Roar: The Podcast | Episode 5: High school vs. College


Roar: The Podcast | Episode 5

Welcome back to Roar: The Podcast! In this episode, senior Zianna Razon interviews Santa Clara University sophomore Alexis Morris about how college differs from high school. They discuss academics and social life and Morris offers advice for high school students.

Find this episode where you stream podcasts:


  • Zianna Razon, senior at Santa Clara High School
  • Alexis Morris, sophomore at Santa Clara University

Edited by Melina Kritikopoulos


Zianna: Hello everyone and welcome to Santa Clara High School’s Roar: The Podcast. I’m Zianna, and I’m a senior at Santa Clara High School.

Alexis: Hi. I’m Alexis. I graduated in the class of 2019 from SCHS, and I am now a sophomore at Santa Clara University.

Zianna: Today we plan to compare the academic and social environments between high school and college through the eyes of both a Santa Clara High School alumni and a current Santa Clara High School student. Lexy, would you like to start with what kind of student you were in high school and what the university you attend now is like?

Alexis: Okay, so in high school, I took some honors and AP classes. I didn’t take a ton of them, but I did take some of them. I also ran track all four years of high school, and I played soccer all four years of high school as well. I participated in BOTC and in Homecoming stuff as well. I would say that I was a pretty good student, I got good grades in all of my classes. Now, I am a chemistry major, so I’m taking a lot of STEM classes. My grades are still okay, but they did go down a little bit, but that’s to be expected as the classes get more difficult. I’m also involved in a couple of clubs on campus.

Zianna: Would you say that… so obviously college is harder, right, than high school classes? But you took a lot of AP Science, AP Chemistry, I’m sure. So how do those compare and (in) what ways – especially AP Chem – and actual college chemistry classes?

Alexis: I took AP Chem my junior year of high school, so when I went to Santa Clara, there’s like two intro Chem routes that you can take. You can take the like, regular route, which is a two-quarter course for gen chem, which is the kind of stuff that you would cover in high school. Or you can take a one quarter that’s both of those classes in one. I’m in the quarter system in SCU, so three quarters is a full year. Two quarters would be the equivalent of two-thirds of a year in high school, if that makes sense. When I was given an option, basically, to do the advanced – the combined course – you had to get a four or five on the AP exam. It was the first year they were doing it, but I did get a four on the AP exam, so I was given the option and I picked it and I took that class. It was super great. Most of the stuff that we covered, we already covered. Even though it had been a whole year since I’ve done any gen chem, it was fine. All the stuff that we covered, I’d learned, and we just went into more depth with it. That’s a pattern that I’ve noticed a lot in my chem classes – other classes as well – but obviously, mostly in chem because that’s what I study most of the time. It’s like you learn stuff in high school, and they teach it to you. They teach you the level that you are ready to understand, and then you get to the next class. Once you’re in the next class, they’re like, “Okay, so remember how we explained it this way?” Well, actually, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. This is what’s actually happening. As you continue, that kind of keeps going. For anybody who took regular chem and then took AP Chem, there’s a little bit of that that you experienced in those two. Obviously, it’s a little bit harder because it’s a little bit of a step up, but it’s not like anything you’re unprepared for. In my experience, none of it’s been anything I’ve been unprepared for. I’ve learned everything I needed to learn to get to where I am, if that makes sense. 

Zianna: Yeah. There’s always going to be progression with the classes, but it’s still kind of in a really comfortable way because of course, you already meet the prerequisites for the class and everything. That’s really interesting. I heard Santa Clara University, especially, you guys have a quarter system when I know a lot of colleges and even our high school does a semester system. Do you want to talk about how that’s kind of different in terms of rigor and the classes you take? 

