7 differences between high school and tertiary study

7 differences between high school and tertiary study

Thinking of carrying on with study at university or a polytech or other training place straight out of secondary school? The transition from classroom to lecture theatre might not seem like such a big change, but universities and polytechs expect very different things from their students than high schools do.

The most important difference between the school environments you are in now and the tertiary sector is that the responsibility for your success or failure now belongs only to you. Sure there is some great support available at every institution, but none of this will work if you don’t. 

Here’s a look at 7 of the most important differences between school and tertiary study:


  • Freedom

    Whether it’s showing up late to class or not doing your homework, you won’t get in trouble for the same things that could have earned you a detention in school. This level of freedom is an amazing feeling (kiss school assembly goodbye), but of course part of the test of tertiary education is managing to succeed under your own steam. You’ll find that freedom needs to go hand in hand with…

  • Responsibility

    The autonomy that comes with tertiary study can be a bit of a mixed blessing, because for possibly the first time, the responsibility for your success is entirely yours. Getting yourself to class, doing extra study and handing in your assignments on time are all crucial, and no one is going to make you do it except you. Skipping labs, lectures, tutorials and course work will potentially lead you into a whole new set of issues.

  • Workload

    While we all know tertiary study is harder than school, the amount of material to learn and the speed at which it’s covered will take some getting used to. Just one semester of tertiary study can be the equivalent of a full year of high school study. You’re expected to take good notes as most lecturers don’t have the time to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Be careful not to fall behind, as the course isn’t going to slow down even if you do.

  • Study

    At high school you can often get by with a little extra reading and some cramming before tests. Not so at tertiary level. You may only have 12-18 hours of class each week, but it’s expected that you study 2-3 hours for every hour in class. Unlike school, there won’t be revision classes when it gets close to exam time, so organising this yourself and having good notes is a must. For maybe the first time you will find you are not the smartest person in the room so cruising is a no-no.

  • Cost

    Most high schools in New Zealand are free to attend, and even if you’re at one that isn’t, those fees aren’t being covered by you personally. Tertiary education, on the other hand, is unfortunately getting pricier every year and will almost definitely require you to take out a student loan to meet basic costs. The price tag goes up further if you’re studying in a different town, or doing a resource-intensive course like medicine. It’s important to remember to make the most of your education, as you’ll most likely be footing a fair bit or all of the bill.

  • Campus life

    Tertiary institutions are very different places to most schools. No uniform, no ringing bells, and you’re allowed to set your own schedule, coming and going in between classes as you like. Universities in particular often have a lot going on, whether it’s markets or political protests. There are food outlets, cafes and bars and you’re likely to be among the youngest people there. Real life rules apply so be onto them.

  • Going solo

    Many students choose to study away from home, which brings with it a huge change in environment. For example, the University of Auckland has about 40,000 students, and is located right in the middle of the urban heart of New Zealand. Your study may involve moving to a completely new city or part of town, and maybe a change in living situation. Going from living with your family to flatting or living in a hostel is one of the biggest changes you can make at this stage of your life.