You've probably already wondered what college will be like. Will it be like home? Will it be like your high school experience? Will you be able to handle it? Will it be fun and exciting? Will it be scary and nerve wracking? Well, hopefully a glimpse at a day in the life of a college student will help sort some things out!
The college schedule is very different than the traditional high school schedule. Typically, there is a lot more flexibility with your college classes. In high school, you were probably told that you had to take US History, which was offered every day at 10:00 am. In college, you’ll probably need to take a history class, but you could have 10 choices, which would be offered on different days, at different times, and for different durations.
The other cool thing about the college schedule is that you usually have more opportunities to explore your interests and passions. For example, you will be picking a major that will determine the types of classes you will specialize in. In high school, you have a set curriculum of classes you have to take across all subject areas. In college, think about your schedule as a pyramid. Your freshman and sophomore year, you’ll take more general education classes (a mixture of everything so you walk away well-rounded) and a few classes in your major. But during your junior and senior year, you’ll take fewer general education classes and more classes in your major.
Related:Find scholarships for your major
Another big difference you should be aware of is the time structure. Right now, you’re probably in school from about 7:30 am–2:30 pm, Monday through Friday. This will not be the case in college, where you usually take four or five classes at different times throughout the week. You might have a science class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:10–11:00 am. Perhaps you’ll have a Spanish class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:15–3:00 pm. Then, you might have your Introduction to Education class on Wednesday evenings from 6:30–9:00 pm. Maybe on Mondays you’ll have three classes, and on Tuesdays you’ll have two classes. There will always be some courses that are only offered on certain days at certain times, but for the most part, there are a lot of options to think about! If you’re a morning person, you might want to schedule your classes to be done by noon. If you’re more of a night owl, having that first class start at 1:15 in the afternoon might be the best thing to ever happen to you. And you definitely won’t be in class for seven hours straight!
However, college is like high school in that you will have the opportunity to get involved by joining different clubs, organizations, and maybe even by getting a part-time job. Most schools have hundreds of extracurricular activities, and it is pretty easy to start one as well. So, as you can imagine, your schedule can get crazy with meetings, band practice, sport practice, play rehearsal, work hours, etc.!
Of course, the best way to see what a true day in the life of a college student is like is to actually get the schedules of some college students! Here are two undergraduates and their real-life experiences.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Major: Business Administration, Junior
Hometown: Lancaster, California
Coolest thing about college in 10 words or less:The opportunity to be yourself and discover your potential!
- 9:15 am I woke up early this time! Let’s get some breakfast! On second thought...snooze button.
- 9:45 am Finally up and ready for 10:00 am class. Don’t need to worry about being late with my trusty Beach Cruiser.
- 10:00–11:50 am Entrepreneurship class, listening to fellow classmates give their business elevator pitches. Awesome!
- 12:00–1:50 pm Break for lunch at Commons and head back to the dorm to watch that episode of The Walking Dead I missed last night.
- 2:00–4:50 pm Ugh, three-hour class; it’s a design class though, so I get to use my laptop.
- 5:00–7:00 pm Hang out at the dorm and get dinner with my residents. It’s a lot of fun being a resident advisor!
- 8:00–10:00 pm Rehearsal with my a cappella group. I’m president this year, so I need to make sure I’m there on time!
- 10:15 pm–1:00 am Homework, reading, and dorm hall shenanigans. Did someone say Halo 5? Sweet...
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Major: Biomedical Engineering, Junior
Hometown: Joliet, Illinois
Coolest thing about college in 10 words or less:Midnight ice cream runs, random adventures, and great education!
- 7:10 am First alarm goes off. Prepare to ignore it for the next 20–30 minutes.
- 7:20–7:50 am Slowly convince myself to get up after pushing the snooze button for too long.
- 8:40–9:00 am Make the long walk to class on the opposite side of campus.
- 9:00–10:00 am Intro to Fiction, my only non-technical class; I love having a legitimate excuse to read good books!
- 10:00 am–12:00 pm Head to my professor’s office hours. I would not be able to complete this homework without help!
- 12:00–1:00 pm Dynamics lecture (a crazy mechanical engineering class), where I eat my lunch of stale chips and PB&J, trying not to crunch too loudly. Normally, I get angry looks from the professor.
- 1:00–2:00 pm Modeling Human Physiology, an interesting class; I just wish there were fewer equations!
- 3:00–6:00 pm Research! I analyze musculoskeletal motion data to better understand the balance and gait of people.
- 6:00–7:00 pm Dinner with my friends at whichever campus restaurant has the best deal.
- 7:00–8:00 pm Go to Engineering Council meeting.
- 8:00 pm–12:00 am Work on homework at the library!
"The college schedule can seem crazy at times. Doing homework until midnight is not exceptionally glamorous or easy, but I love what I do and all that I learn. The best and worst part of college is the flexibility it offers. You are able to choose everything: your classes, extracurricular activities, friends, etc. A great deal of responsibility and time management is needed, but with a bit of planning and coffee you can be very successful. Surviving college takes hard work! However, at the end of all this, you will have your degree, and no one can take that away from you. How cool is that?” — Michelle Hattan
Related: (Another) Day in the Life of a College Student
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Those of us who are college veterans will never forget our freshman year at college. Some of us may like to forget our freshman year, but in general it is a time filled with anticipation, some anxiety, and wonderful discoveries.
College is a lot different than high school. You may decide to commute from your home to a local campus. Your freshman experience will definitely make an impression on you. Without doubt, though, the most dramatic freshman year is for those living away from home. What can you expect as you head off into the wonderful world of higher education?
The first thing you’ll notice is the workload. It will be heavier and more intense than you ever experienced before. The major challenges of college work are the large volume of reading, the short deadlines, and the writing, writing, writing. A related effect that can be brought on by the workload is doubt, frustration, and possibly loneliness. You’ll be away from the comforts and friendships your home provided for you over the previous years.
On some of those long, seemingly endless nights of studying and writing, it will be only natural for you to long for the good old days. Hang in there. These down periods will pass. Whatever you do, don’t make major decisions about your major, your courses, or even your roommate during one of these blue periods. Things always look better in the morning.
You’ll be making a lot of new friends. Continue to be yourself. Don’t strike a pose or play the role of someone you’re not. Select your friends with the same care and patience you have always used. Believe it or not, your college friendships will be among the most satisfying and long-term of your life. It’s always exciting to discover how wonderfully diverse college relationships can be.
You’ll also be on your own, your own boss (more or less) 24 hours a day. Be careful here. Don’t go flying off the end of the pier. Enjoy your newfound freedom. Stay up until dawn talking about your ideals and ambitions with your dorm’s regular bull session buddies. Sleep in until the afternoon on a light class day. Explore the local town or suburbs with one or two of your new friends. Remember, though, with freedom comes responsibility. Even though your parents won’t be around to follow up on your loose ends, you shouldn’t let things go completely. Just find your own style.
You may even start to think about your future. Be on the lookout for role models. Maybe a certain professor is especially inspiring. Perhaps your school has some ground-breaking research going on. Be sensitive to your own gravity. If some area of study attracts you, find out all you can about it. It might be the beginning of your self-definition process. Going to college is as much about finding out who you really are as it is about getting that degree.