts, sometimes drawing direct connections and leading you through the thinking process. * Professors expect you to think about and synthesize seemingly unrelated topics. You’ve always sought out the what-ifs and connections between ideas, because you weren’t limited to a tiny menu of -preapproved academic knowledge.
* Teachers often take time to remind you of assignments and due dates. * Professors expect you to read, save, and consult the course syllabus (outline); the syllabus spells out exactly what is expected of you, when it is due, and how you will be graded. Again — you don’t expect, nor would you want, to be lead by the nose through a lesson.
* Teachers carefully monitor class attendance. * Professors may not formally take roll, but they are still likely to know whether or not you attended.
* Guiding principle: High school is a teaching environment in which you acquire facts and skills. * Guiding principle: College is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned. * Guiding principle: An ALC is a learning environment in which you take responsibility for thinking through and applying what you have learned.
* Grades are given for most assigned work. * Grades may not be provided for all assigned work. You don’t learn for the external motivation of a grade.
* Consistently good homework grades may raise your overall grade when test grades are low. * Grades on tests and major papers usually provide most of the course grade. You know effort is valuable, but success is often manifested in public displays of competency.
* Extra credit projects are often available to help you raise your grade. * Extra credit projects cannot, generally speaking, be used to raise a grade in a college course. You think extra credit is silly — if it was important, why wasn’t it discussed in the first place?
* Initial test grades, especially when they are low, may not have an adverse effect on your final grade. * Watch out for your first tests. These are usually “wake-up calls” to let you know what is expected–but they also may account for a substantial part of your course grade. You may be shocked when you get your grades. You know that failure hurts, because you’ve been allowed to fail  in the past.  You are also resilient because you’ve recovered from it.
* You may graduate as long as you have passed all required courses with a grade of D or higher. * You may graduate only if your average in classes meets the departmental standard–typically a 2.0 or C. You graduated by proving you were ready to do so.  Just scraping by didn’t cut it.
* Guiding principle: Effort counts.Courses are usually structured to reward a “good-faith effort.” * Guiding principle: Results count.Though “good-faith effort” is important in regard to the professor’s willingness to help you achieve good results, it will not substitute for results in the grading process. * Guiding principle: Visible success matters. Since sharing your mastery is an essential part of the culture, you approach new tasks with the expectation to be able to teach others later down the line.

The next section is about the transition to college, and I’ve taken the liberty of bolding the particular skills where Agile learning beats the pants off of traditional high school, hands-down.


    • Take control of your own education: think of yourself as a scholar.
    • Get to know your professors; they are your single greatest resource
    • Be assertive. Create your own support systems, and seek help when you realize you may need it.
    • Take advantage of the A-LEC; go to a workshop, enroll in ORACLE (HDEV 1110), work with a tutor.
    • Take control of your time. Plan ahead to satisfy academic obligations and make room for everything else.
    • Stretch yourself: enroll in at least one course that really challenges you.
    • Make thoughtful decisions: don’t take a course just to satisfy a requirement, and don’t drop any course too quickly.
    • Think beyond the moment: set goals for the semester, the year, your college career.

CONCLUSION: A student educated in the Agile learning methodology is more prepared for the University setting, in more ways, than a traditionally-educated student could ever hope to be.  See you on campus!

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons – University of Exeter
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons – University of Exeter

Original document available at http://www.smu.edu/Provost/ALEC/NeatStuffforNewStudents/HowIsCollegeDifferentfromHighSchool


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