Why Is College So Hard? (11 Reasons Why)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

After high school, many students plan for college as their next step. Post-secondary education is a popular choice for young graduates with over 220 million students enrolled in some form of higher education.

Whether you were a straight-A student or not, college is challenging for everybody. About 1 million college students drop out every year. So, why is college so hard? Let’s take a look.

Why Is College So Hard?

1. Transitioning From High School

It can be a big change going from high school to college. In high school, most students still live at home and have a lot of their life taken care of in a familiar, comfortable environment.

There isn’t really a middle step between moving from your childhood home into your campus residence.

You may have never even thought about when you should plan to wash your laundry or how to plan your meals. Adjusting to the independence of college life is tricky.

We all seek a little more independence by the time we graduate high school, but being in charge of our bills, groceries, and homework can be a lot for those who aren’t ready.

2. College Is Expensive

College is expensive for a lot of reasons. Tuition has only gone up exponentially in the last few decades. The average cost for tuition fees is usually in the tens of thousands of dollars each year.

Along with tuition, there are other program expenses such as books, resources, and supplies.

Add to that cost of living expenses like food, transportation, and rent and your college savings can quickly deplete.

Some college programs have awards or bursaries but these can be very competitive to apply for.

There are government or bank financial support programs but repayment can be an extra burden to carry once you finish school.

3. It Is More Competitive

With increasing enrollment numbers, year over year, the pool of students you’re up against only gets bigger.

This means getting into the school you want and trying to excel in your classes is that much harder to do.

Also, there are increasing numbers of international students across the world.

This means some people may be up against students who may have different, more disciplined school systems to help them succeed in college.

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4. The Workload

Being really smart in high school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fully prepared for a college workload.

For every hour spent in class, students can expect at least the same amount of out-of-class work.

In a typical college program, there may be about 15 hours of class time per week. Add to that at least 15 hours of school work time in the form of studying, reading, writing, and doing group projects.

Between going to class and preparing for your class, you’ve got a full-time job’s worth of commitments.

Then, if you are a student who needs to work to make money while going to college, you may really feel the burden.

5. Lectures And Homework

Most lectures are about 1-2 hours in length once a week. Professors will often cram a lot of information into those weekly classes which can be overwhelming.

If you weren’t a diligent note-taker before college, you should be now!

The homework is a lot different than when you’re a high school student. Unlike in high school, no one is assigning you exactly what you need to read, learn, or study.

There is usually some guidance but college is about critical, self-driven thinking.

Also, it is a lot harder to ask questions about homework in college. Class sizes can be many times larger than in high school which can make raising your hand with a question a little daunting.

6. Self-Discipline Is Hard To Learn

Self-Discipline Is Hard To Learn

Generally, most college students are younger than 25. That means their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes judgments, hasn’t formed yet.

So, what does this mean? Decisions about how to spend ‘down time’ may be hard to make and students may find themselves spending more time playing hard than working hard.

This isn’t necessarily because students are lazy. Some students did really well in high school without ever having to learn to be self-disciplined.

This, however, can make the need to prioritize studies in college an even bigger shock.

A course syllabus may have a general guideline to follow when it comes to studying but no ‘grown-ups’ are going to follow up with a student if they fall behind.

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It is up to you to succeed now!

7. Feeling Homesick

Even the most independent young person will experience some amount of homesickness when they first go to college. More often than not, this is the first time these students are off on their own.

Everything about college is new from the living situation and schedule to the food and friends around. A campus can feel like a foreign country sometimes. It is a lot to adjust to for anybody.

8. Making New Social Groups

When students grow up in the same neighborhoods and go to the same schools, they don’t need to make new friends from scratch. Carving out a new social sphere can feel like a very scary thing to do.

Some students have a few friends from high school around. For the most part, though, it can be intimidating to establish who to sit next to in class or to go meet for coffee.

The good news, though, is that everyone is somewhat in the same position. This gives at least a level playing field for those looking to make new friends or study buddies.

9. Roommates

Having a roommate in your dorm room is pretty typical for at least your college freshman year. This can be really challenging, especially in small living quarters like a dorm room.

Every student has different schedules and interests that might be at odds with their roommate’s. Plus, some students do not want another person that they do not know constantly around.

The tricky thing is that students will only discover the challenges of living with their roommates after the school year is underway.

You can hope that the school has assigned you a compatible roommate, but even living with a friend has its downsides. Difficult roommates can dampen a school year and sometimes end a friendship.

So while some of us have amazing memories of our roommate experiences, others spent their nights wishing that they had scored a private room on campus.

10. Exams Count For More Of Your Grade

College students receive most of their grade percentage based on their exams. Some courses break the attributed grade up into other course material, but an exam can often make or break your GPA.

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That is a lot of pressure on one exam. In high school, poor test scores can still be made up before the semester ends.

In college, however, the syllabus doesn’t break out the same and it can feel like you have one shot to do well.

11. Many Opportunities To Procrastinate

College consists of mostly independent learning. It is up to the student to prioritize all of the studying, reading, researching, and writing that needs to get done.

For some students, it can be quite a shock to discover that cramming just before an exam doesn’t yield the same marks as it did in high school.

For young people, choosing to study instead of finishing a Netflix series can be a tough lesson to learn.

Particularly when there are so many ways to avoid doing school work, it’s hard to focus. There is almost always a party to be found or bored floormates to hang out with.

There are also campus activities or events in your ‘new’ home to check out.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why physics is so hard, why organic chemistry is so hard, and why accounting is so boring.


College is hard because it is a big adjustment for every student. The lifestyle, the expenses, and the time management are all new. This causes many students to struggle with transitioning into college life.

As much as college is a tough experience, it is an almost universal one. Many grads look back fondly at their time in college and end up completely rocking their degrees and diplomas. So, while college may be hard, it’s worth it!


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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