Four differences between university and high school homework

Michael Lisinski


As a future university student, you may have fears about the workload, but I'm here to help!

To help crush those fears and prepare you for the next step in your academic journey, I've outlined four distinct differences between schoolwork in university and high school.

If you're interested in learning about those differences, keep reading!

1. You choose your subject matter

High school gives you an all-around education—the school system is designed to give you a basic grasp of language, science, math, the arts and so on. While this is helpful in creating a general base of knowledge, this approach may be discouraging at times because most of us are not great at every single topic. Some of us excel in writing and struggle with math, and vice versa.

However, university is designed quite differently. While there are some faculty-specific foundational courses you have to take, the program you're in reflects your interests; and you decide the majority of the courses you take. 

Gif of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory saying "I am a man of Science!"

Whether you take courses for your program or electives in a different faculty, you get to be in charge of your program map. This means, your homework will be focused on topics that are of interest to you; which can also make it less daunting! 

2. You’re more independent

Often in high school, your teachers will constantly remind you of upcoming due dates, check if you did your homework and make sure that everyone attends class every day. They'll also monitor your personal progress according to set criteria, as evident by their feedback in those parent-teacher meetings everyone loves.

In university, this is almost completely inverted. You usually aren't directly punished if you skip class, your professors may not remind you of due dates and they certainly won't ask to meet with your parents.

Instead, these responsibilities are left to you. You'll quickly learn that it's in your best interest to attend class, keep track of due dates and complete all the assigned readings you're given. You're also responsible for monitoring your progress and holding yourself accountable when you get off track. 

gif of Sheldon reading a comic hidden behind a book

But don't think this independence means you can't ask for help. You're independent, but you're never abandoned! While it can be nerve-racking, talking to your professors is not as scary as you think. They're here to help you, but you have to reach out to them to receive that help. 

Ontario Tech also has faculty-specific Academic Advisors who are happy to answer any questions and concerns you may have along your journey.

3. You must do more in-depth research

High school provides an introduction to the world of research, but as a high school student, you don't have the same access to academic resources that you do as a university student.

The main avenues for research in high school are textbooks provided by teachers, the all-too-familiar Google search and whatever can be found in the high school or local library. This is fine for high school work, but in university, you'll often need something a little more academically rigorous.

gif of Sheldon asking "Do you have any books about making friends?"

Though you usually buy textbooks for your classes, you must go beyond citing these if you want to create a well-researched project. You'll also need to let go of the idea that if something exists, Google will be able to supply it for you.

Your best sources for information will be academic books and articles, and you will be able to find these through the university's library, available on-campus and online. Our library website gives you access to an incredible amount of academic articles and databases, most of which will be blocked with a paywall if you try to find them through a search engine like Google Scholar.

These resources are the standard for research papers, assignments and projects in university. Be sure to familiarize yourself with them and reach out to our academic support team if you ever need help!

4. You’re often asked questions that don't have answers yet

This was the most remarkable difference that I noticed between high school and university. My high school teachers usually assigned work that asked questions with specific, right-or-wrong answers.

Teachers who didn't subscribe to this model seemed rebellious, as though allowing learning to be fun and creative involved breaking some kind of rule!

gif of Sheldon looking scared saying "The horror!"

In university, this changed. In my Introduction to Communication class, our professor would ask us questions about how we can improve society, the role of technology in the world, changes in global culture and many other things. 

Our replies weren't supposed to conform to built-in answers because no specific answers exist for these questions. The class was designed to get us thinking in new ways, not to test how many facts we had been able to memorize.

Perhaps most importantly, I felt that participating in these conversations could be the first step in helping change the world. Because there are no definitive answers to many of the questions your professors will ask you, you will be taking steps into new intellectual territory.

These are just a few differences between high school and university schoolwork. I am sure you will encounter more than this, but hopefully, this gives you a little insight to help you feel less scared and more prepared. 

Be bold, future student, and go forward with enthusiasm!

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