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High school vs college

  1. Jul 31, 2012 #1
    I am a recent high school graduate and was considering taking college classes at my local community college.

    I am hesitant about this in fear that college-level coursework might be overwhelmingly difficult and advanced.

    Here are my questions.

    *How many classes does a full-time college student take per semester?
    *How many credits are required for an associates and bachelors degree?
    *I excelled in all of my other classes but I am very poor in math and struggled just to get a passing grade in high school even with tutors, will I be required to take advanced-level math courses?
    *How much more difficult and advanced is the coursework when compared to high school?
    *On top of your major and minor, how many general education classes are you required to take?
    *Are physics and calculus required for non-science majors?
    *How many hours does a full-time student spend in class every day?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 31, 2012 #2


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    Hey Kutt and welcome to the forums.

    I'm not in the US, but as a point of reference here, typically associate degrees are 2 years, bachelors are 3 to 4 years (depending on the degree and major), a full time load for university is recommended to include 40-48 hours of total time (including lectures, tutorials, assignments, reading, etc) a week for 13 weeks of face-time (with final exams shortly after).

    For math, it depends on the university and the program you are entering. At my university a lot of the non-math majors have the option of taking the lower calculus sequence which covers the topics at either a lower level or a slower pace. Also the courses have prerequisites, but you should know that the way things are taught is different and you can get support be it from university lecturers or TA's and this is used frequently.

    University level coursework goes at a faster pace than high school, but you have to remember that the university will have people that actually understand mathematics and have been doing it in one form or another for a long time (even if it's only teaching), so the learning experience is a lot better if you get people that understand it properly and can relay this knowledge to you. If you put in the work, I think you'll surprise yourself at how much you will be able to learn and people that are motivated do tend to go well in a university environment.

    The other thing is that there are a lot of people who are just as smart if not smarter who can contribute their own thoughts and ideas on things and a key thing to remember is that if you get a lot of these people in the same room, amazing things can happen (and do happen).

    At my uni I haven't taken any non-math subject (and I'm greatful that I don't have to), but I've heard the US system is a lot different.

    As for hours, it depends: some students take as little as 8 or 9 contact hours per week in undergraduate and some as much as 25-30 (students doing engineering do this kind of thing). It is recommended that people spend about 40-48 hours time on stuff in total and I imagine some people spend quite a lot more time depending on the degree and how involved/serious/whatever they are with regards to the subject.

    One thing to keep in mind is that expanding yourself is like exercise: at the start it's really tiring and probably pretty painful as well, but as time goes on, things do become easier and soon you don't think about the things that were worrying you before.

    The thing is that the benchmark increases so your new pains will come about and just like before you slowly overcome them.

    Mathematics is like any other human activity even though many people don't think of it this way: with an activity you get people who are interested and they communicate with each other. You get experienced people who mentor juniors and get them up to speed, you get explanations from senior people that turn the jargon into stuff that can be related to (i.e. all the greek symbols) and then through the process of growth, collaboration, and a lot of effort, you get better at it just like you would if you ran two days a week or went to the gym.

    But like a lot of things, the stuff needed to get to the interesting parts is actually really boring: you'll spend a lot of time doing problem sets that get your mind thinking in a certain way just like athletes have to do routine exercises and drills over and over and over again so that it is natural when they actually want to do more stuff.

    Think of a basketball player who is learning and spends hours each day and night just shooting hoops over and over again, and then link that to what is done with solving integrals and mathematical equations and you'll understand what I mean.

    Personally I like math and how it lets me see the world in a whole different way, and it's good to pass on that perspective from time to time and a lot of people on these forums probably feel the same way about their own degree/career/whatever so if you take a calculus course or decide to go further, then remember that there are people who are enthusiastic about what they do and it certainly helps to know where to find these people if you are in a jam.

    Good luck!
  4. Jul 31, 2012 #3


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    Questions like these can be answered by looking at your college's web site or printed catalog.

    Usually one credit corresponds to one hour in class per week: a 3-credit course meets for one hour three days a week, or 1.5 hours twice a week, or maybe even for 3 hours once per week. A full-time student takes usually between 12 and 18 credits per semester; 15 is typical, which translates to 15 hours in class per week. How these hours are distributed between days depends on your class schedule.

    It depends on what you major in. Even if your major doesn't require math, the general education requirements may include some math, probably algebra. Again, refer to your college's web site, which should list course requirements for all the majors that they offer, and their gen ed requirements.
  5. Jul 31, 2012 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    The level of difficulty of an intro class should be somewhat higher than high school.

    However, what I see students really struggle with is the overall transition to college expectations- you are now responsible for your own learning. This means you have to be self-motivated and better at time management.
  6. Aug 1, 2012 #5
    I hope it isn't overwhelming difficult.
  7. Aug 1, 2012 #6
    It's not. :smile:

    As a previous poster said, the difference isn't so much the difficulty as the fact that you are now responsible for your own learning. No one is going to chase you down and ask for a late assignment or make sure you come to class or check if you understand the material before a test. The burden is on *you* to get the work done and to go *ask* if there is something you don't understand.

    Some people thrive in college. Some crash and burn. There are endless stories of students done in by partying, video games, or just sheer laziness. But if you work diligently, you should do fine.
  8. Aug 1, 2012 #7
    It's definitely not overwhelmingly difficult. Yes, the material is learned in more depth and at a quicker pace than most high school classes, but it's certainly nowhere near impossible. It'll take some discipline on your part to utilize office hours and put in any necessary study time. Be smart with your priorities and you'll probably do just fine.

