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High school vs. higher education

By Josh Wallen
On March 14, 2012

As we hit the midpoint of Spring semester, and I notice the usual drop in attendance that goes along with it, I'm reminded of something: high school and college are totally different beasts.
My high school did a terrible, terrible job of preparing students for the way college life works and what would be expected of them.
That, I believe, is in large part why so many people drop out during their freshman year.
And I know; I dropped out after one semester in 2006.
I had gotten very used to doing things one way, and college demands a completely different skill-set.
High school was always holding my hand, pushing me along, staying on my butt to keep working.
It was much stricter, and featured a LOT more busywork.
I felt like I had to prove that I knew what I was doing over and over again, partly so nobody got left behind, and partly so I couldn't blaze through the curriculum too fast.
This is why it didn't work for me.
I can understand why it's done the way it is. It ensures that everyone knows how to do things, and it tends to be extremely easy.
I was just never challenged much in high school. I never felt like I really had to put a lot of thought into anything.
I failed high school geometry something like three times, not because I didn't know how it was done or because I wasn't paying attention, but because I refused to spend hours on end doing the busywork.
Was this lazy on my part? Absolutely.
But if I could go back and do it again, I honestly wouldn't do it any differently.
I didn't live up to my potential. I didn't feel like it really mattered whether or not I put in any real effort. I got lucky because in a way, I was right.
I did extremely well on the ACT, and from the time I graduated, my high school transcript was just like points on "Whose Line is It Anyway": it didn't matter.
When I was in fourth and fifth grade, my teacher ran the class like it was a college class, more or less.
We spent the first couple hours of the day going over everything, then we were let go and had the rest of the day to work on it all.
The responsibility to do well was put on us, and we were given a lot of freedom to accomplish that in our own way.
I learned more in those two years than at any other time in public education.
It pretty much ruined me until I got to college, because I realized that THIS is how I want to learn, and I never could again until I got to ETSU.
College leaves so much more up to the individual student.
Most of my classes have no repercussions, other than the loss of knowledge, for not showing up.
I can bring and do whatever I like in class, so long as it doesn't disturb the other students.
Most critically, I now feel like the things I do and the material I learn actually means something. It's truly important.
It's not just a bunch of random busywork, teaching me something over the course of nine weeks what I could learn in two.
I now have a very strong sense of agency. When I got serious about ETSU, I finally saw that my choices mattered.
And I will reap the benefits of being here and take everything from it that I can.
Was your high school any different from mine, or would you just like to share some stories of those ever-so halcyon years?
Email me at, and join the Geek Critique Facebook page!

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