University vs. High School Teaching: Understanding the Key Differences

Deciding to pursue a career in teaching is no small decision but understanding the differences between both paths is just as essential to prepare yourself to become a teacher. Both offer different opportunities and challenges which may be better suited to certain individuals over others. This article will outline some of the key distinctions between both teaching paths so you can get a clear idea of what is aligned with not only your skill set but your aspirations as an educator.

What is Involved in University Teaching?

University professors are responsible for catering to tertiary students by providing specialized knowledge in their respective fields. They are expected to be subject matter experts and to have some real-world experience within the subject that they are teaching. This could be either extensive studies, such as post-graduate qualification or extensive career experience.  

In the classroom, teachers are expected to make valuable contributions to class discussion and deeper knowledge in the field. This means fostering debate, higher-level thinking and more technical knowledge than traditional high-school teachers may provide. Beyond the traditional classroom, university teachers are also expected to contribute to their fields through research, attending seminars and collaborating with other professionals.

What is Involved in High School Teaching?

High school is quite a different experience for teaching because this part of the student’s journey more or less sets them up for an educational foundation for the future. This means that rather than being specialized most high school teachers only need to be generalists on specific topics without the need to dive deep like higher educational professionals. 

They cover a broad range of subjects and usually adapt to serve students not only in a technical manner but more support so they can create an engaging learning environment. This focus on foundation means that the classroom is largely dedicated to the basics of study, learning, and generalized subjects. High school teaching roles are perfect for those who are looking to join the workforce without significant employment or post-graduate experience.

Qualifications and Requirements

As we’ve mentioned, the education requirements can vary drastically between university professors and high school teachers. The specific requirements will vary greatly between institutions but generally, it’s expected that those applying for university teaching positions are well equipped with either many years in the workforce in their specialization or post-graduate qualifications.

High school teaching is rather different where most schools are looking for individuals who have a range of well-developed soft skills. These can include communication ability, the ability to motivate and inspire students as well as general knowledge on a wide range of topics. Most schools will ask for a bachelor of education degree where all the vital topics are covered for those wanting to teach as well as the range of subjects offered in high school.

Teaching Methodologies

When looking at both levels of education, the university is much more self-directed from the student’s standpoint. Being older and mature they are expected to take responsibility for their own learning and rely on the teachers to facilitate and guide them in their personal journey. All in all, the emphasis lies in assisting students to think critically, solve problems, and explore subjects themselves through research and even public discourse.

The high school setting is much more structured, with clear expectations, curriculums, and outcomes being delivered to all students. Teachers are expected to teach more than one subject as all subjects in high school cover the fundamentals and extreme detail in individual topics usually is not necessary. It is also expected for teachers to play a stronger role in monitoring the students’ individual progress throughout the year where university students are generally left to their own devices.

Class Size and Student-Teacher Ratio

Class size is another big difference between both university and high school settings that one must consider. If you’re not interested in managing large groups of people then it might be better to look at university teaching. High schools require more soft skills and people management as all classes can be up to 30 people whereas universities can have anywhere from 10-20 in one class, maybe more or less depending on the institution. While some people may be suited to dealing with larger crowds, others prefer managing smaller class sizes, depending on preference. 


It may not be as clear-cut to pursue one teaching style over the other as both university and high school have their own challenges. Generally, those who are a little older and more experienced tend to do better in a university setting while new graduates may be better suited to high school. That being said, whether you embark on the journey of university or high school teaching, both paths play a crucial role in nurturing young minds for the future.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.