    From your first post, I see you're thinking of going to a community college at first...good choice, in my opinion. Much cheaper and gives an equivalent education to a state school (from my own experience, that is).
  9. Aug 1, 2012 #8
    I don't think you will find community college classes much different than highschool ones. To me, it feels a lot like highschool. The vast majority of classes I have taken have TONS of homework (that is handed in for a grade), lots of quizzes, usually there are more tests than just the mid term/final, the instructors take attendence (which they can use to drop you from the course or dock points from your grade), most of my classes do not allow tablets/laptops for note taking to force students to pay attention, there really aren't that many essays, and the grading seems lax for the most part.

    I took several years off before I went to college. Community college has been completely different than what I imagined college would be like (I'm enrolled at three community colleges simultaneously). There is maybe a bit more work at a somewhat faster pace... but really it feels like highschool. I've only had 3 classes that fulfilled my expectations of a demanding/difficult college class. They had little to no graded homework so you were left mostly to your own for learning the material outside of lectures and they had only two exams that were worth the majority of the grade.

    I wouldn't be worried at all if you were a good student in highschool. Even in the subjects that you had difficulty with, I've found that the community colleges I've gone to have a lot of *free* tutoring services, workshops, and most of the instructors are very helpful and friendly.
  10. Aug 1, 2012 #9
    So prepare in the summer. :)

    To be full time you need at least 12 credits (in the US). Generally people take around 15-19 credits- depending how their math background (for math/physics majors). However, others who have a solid foundation are more apt to take credits in the spectrum of 17-19 credits, while those less prepared would take 12-15 credits.

    It varies from major to major and from school to school, but the rough number is around 60 credits for a sophomore and 120 for a bachelors, so if you take 15 credits a semester that would equal out to 2 and four years respectively.

    Nope, you will be given a placement exam, and you will be placed accordingly depending on how you did.

    Can't really answer that to be honest. It is a different environment, you will need to be more independent in your study. In high school they force-feed you the material. Some like this, some don't. Personally, I think college is much better -- you just have to learn to teach yourself. Too many people go off into college thinking it is the same thing and rely too much on the classroom environment to learn.

    Quite a few, can't tell for sure.

    It depends on your major. We need more information about you.

    As much as your heart desires. They have a general rule to study 1-2 hours for every credit. So if you have 15 credits, you would study 15-30 hours. This depends on the difficulty of the class, more or less will be required.

    Great post Chiro, right on the spot!
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  11. Aug 1, 2012 #10
    Well let's not make an assumption based on limited experience and then generalize. In my community college, homework was not graded, you are allowed to have laptops or tablets, we didn't have "too much" homework which is good and bad at the same time, and I'm not too sure how lax the grading is because I haven't been anywhere else to compare it to. And about the essays, it depends on the professor. It was different for me from professor to professor. I've also had classes that were 2-3 exams with no quizzes. So you can see just how much things differ from college to college. You could have had the same experience at a non community college.
  12. Aug 2, 2012 #11
    Same here from my experience at my community college. Most of my classes have little to no turn-in homework (note: this does not mean easy -- it means I have to have the willpower to study on my own and do any and/or all problems in the text to be adequately prepared for the exams), 2-3 exams total, and rarely any quizzes. Electronic devices are allowed for note taking. The content delivery and grading is on par with what I experienced at a large university in another state some years back. Each professor is different, of course, and some are notorious for being difficult while others are known for being the opposite.
  13. Aug 3, 2012 #12
    Likewise here. And it does vary from professor to professor (especially for lower-division classes) - but it is like that in every university.
  14. Aug 5, 2012 #13
    I did a BA in creative writing at a small liberal arts college, with a fairly substantial side study of math, so your mileage may vary. In my experience:

    *How many classes does a full-time college student take per semester?
    >> My school did trimesters. We had three ten-week terms a year, during each of which we took three classes, for a total of nine classes per year. I think on a semester people generally take a similar courseload--two terms of 4-5 classes for a total of 9 or 10 yearly.

    *How many credits are required for an associates and bachelors degree?
    >>My school didn't do credit hours, it just gave a credit to every class except those with relatively low time commitments like private music lessons, which were worth half a credit. We needed 36 credits to graduate with a BA.

    *I excelled in all of my other classes but I am very poor in math and struggled just to get a passing grade in high school even with tutors, will I be required to take advanced-level math courses?
    >>No, probably not. You can probably take stats or math for non-majors or college algebra or something like that.

    *How much more difficult and advanced is the coursework when compared to high school?
    >>It depends on the subject and where the course falls in the major sequence and what you mean by "advanced." I would say that in general, it's not so much that it's more difficult work as that it's more serious work. You do a lot less of the busywork like fill in the blank worksheets that you see in high school, you're expected to do a lot more reading on your own, and you have to write more papers. You're also expected to take a lot more responsibility for learning things, since no one is necessarily checking up on whether or not you've finished all the homework. I felt like the transition from high school work to college work wasn't that bad, and you work your way up to the really hard stuff. Like, I had to write what was essentially a 25-page artist's statement to go with my final writing portfolio before I graduated. If you'd made me do that freshman year, I'd have flipped out. By the time I got there, though, it wasn't bad.

    *On top of your major and minor, how many general education classes are you required to take?
    >>I think maybe around a quarter of my credits were gen eds? Some of them overlapped with classes I needed to or wanted to take for other reasons, and I could have double-counted some things if I had planned ahead.

    *Are physics and calculus required for non-science majors?
    >>I was not required to take either, although I did end up pursuing a lot of math because I was interested in it. I just had to take a quantitative literacy (read: math-based) class and a math or science class. I could have taken one class to fill both requirements had I wanted to.

    *How many hours does a full-time student spend in class every day?
    >>I took 3 classes a term, and most classes met for somewhere between 3 and 5 hours a week. I think it usually worked out to being, like, three days a week of 2.5-3.5 hours and then maybe two of only 1 or 2 hours? Some terms I had days off as well. It varied.
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