Alexis: Yeah, sure. Like I said earlier, Santa Clara was on quarters. Or Santa Clara University is on quarters; SCHS is semesters. Instead of having a class for… because most of the colleges most of the time are semester, it’s like 15 weeks and then a break and another 15 weeks. Instead of that, at SCU, we have quarters, so we have 10 weeks of classes, a week of finals, a break for winter break. Then you have another quarter, that’s 10 weeks, a week of finals, spring break, 10 weeks, week of finals, and then summer. Since we still have to cover the same amount of material as people normally would at a semester school, it’s definitely a little bit faster and there’s an adjustment period. I have friends who are at semester schools, and their whole first day, they don’t really do anything. Sometimes their whole first week, they don’t really do anything in any of their classes. But every single class that I’ve had, our first day, we go over the syllabus, but we usually start course material the first day because they only have 10 weeks with us. And my classes don’t meet every single day. Some of them are two days a week; some of them are three days a week. But either way you do the math, that’s 20 class periods, 30 class periods. It’s not a lot of time to get through all the material that they’re going through, so it’s definitely quick. And you have to adjust a little bit if you’re used to semesters, which most high schoolers are, but it’s not unmanageable. The only other thing that’s a little bit rough about the quarter system is midterms. They don’t always end up actually being midterms. This quarter is better for me, but last quarter, I had seven midterms in all classes. They started week three, and they ended week nine. So that means I had two weeks of class, the third week of class, I had an exam, a big exam. Then I had one the week after that, more or less, once a week. I had a week that I had none and a week that I had two, but more or less, once a week for the next seven weeks. I had my last exam on Friday, week nine. Then I had a week of wrap up, and then we had finals. The other thing is, it’s very fast-paced. Depending on professors and depending on courses and what your major is, and all that kind of stuff, you can end up in situations where you have just a quarter that’s absolutely horrific. 

Zianna: Sounds like it. Oh my gosh.

Alexis: But it’s good. It’s good. Because it’s done in 10 weeks. It’s easy. If you have a teacher you hate, you start the class, you finish the class. That’s it, you’re done. You also have a lot of opportunities to take new classes in different areas, especially if you go to liberal arts school – SCU is a liberal arts school. So I have core requirements in diversity, and there’s other ones, but I’m totally blanking right now. Diversity for example… I’m taking my diversity requirement right now. I’m taking an LGBTQ studies class that I wouldn’t be taking for my major, but because I’m at a liberal arts school and they have core requirements… I’m not forced because I do enjoy it – I would want to take these classes anyway – but, more or less, you’re required to branch out away from your major. 

Zianna: That’s really interesting because at first look – at least personally – the whole quarter system does not seem very fun. It looks like something that I totally would not want to do because that’s just a lot of work and so much time, and there’s absolutely no room for procrastination, and it seems so easy to fall behind. That’s really scary, especially when you’re transitioning from a semester system, but then there’s also a lot of pros because you can take more classes. The classes that you don’t like end more quickly, and it sounds like there’s more room for extracurriculars. Speaking of which, what are they like in college compared to high school, or at least, what high school extracurriculars did you do first? 

Alexis: In high school, I ran track, and I played soccer for Santa Clara High School. I also – unrelated to school – I was dancing at the community center three to four days a week, depending on the time of year, and in the spring, I would swim at a cabana club. I also did over the summer, but that didn’t really interfere with school too much. I also was part of a couple of clubs on campus at Santa Clara High and stuff like that, but it was mostly soccer, track, dance that were taking up most of my time after school. As far as now in college, it’s a little bit different. In high school, if you want to play for your school, it’s easier. I’m not saying you couldn’t walk on and try out and get on to a sports team, but Santa Clara (University) is a D1 school. It’s hard to play for a D1 school. You have to be really good. I do know kids who are on teams, both the school teams and the club teams – which I’ll come back to because that probably sounds a little bit confusing – who walked on and are totally playing for the school. But it doesn’t happen to everyone. That’s the other thing, this first difference between school and club for college. In high school, you have one team; that’s your school team. For soccer, we had one team for girls and one team for guys and that was it. At SCU, in college, a lot of schools will have their university team, which is like the team that you see in college basketball tournaments. But they also have club teams for a lot of sports, too, which is kind of more recreational even though it’s not totally recreational because they do compete against other schools. But it’s not like NCAA, if that makes sense. 

Zianna: It’s actually pretty nice if you’re just interested in a sport but you’re not looking for a professional career, you can just do it for fun anyways in college.

Alexis: Exactly, yes.

