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.
During the first season, Whitley's roommate and protégée 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/confidante who was more of a strong willed and independent contrast, resulting in the creation of Kim.
The show's popularity with young African-American viewers has been credited with boosts in enrollments at several real life historically African American colleges. A number of non African American students have also claimed that they were inspired to pursue a college education by the series as well.
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 black colleges to research campus life, issues and events and employ those factors in the series.
Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne) and Cree Summer (Freddie) were in a long-term relationship during the show's run. Summer said she was never bothered by Hardison's character's on-screen romance with Jasmine Guy (Whitley), stating that she and Guy were like sisters in real life, the direct opposites of their characters.
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.
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.
Jasmine Guy originally auditioned for the part of Jaleesa. By the time she had officially signed for the series, the opening credits sequences had already been filmed which is why she does not appear in them.
The absence of several characters were never explained on the show. These include: Millicent (known as "Millie", Whitley's roommate in Season 1), Maggie Lauten (Denise and Jaleesa's roommate and friend in Season 1), Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor (Seasons 1-5), Leticia "Lettie" Bostic (Gilbert Hall's dorm director in Season 2), Ernest Bennett (Freddie's love interest in Season 3), and Terrance Taylor (the son of Colonel Taylor and his first wife who appeared intermittently until Season 5).
The series was not initially intended as a direct spin-off from The Cosby Show. The original premise centered around Maggie Lauten (Marisa Tomei) and her experiences as a white student attending a predominantly and historically black college. Eventually, it was decided to include Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) in the series, and Maggie instead became a supporting character. When Debbie Allen took over as producer, she became intrigued by the original idea and wanted the series to partly center around Maggie and explore related issues as part of her revamping the series. Allen even considered a romantic pairing between Maggie and Dwayne (Kadeem Hardison), but ideas relating to Maggie were dropped when Marisa Tomei decided to leave the series.
During the show's final season, Kim, who had been a pre-med major, was attending medical school while Freddie was attending law school. These reflected the careers of Cliff and Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show (1984).
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.
At one point in the series' development, there were plans to feature singer Lena Horne as a Hillman professor who also served as a mentor to students. When the series was picked up by NBC, this plan was abandoned. Horne would however appear on the series' during its final season in a guest role as herself.
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.
The fictional sorority Alpha Delta Rho, to which Whitley Gilbert and Kimberly Reese were members, was inspired by and named after three real African-American Greek sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Debbie Allen, the series' producer, is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. along with her sister, Phylicia Rashad, who portrayed Claire Huxtable in "The Cosby Show".