8 Major Differences Between Secondary School and College You Absolutely Need to Know

Secondary school and college are two very different environments. Discover the 8 major differences between the two here!

Updated 19 Dec 2019

8 Major Differences Between Secondary School and College - Feature-Image

It’s true that secondary school and college have similarities (you’ll still be a student on a budget, sigh), but do you know that the two can be contrasting in many aspects? Your social circles will change, you won’t be able to apply the same study methods in college and not to mention the culture shock you will experience.

So if you think things will be the same once you start college, think again!

#1. Social circles

Differences between secondary school and college-Social circles

Secondary school means spending 5 years of your life with the same group of people and the last 2 years with the same people in your respective streams, some of whom you have gotten to know very well. You can also look forward to rehat time just to spend those few minutes catching up with friends from other classes.

In college, however, you’ll find yourself amidst a sea of classmates at the start of enrolment, whose names you’re likely to forget once the day ends. This is especially true if you’re enrolled in popular courses such as Business and Psychology. But worry not, you will eventually find a group of friends to stick with as you progress into your studies.

Bottom Line: In secondary school, you'll know everyone in your class. In college, the faces may change and there could be cliques formed within the first week of enrolment.

#2. Schedules

Differences between secondary school and college-Schedules

Don’t you just hate your rigid timetable in school, where you'll have Additional Mathematics followed by Physics starting at the ungodly hour of 7.45am every Monday? Not to mention you can never get away with skipping 1-2 classes without missing the entire day of school!

With college, you can say goodbye to fixed schedules! You will now be allowed to design your own timetable to avoid those horrendous 8am classes so that you can catch more zzz’s. However, the downside of this flexibility is that it makes it easy for you to skip classes. For example, you could be burning the midnight oil to complete an assignment and as a result, you’re forced to skip your morning classes but can easily get back on track in the afternoon.

Bottom Line: Secondary school has you following an 8-hour timetable of back-to-back classes. Once you're in college, you'll be free to design your own schedule and can potentially get away with skipping lectures every now and then (just don’t make it a habit!).

#3. Academicians

Differences between secondary school and college-Academicians

Secondary school teachers may be stricter than your average lecturer, but it’s only because their heart is set in the right place to ensure that you pass your SPM with flying colours. When they see you struggling, they are the ones who will provide you with the guidance you need so that you have a better understanding of the topic.

On the other hand, while there may be different types of college lecturers out there, some are more relaxed than others — these are the lecturers who you would most likely feel comfortable getting advice from. However, you are expected to take initiative and approach your lecturers for guidance on your own as they simply have too much on their plate to go out of their way to reach out to you themselves.

Bottom Line: School teachers are stricter but will provide personalised tutelage when they see a struggling student. Lecturers and professors are usually more “chilled”, friendly and approachable, but will not provide individual attention unless initiated by the student.

#4. Responsibilities

Differences between secondary school and college-Responsibilities

During school days, even if you forget to do your homework till the very last minute, you can still get it done the night before class as it usually doesn't take that long. Even if you hand in your homework late, it wouldn't affect your overall grades.

In college, you can kiss this leniency goodbye! With strict deadlines that can’t be extended unless you have a valid reason, you'll have no choice but to adhere to it. And don’t think you can rush through homework like you did back in school. Do you think you can finish a 4-part, 1,000-word essay that requires a minimum of 10 references all in one night? It’s not likely, so learn to manage your time well.

But does it matter if you miss some assignments? Well, as some types of study programmes are more course-based, you will lose marks if you fail to meet deadlines and this will affect your overall grades.

Bottom Line: Even if you neglect your school homework, you can usually get it done if you pull an all-nighter. In college, it will be impossible to complete an entire assignment in one night. Not only that, failing to meet submission deadlines can actually affect your grades.

#5. Independence and freedom

Differences between secondary school and college-Independence and freedom

When you’re still at school, you'll likely face more restrictions from your parents as you are still young. Whether you want to head to the mall, go to a party or even attend a school trip, you'll need to ask your parents for permission.

In college, your parents will tend to loosen up a little as they believe that you are mature enough to be responsible for your time. They may even be fine with you moving outstation or overseas since it’s for the betterment of your education experience.

Aside from that, some of you may even be given a car to drive so that you can go to college on your own. This means that you would be free to lepak with your friends in between and after classes and go on unchaperoned road trips with your friends.

Bottom Line: While your parents control every aspect of your life during secondary school, rest assured they'll be more lenient and grant you some freedom during college.

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#6. Finances

Differences between secondary school and college-Finances

Your daily allowance at school is likely to be minimal since your daily expenses don’t cost that much — no need for petrol, parking fees and other expenses that you’ll encounter during your college time. And even if you tried to work to make some cash, you wouldn’t be able to earn much as you’re still too young.

On the other side of the coin, being in college means that you will have more expenses — petrol, pricier campus food, costly textbooks, phone bills and more. Because of this, your parents may give you more allowance, set up a bank account for you where they transfer some cash every month or if they really trust you, give you a credit card!

But remember, don’t take all this money for granted. Learn how to save it early on so that you can use it for emergencies or treat yourself in the future.

Bottom Line: Unlike secondary school where your pocket money is controlled and often given in small amounts, you will be given more financial freedom in college in the form of a higher allowance or possibly even a credit card.

#7. Extra-curricular activities

Differences between secondary school and college-Extra-curricular activities

Most public schools in Malaysia often make it compulsory for students to participate in at least a club or society. Additionally, the Ministry of Education has introduced the 1 Student 1 Sport initiative, making it compulsory for students to participate in a sports activity in national schools.

When you’re in college, participating in clubs or societies is entirely optional. No more having to take part in a sport even though you’re more interested in performing arts or toil away in a cadet uniform when you’d much rather be tinkering with science experiments. You’ll have the freedom to pick and choose activities that are interesting to you or even none at all.

Bottom Line: In college, there'll be no more compulsory participation in clubs and societies as it will be entirely up to you!

#8. Study materials

Differences between secondary school and college-Study materials

Besides using affordable school textbooks, your secondary school teachers will sometimes go out of their own way to provide photocopies of workbook activities and scout for past-year question papers for you to work on in preparation for exams. This can make revising for exams easier.

As college students, however, you will be responsible for obtaining and maintaining your own study materials. Be prepared to source your own textbooks (which can be costly), write down comprehensive notes during lectures and do your own research after class through supplementary reading in order to master a topic.

Bottom Line: In school, study materials are readily provided and will often be sufficient to pass your exams. However, this will no longer be the same in college as you'll be responsible for keeping pristine notes and work independently to score that A.

So there you have it! Make what you will of the differences between secondary school and college life — no two experiences are the same between individuals, so it’s up to you to make the best out of your secondary and tertiary education life!

Secondary school and college can be polar opposites. Here are 7 tips on how you can make the transition a smoother process.

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    Natasha Sin

    Natasha Sin

    I went outside once. That was before Netflix.