How Dating Changes Between High School & College, Because They're Nothing Alike

There are so many aspects of your life that change when you make the transition from high school to college. Dating in high school and in college are two vastly different experiences. Going off to college comes with newfound freedom. You'll have more opportunities to expand your horizons and try new things, especially when it comes to dating, relationships, and sex. You'll gain practical knowledge from your professors, but your most important lessons will likely be learned outside of the classroom. As you grow up, dating becomes less about flirting at football games, and more about wanting to form genuine connections (both emotional and physical) with other people.

Dating before the age of 18 can feel like the dreamiest thing in the world. You gossip about your crushes with your friends, and your first movie date makes for a groundbreaking journal entry — even if your parents do have to drive you. In high school, you probably dreamed about your prom date picking you up at your house and whisking you off to the dance. In college, you'd likely be just as impressed if the person you've been "talking to" for weeks actually asks you out to dinner. Maybe you'd rather have casual hookups than be in a relationship, or you want to stay single until you meet someone you really like. Here are six ways dating changes between high school and college, because they really are two different worlds.

1. Your options open up.

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Cliques are less common in college than they are in high school. You'll have the chance to hang out with different groups of people — your friends from class, the people who live in your residence hall, fellow fraternity and sorority members, people on dating apps, and so on. You may have had a "type" in high school, but in college, you don't necessarily have to choose between getting coffee with someone on the lacrosse team and snagging the number of that cute hipster guy or girl in your afternoon lecture.

2. Dating gets more complicated.

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Dating and being in a relationship might be synonymous in high school, but this is not the case in college. If someone asks you out in high school, you're pretty much a thing. In college, going on one date doesn't mean you're automatically in a relationship. You can be casually seeing multiple people at one time, have a steady friend with benefits, or be "exclusive" with someone without defining your relationship beyond that.

3. Dates are casual.

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In high school, you tend to go on group dates to the mall, the movies, or a school-sponsored event. This makes sense, because the alternative — watching TV on the couch in your basement — probably included your parents "checking in" every 15 minutes. While it's not out of the norm to grab coffee or a drink with someone in college, dates tend to be more low-key. Whether you're studying together in your dorm room or meeting in the dining hall, there's usually less pressure to get all dressed up and go out.

4. You can hang out whenever you want.

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Another aspect of dating that's different in college is the amount of time you end up spending with someone you're into. Dates are no longer just a Friday or Saturday night event. Since the distance between your dorms is likely quite short, hanging out in between classes isn't a big deal. Sleepovers are a viable option now, as long as your roommate is cool with it. Oh, and say goodbye to your curfew. If you miss your 8 a.m., that's on you.

5. ...Except for on break.

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If you do start dating someone at school, going home for winter, spring, or summer break can be difficult at first. Because you've been spending so much time with the same person, it will feel strange to suddenly be in a LDR. Even if it's only for a few weeks, it's totally normal to miss the comfortable patterns you've formed while away from home.

6. You start to learn what you're into.

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Arguably the best part of dating in college is that you begin to understand yourself and your needs. While you'll probably be a twenty-something before you truly know what you want from a relationship, college is your first real opportunity to explore your sexual identity and romantic desires. Maybe your high school boyfriends were all really bad kissers, but maybe you're also not into guys.

College is the first time in your life where you're really encouraged to get out of your comfort zone. So take chances in your dating life, even if it means learning from your mistakes the hard way. You won't regret it.

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