Zianna: And there’s no pressure for really big games. That’s nice. I hear a lot of universities do that. So yeah, that’s really nice. 

Alexis: There’s also intramurals, which are totally recreational, where you just meet up. You get a team together, either from kids from your dorm, group of friends, and depending on what quarter it is at SCU, they have different sports and there’s tournaments on campus for recreational teams. You also have clubs, which are like… there’s so many clubs. If you thought there were a lot of different kinds of clubs in high school, there’s so many at college. Personally, I’m a member of two clubs that I actively participate in. One of them is called Hypnotic. We’re a hip hop dance team and club. We normally – COVID notwithstanding – would be competing in the spring. We would go to a competition. We’d be working up to that all quarter. We host workshops on Mondays, and we have practice on Wednesdays, and it’s just about dancing, specifically hip hop, and getting better at it. I’m also a part of Dynamic Rhythm, which is our tap club at SCU. We learn choreo, and then we perform in things on campus. A lot of the events that we perform at for both of these groups are put on by other clubs, like at SCU. The diversity clubs have different events that they put on. One of them’s called Love Jones. It’s kind of like a talent show, so both Dynamic Rhythm and Hypnotic will perform at that. One of them is Abzu. It’s like a night market thing, and, again, we performed at that, too. 

Zianna: That’s really cool. I know at Santa Clara (High School), we have about 60 clubs. Do you know the approximate for Santa Clara University? 

Alexis: I have no idea to be honest; I just know there are a lot of them. There’s diversity clubs for pretty much any ethnicity or whatever that you can think of. And then you have club sports, which are kind of clubs, but not totally. And then you have clubs like Hypnotic and Dynamic Rhythm that are dance clubs, and those aren’t the only two; there’s other kinds. And there’s cultural dance clubs. And then there’s a Harry Potter club. There’s random… there’s so many clubs, so I have absolutely no idea.

Zianna: That’s really, really cool, though. On my part, I’ve been doing a lot of research on colleges because, you know, college applications. With almost every university that I’ve looked into, they have at least 100, sometimes up to 500 clubs. I think that’s crazy but also really nice for the students because there’s truly going to be something for everyone that they’re really going to enjoy and it’s like a community somewhere there. I really like that about college compared to high school. With high school, it’s such a small community, such a small bunch of students, that it kind of feels – going into a club – like a clique. I feel in college, it’s much more welcoming because it’s much larger.

Alexis: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think it’s also interesting because in high school, most of the friends you make you usually meet them in classes, I’d say. Of course, sometimes it’s through clubs or sports or whatever, but you made a good portion of your high school – the friends that you make in high school – through classes. In college, at least for me, I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, but in my personal experience, most of the friends that I’ve made I didn’t actually have any classes with or I didn’t really meet in classes. I met some kids that were in my orientation group and who lived in my dorm, but I met some friends who just hung out with people who I had met and were in the dorms and stuff. Some of my closest friends are actually from Hypnotic because I met them through clubs, and I’ve heard that for a lot of people, they don’t really find their community until they’re going to club meetings because that’s honestly one of the really good ways to meet other people who share your interests, especially since there’s so many different clubs. There’s so many different things that you can have that are specific to people that have the same interests as yours. 

Zianna: Oh, that’s so nice. I find that really exciting about college too, that you can make more friends. It feels like, I don’t know, in high school, making friends is a little hard. Like you get put in a group project, and then you hit it off and (are) like, “Oh, cool. We’re gonna be acquaintances for the whole school year” and awkwardly pass each other through the halls. But what is the social life like in a college environment? Are people nicer? Are people more distant? How easy is it to make friends, or hang out with friends and everything? 

