How hard are top schools?

I currently attend a really competitive private school outside of New York City. About 1/3 of the graduating class generally attends Ivy League schools or Ivy equivalents. I do about 4 hours of homework a night and have about 3 assessments (essays, quizzes, and tests) a week.

How hard are Penn (Arts and Sciences), Cornell (Dyson), Vanderbilt (Arts and Sciences), Brown, and Michigan Ross once you begin school? Do you think a student at Penn works harder or less hard compared to a student at any of these other schools? I know that Cornell has a reputation of being the hardest Ivy to stay in, but does this have any truth to it (especially in Dyson)?

Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you!

The hardest thing about elite colleges is usually getting in!
If you have gone to a competitive high school, you probably will do fine in college.
College is easier than high school in one important regard: you have a lot more discretionary time. So the issue is, have you learned already how to manage your time? If the answer is yes, then the adjustment will be easy. If the answer is no, the adjustment may be hard.
Suddenly, instead of spending hours every day in class, then doing sports/extracurriculars, and then having to squeeze in homework (which is what you did in high school), you will spend only a few hours in class each day and have lots of time in which to work independently.
I am 48. Personally, I have never in my life worked as hard or felt as stressed out as I did in high school. And I went to Williams for undergrad and then Columbia for grad school.

If you’re attending any of the hilltop schools…Fieldston, Riverdale or Horace Mann, college won’t be any harder for you in terms of the amount of study time required to perform well. You’ll be well prepared for any of those colleges both in terms of your academic background and in your study habits.

I am not sure about Penn CAS or Dyson, but Ross (unlike the CoE and LSA at Michigan) is relatively generous when it comes to grading. However, when it comes to workload, a lot depends on how many credits you take and how challenging your classes are…to you. Four hours of studying daily sounds about right.

Every school is different. I would assume (and hope) the top colleges are challenging their students with difficult classes, especially as one gets deeper in to the subject matter. S was quite busy in HS. Worked his butt off, but it was easy to get As. All he had to do was do the work (including all the APs). He attends Wake Forest and is doing very well but just doing the work isn’t enough. Difficult to get As in many classes as the Profs are quite demanding and expect alot (of real discussion based understanding). However, they are quite helpful and available to those that make the effort. I would assume that’s similar at the schools you mentioned.

As another poster stated, you will have a lot of “free time”. Time management is critical. I listened to a very intelligent young man (Rhode Scholar) explain his journey. To net it out, he basically said treat the school part of college (classes, studies) like a job. Take early classes, get and stay on campus from 9-5). Schedule study time during the day in between classes, after classes before you settle in with activities. Not only will it make it far easier to participate in lots of interesting ECs, it will prepare you for the professional world.

Nice to have this validated. I learned that in law school and wish I learned it earlier. I have two high school kids with strong grades who want to succeed at the same level in college. They are also social ;). Seems a good way to approach it to me!

As others have mentioned, time management is the critical distinction. There are fewer exams, with due dates in the future, not this week. You have to manage studying appropriately for exams, and writing term papers, that are not yet due, while still doing whatever routine HW assignments may be required in the interim. These cannot be handled properly the day before.

From what I’ve read , and been told, Penn CAS will likely be tougher than Dyson. CC posters on the Cornell subforum have stated that Dyson courses are relatively easy. My D2 told me that, too. But then again she wound up not doing that great in the Dyson course she took, so…

Re #2, Horace Mann yes, the others not too sure. I remember “back in the day” working summer job on campus with a Fieldston alum, me from another private school, we were both whining, he said to effect that he thought our parents paid all that $$ for HS so we wouldn’t have to do so much work !!!
Besides, OP’s school is outside NYC. These schools are in NYC, just not in Manhattan.

Don’t put so much emphasis on the school. Instead, just find one that fits what you want to do with your career.

Dyson is the hardest school in Cornell to get accepted to (~3% acceptance rate), but from what I’ve heard from my friends in Dyson, it’s actually pretty easy once you’re in, especially compared with the other departments at Cornell.

That said, the difficulty of all schools/majors will depend on how many credits you take a semester, the specific classes you’re taking, and your ability as a student to manage your time well. Regardless of how much you work in high school, college is a big adjustment on a number of different levels. So I would advise finding and applying to the colleges that best fit your interests regardless of their prestige or how difficult you think they’ll be.

