How College is Different From High School (as experienced by an IIT student)

As a high school student in the suburbs of Atlanta, I knew college would be a different experience. I thought I knew what to expect, but I have been so surprised by what’s actually different.

1. You are never in a car.

Like many suburban teens, much of my time outside of school was spent in cars of all sizes and conditions. My high school had over 800 parking spaces for 1300 juniors and seniors and there was still a lottery to get a spot. We drove everywhere—to downtown Atlanta, to hiking trails, to concerts, even to friends’ houses a block away.

In Chicago, months will go by without sitting in a heated front seat. You will bike, walk, board, rollerblade, even Segway more than you drive if you live on campus without a car. The CTA will become your best friend (train approaching in 1 minute as you’re walking up to the platform) and worst enemy (doors closing as you’re walking up to the platform).

2. You can go out every night of the week… but you won’t want to.

I remember begging my mom to let me go to weeknight concerts downtown (always failed) and sneaking out of my house just to walk around the block with friends on a school night. I was so excited to move out of the house and finally get to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to!

Lol… I did whatever I wanted and it was awful. Imagine eating only your favorite junk food for a week. Day 1: Best day of your life. Day 7: begging for broccoli. Replace junk food with going out and broccoli with sleep and suddenly, the party paradox makes sense. Once the initial allure of no parents, no rules wore off, I found a better balance between sleeping, school, and going out.

3. Studying becomes a lot more fun

When I studied in high school, I always worked alone. I often finished my homework during class or my lunch hour. My friends weren’t in the same classes as me and many of them weren’t really into school.

At IIT, the way I studied changed. Everyone I met was excited about school and into their major. Most students take the same intro classes (like Chem, Physics, and Calc), so it’s easy to work with your friends. Goofing off in the library between homework problems and ordering late night pizza before a big exam are some of my favorite memories of freshman year.

4. Class isn’t easier or harder… just different.

High school is difficult in a dotting your I’s and crossing your t’s kind of way. Your classes require you to turn in many small assignments complete and on time. Some people are great at this. Some people are not. My high school career was filled with educational debauchery (highlights include answering A for 25 out of 25 questions on a spanish quiz, memorizing the entire Bill of Rights at lunch, and writing a 5 page paper titled “George Washington is a Baller”). Although I miss these exploits, I am glad that there are fewer assignments in college so you actually have the effort available to take school more seriously.

College is difficult in a more conventional sense. The classes tackle big subject matter, but your brain is ready for it after 12 years of education. The biggest difference for me was that doing all of my homework and studying the day before the exams sometimes isn’t enough to master the material. Tests are almost never multiple choice, so you really have to know what’s up.

5. The people you meet are so different from you, but you have so much in common with them.

In high school, my social side and intellectual side were separate. My friends and I talked about everything but school. I didn’t even talk to my parents about school. When I asked my mom for a check for 5 AP exams at the end of my senior year, she replied, “I didn’t know you were taking any!”

At IIT, we are all from different backgrounds, but we have STEM education in common. You can tell corny math jokes and people will get them. Your friends will be able to talk with you about the work of at least 1 famous architect (even the engineers know Mies). Don’t get people here started about anything related to computers.

Being smart is cool at IIT, because smart people get to work at cool companies like Google and GE and NASA. The people I’ve met at IIT not only allow me to express 100% of my being, but also encourage me to be the smartest and hardest working version of myself.

^ I think this difference is my favorite one.


Emily Warman, 3rd Year CS Undergrad