Alexis: Personally, in my experience, most people, if you talk to them, if you’re nice to them, if you start a conversation, they’ll totally talk to you, they’ll totally chat with you. I’ve had a bunch of really great conversations with people who I was just in classes with. One of the things, especially for STEM kids, one of the things that we bond over is how difficult classes are. I just finished the Intro Physics Series that I had to take for my major. And last quarter, I was talking to some kids who are in my physics lab with me, and every single one of us was like, “Yeah, no, this class is difficult. I’m struggling. I don’t really know what’s going on,” but it was a bonding experience for us. It also was nice because this quarter of my Spanish class, one of the kids in our class was like, “Hey, I’m gonna make a group chat. If you want to be in the group chat, put your number in the Zoom chat. I’ll make an iMessage chat. We can talk” ‘cause we’re online this quarter. While you don’t have that face-to-face, people are still finding a way to interact with each other and kind of build a community. Most classes, I think, end up with group chats like that. I’ve only been in a couple of them, but definitely, if you talk to people, people are going to talk to you most of the time. That’s been my experience anyway. I’m sure sometimes they won’t, but generally, if you’re in a class, or you’re on a project with somebody and you take the time to ask them how their day was going, or ask them one of the classes they’re in, or like, “Hey, What’s your major? Have you had this teacher before? Are you going to this event that’s being put on at this time?” or whatever, people will talk to you, chat you up because that’s the thing in high school, especially if you’re at a public high school, a lot of people come into it already having friends from middle school or elementary school. At college, most people don’t already have a group, especially freshman year, so everybody’s in that same boat of “I don’t really know anyone. I’m not sure if they’re gonna want to talk to me if I talk to them. I’m not sure if they’re gonna think I’m cool or whatever.” If you talk to somebody, if you’re just nice to people, generally people are really nice to you too, and they’ll chat you up. Also, if there’s events on campus… for those of you who are seniors and going off to school soon, hopefully, you’ll be able to be in-person to some degree. If not, eventually, hopefully, you’ll be in-person at some degree, those of you who are not seniors, or whatever. If there’s an event going on at a club fair or a night market thing – I’m trying to think of things that are probably more common than just the ones that happen in our school – but there’s an event that’s being put in place, especially if it’s a student-organized event, go. Just go. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know anybody there, drag your roommate, or that one person you met in your orientation group, or somebody if you don’t want to go by yourself, figure out somebody to drag with you, and just go because even if you don’t necessarily meet somebody at that event, you’ll be able to talk to somebody, maybe, about it later, or you’ll be able to explain those experiences are really important. If you never go out and do anything, then you’re never gonna meet anybody anyway. Right? So it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities that you have to go meet people. That’s something that has been hitting especially hard because my freshman year, we were in-person until March because that was last year and that’s when like COVID hit. They’re like, “Go home. We’re not dealing with this.” At that point, I had joined Hypnotic. I wasn’t part of Dynamic Rhythm yet, and there were some events that I could have gone to that I didn’t really want to go to. There’s the whole other side of the college social scene that I really didn’t partake in all that much, but now that I’ve been online, I haven’t been able to even have the option. I’m like, “Well, maybe I should have gone and hung out with people some more. Maybe I should have gone to some of the sports games more. Maybe I should have gone with my friends, when they went out and did whatever it was they were doing that Saturday that they were out doing whatever they were doing.” You don’t have to go every time. I’m not saying, “Hey, kids, get out of your dorm room because trust me, I was in my dorm room.” Sometimes you have homework you gotta do. Sometimes you just don’t have the energy to be around other people. But when you can, go out. Go meet people. Trust me, everybody else is in the same boat as you. Nobody really knows anybody, especially if you’re all freshmen. Trust me. 

Zianna: Thanks, Lexy. That is some really great advice for our high schoolers, especially for those going on to college. One thing I really admire about the college social life is that everyone kind of steps in with a fresh palate. You’re not hearing anything from middle school, or… it’s new and very welcoming and exciting. I think it’s so important to take risks when you’re somewhere new and find your place. I love that. I love that. Of course, keep homework in mind.

Alexis: Oh yeah, don’t neglect your social activities. That is not what I’m saying.

Zianna: All right. Well, it’s been really, really great talking with you. We’re so excited to have a college student speaking with our high school podcast.

Alexis: Thank you for having me.

Zianna: Yes, thank you so much. And thank you to the listeners for tuning in. We hope that you learned something really exciting, or some great advice about college, the social life and what to expect academically. Thanks for listening, and we hope that you have a wonderful rest of your day. This is The Roar Podcast, signing off.