I know this is late, but I think it also depends on your high school. I’ve spoken to students that have graduated from m y school that now attend Harvard, Rice, MIT, Georgetown, Brown, and a few other top schools and all of them, with the exception of the student from MIT, said college was easier or the same as high school. Now that’s mostly because my high school was extremely challenging. In fact, one of the girls said that all the labs in her ivy league chem class were labs she did during her sophomore and junior year of high school. Everyone goes to her for help. I’ve spoken to kids that go to these schools from other schools and they really struggle. Your high school preparation will play a huge factor where ever you end up at school. I would say the thing a lot of people struggle with in college is there’s sometimes a lack of opportunity to bring up your grade. Sometimes the only test you’ll have is your final which can obviously be devastating to one’s grade. However, sometimes you’ll be tested weekly like in high school. It really depends on the class. In my high school, I had classes like the former and latter. The class that barely had any tests throughout the year was very challenging and getting a B on two tests and sometimes even one per semester had the potential to make your semester average a B just because of that (those) ONE (or 2) test(s). In college, always be prepared! Even though it’ll probably say on your syllabus, don’t assume you can just bring your grade up with the next test or quiz or paper because you may take one or two and there won’t be another.

I just spent some time searching for this thread, because I remembered my response in #1 to this thread. I felt I needed to revise it now that I have more information. My experience in ancient times at a top college may not reflect current realities, even at the same college.

I found college easier for time management than high school. My son does not. The workload in college, especially the amount of reading, is much heavier than that in high school. He has great time management and work ethic. But it is hard anyway.

And yes, of his high school group of 12 closest friends, now at a wide variety of selective public and private colleges, all of his friends seem to have a lighter workload than he does, with one exception: the only other member of the group attending a college that accepts fewer than 20% of its applicants: Cornell.

@bobs123: The intellectual & work demands should be easier for you in college than it was/is for you in high school.

Years ago two Ivies, Harvard & one other that I cannot recall, sent a team to St. Paul’s School to determine why students from SPS found these two Ivies so easy during their freshman year.

If you are from one of the elite NYC schools, you will do fine if you do the work.

@bobs123 - I am curious how your experience is today and which college you are attending.

Coming out of a very competitive Ivy prep school certainly will prepare you well for college level work. My kid just graduated from one of the Hill schools and currently attending an Ivy. Although the workload isn’t easy, so far it isn’t very difficult. It seems to him to be more of an extension of his high school work.

How hard a college is depends on where you are relative to its student body. If you’re in the bottom quartile of a college, you’ll feel it’s hard, no matter what college it is. In absolute terms, hardest colleges are those focused on STEM, especially Caltech, Harvey Mudd and MIT (probably in that order in terms of degree of difficulty).

Colleges with heavy core or general education requirements may be harder, since students will have to take courses in areas that are not their strengths. (The three schools mentioned in #14 do have heavy core or general education requirements.)

However, not all highly selective colleges have heavy core or general education requirements, and some less selective colleges do.

Part of it is indeed time management. The other is how you learn. Even rigorous high schools teach “how” and expect daily homework so are a bit more instructive. Many college classes expect you to learn from a book and get the color from lectures, so you will be more responsible for acquiring the knowledge and ensuring you are mastering it on your own. This can be a different skill than grinding through assigned problems after a teacher has shown you how to solve them. Rather than history textbooks about what happened, you may have boOKs about why it happened or why it mattered. You need to be a critical thinker to make the leap. For some, that is harder.

I remember reading (Harvard Crimson, if I recall correctly) about Harvard freshmen, typically from high schools that haven’t prepare them specifically with writing (essays, research papers), who struggle badly to keep up. These students have never written anything longer than a 5-page paper before Harvard.

When it was time for my son to write the mandatory “Extended Essay” for fulfilling his IB program requirement, I made sure that he used this opportunity to do a real research term paper style that he will have to repeat often once he’s headed to college. From my own experience in college and grad schools, writing these papers are half the academic battle. Along with the required Extended Essay, the often cited benefit of going through the IB program is also the necessity of good time management. Now that my son’s at an Ivy, his IB experience is proving to serve him well. He’s super busy, as he was in high school, but he’s enjoying the college life much more than when he was in high school.

If the OP’s “competitive” high school has trained and prepared him well for the rigors of college courses, including writing skills, then he needn’t worry except to challenging himself and at the same time enjoying a very different academic and social environment.

I think the post about core curriculum raises an interesting point. My kid tells me she’s finding college easier than high school so far (first year student). Her high school curriculum was intense, to such a degree it made me feel like a bad parent watching her work so hard, at times.
Time management was never an issue for her, in fairness.
She is currently studying subjects she genuinely loves. That may well contribute to her opinion of the relative toughness of high school v college.

It comes and goes. Of course, there are easy classes. But the basic issue is now, rather than being top of your hs class, you’re one of many top performers. And that can raise the day to day bar.

In general, top kids from truly top high schools have been through the wringer, know how to do the work. The risk is when you weren’t a top performer (or were, but at an easier hs,) and are blindsided in college.

You can bet tippy tops vet for the real strengths and resilience. Getting B’s in college isn’t the end of the world. If OPis thinking he cn get a 4.0 easier at one of these colleges than others, he’s doing the wrong research.