Originally, the character of Whitley was to only appear in just the pilot. However, she became so popular that not only did she become a regular, but it helped to make Jasmine Guy the star of the show.
The show was revamped for the second season not only due to Lisa Bonet's departure, but also in response to criticism that the show didn't accurately depict a historically black college, or college life in general. Debbie Allen, who was named producer prior to season two, began to draw on her own experiences as a graduate of Howard University to add to the show. In addition, Allen and the show's writing staff would make annual visits to Historically Black Colleges to research campus life, issues and events and employ those factors in the series.
During the show's final season, Kim, who had been a Premed Major, was attending Medical School, and Freddie was attending Law School. These reflected the careers of Cliff and Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show (1984).
Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardion and Darryl M Bell were all featured in the 1988 Spike Lee movie School Daze, which was also set on the campus of a Historically Black College. The movie was released during the show's first season.
Whitley's first season Roommate and "Protege" Millie was written out of the series as Actress Marie-Alice Recaster was planning to have a child. Producers also wanted Whitley to have a Roommate/Confidente who was more of a strong willed/independent contrast, resulting in the creation of Kim.
Even after Lisa Bonet had left the series, there was still a certain amount of interplay between this show and The Cosby Show (1984). Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet and Joseph C. Phillips appear on an episode during the 1990-1991 season when Dwayne comes to visit Denise. Rashad is also the sister of frequent episode director Debbie Allen. In the 1987-1988 season, Rudy Huxtable(played by Keshia Knight Pulliam)came to Hillman College to visit Denise. In 1992, a character from the late years of The Cosby show (Charmaine Brown, played by Karen Malina White) joined the cast of A Different World, as a new student at Hillman College.
Declared Majors of regular characters-Dwayne, Math; Whitley. Art History (Minor in French); Jaleesa, Business; Kim, Pre-Med (attended Medical School in final season); Freddie, Creative Writing (attended Law School during final season); Walter, Masters Degree; Ron, unknown; Lena, Creative Writing; Denise, undeclared; Maggie, Journalism.
Bill Cosby made three appearances, all in the first season, as Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Cliff is only seen in the Huxtable living room or kitchen on the other end of phone calls from Denise. Cliff's only appearance on the Hillman campus was seen in the Cosby Show episode which served as an introduction to A Different World.
Ron's decision to pursue a career in music resulted in a falling out between himself and his father. Darryl M. Bell who played Ron said that his decision to go into acting had initially resulted in a fallout between himself and his own father.