Grades. Sleep. Friends. Pick two of the three.
Or is that what to expect at all?
For those of you who already are sweating, wondering which factor to eschew, do not worry! Although college life is certainly different than what life in high school might have been, it’s nothing you shouldn’t be able to handle with balance.
So what can you *really* expect from academic life in US colleges?
Choices. Freedom. Responsibility. Pick all of the above.
Freshman year is designed to be a year of transition. During your freshman year, you will probably take most of your general education requirements (if your college has them.) The good news about these aptly labeled gen. eds is that these introductory level classes are usually very easy. If you’ve been accustomed to AP level courses, there’s a good chance that the gen eds are “easier” than those courses.
That being said, even from these courses you can find a great deal about what to expect from academic life. College is very much about *self-directed* learning as opposed to teacher-directed learning. You will have classes where although there is a lecturing teacher every day, you won’t learn everything you need to know for the test unless you put time in studying.
Furthermore, one major difference from colleges and previous education is that grades are concentrated. Whereas elementary, middle, and high school featured plenty of busy work and homework to cushion grades, your classes may have only two or three major tests to determine the entirety of your class grade, in lieu of the several smaller homework assignments characteristic of high school. Although this means that you have less to worry about at any one time, this also means that one bad grade will weigh much heavier than it might have in high school. Furthermore, even if you have homework that is not due for a grade, the teacher probably instructs in such a way that if you don’t practice the concepts learned in class frequently, you won’t be ready for tests when they come. The moral of the story is to complete your work for your benefit, not for a grade.
Simply remember to be apprehensive for these first few courses, because these are a relatively safe way to test the waters of how much you need to get involved. You will quickly find out if your methods of studying are effective or not, and then you can correct an ineffective method of studying before getting into your major-specific courses.
Sophomore year will often involve you either completing your general education courses or beginning the prerequisites for upper level in your major. If you don’t have a major yet; don’t worry, because you are only expected to have a major by the *end* of the sophomore year. However, one difference between freshman year and sophomore year will be that some courses will ramp up in difficulty. Your introductory classes were about familiarizing yourself with concept and vocabularies, but as you move into more advanced classes, professors will stress more on the application of concepts. Pay particular attention, however, to the classes related to your major. The stereotype of the workaholic engineering student who has to lock himself in his room for hours to study and do homework is an unfortunate case that arises from the nature of their sophomore level courses (which some call “weed-out” classes, as they are designed to determine who is truly dedicated to the major and drive out all who are not.) If at this time, you find you enjoy the subject but the classes are too tough, don’t worry – at least initially. The major-specific classes most likely won’t be so painful in the future as they might be now.
On the other hand, if you find that you actively DISLIKE the classes in your major, then at the end of the year you should reevaluate your choice of major. For junior and senior year, you definitely want to be poised toward a degree in whatever field you finally decide upon.
As for junior and senior year, you can expect even more specific classes, generally tailored around your major. You won’t have the introductory hand-holding of freshman year, but you also probably won’t have the punishment of “weed-out” classes. However, what will remain as constants are 1) your freedom to plan what you will do and when. (What will you study? How long will you study for? What other activities will you manage?) 2) your responsibilities with respect to those freedom. (Whatever choices you make, you will have to live with consequences, and those consequences could impact your future.)