7 Types of College Classes You Can Take

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  • Colleges offer diverse course formats and specialized learning experiences.
  • Studio and lab courses use a hands-on approach to apply theories and techniques.
  • Seminars are discussion-oriented, while lectures feature more structured formats.
  • Online classes offer accessibility through various learning platforms.

When beginning their college careers, many students worry what class will be like on the first day. They may wonder if the course structures will be compatible with their learning styles. College courses typically require more self-directed learning than high school classes. College classes also touch on more specialized or career-oriented subjects.

It can be difficult to generalize the demands of college classes since diverse course formats offer a variety of learning experiences. Below, we describe several types of college classes you may take throughout your time as a student.

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Seminar vs. Lecture: How Do They Differ?

Two of the most common types of college classes are seminars and lectures.

Seminars are typically smaller, discussion-oriented classes designed to encourage open communication and critical thinking. These types of college courses tend to take place in small classrooms. Students may arrange their desks in a circle or horseshoe shape. The intimate setting makes it easier for students to ask questions and engage in meaningful conversations with professors.

Learners are often graded on writing assignments, class participation, and student presentation projects (as opposed to traditional exams). First-year seminars can help new students make friends, develop study skills, and network with faculty members. Note, however, that these courses might not fulfill major or minor requirements.

Lectures usually consist of larger class sizes and may take place in auditorium-like lecture halls. Lecture formats are popular for general courses like biology 101 and psychology 101 because they can accommodate many students. Professors talk and use visual presentations to deliver course content while students take notes.

Learners are usually graded through quizzes and traditional exams. Large class sizes and more structured lessons can make it more challenging to ask questions and contact professors outside class.

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What Is a Discussion Section?

Students who benefit from more interactive learning may worry that lectures offer an impersonal or incomplete learning experience. To allow for interactive, student-led dialogue, some lecture-style courses include discussion sections. This is where learners split up into smaller discussion groups.

Discussion sections themselves may not lead to course credit; however, they are often required components of corresponding lectures.

Learners may use this time to retain course content and engage in more in-depth analysis with peers. In large lectures, professors may not always be accessible or able to walk students through the material.

Instead, teaching assistants (TAs) may lead discussion sections rather than professors. TAs can also assist students who need extra help understanding key concepts or completing assignments.

What Is a Lab?

Some courses may supplement lectures with labs. This is particularly true for certain STEM disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy/physiology. Labs allow learners to apply key concepts in hands-on settings and expose students to the tools, methods, and procedures typically involved in research and testing.

Students may conduct various tests, experiments, slide studies, or dissections. Those enrolled in more specialized labs, such as nursing labs, can become familiar with the procedures and equipment found in the workplace.

Labs generally require students to use equipment like microscopes, thermometers, graduated cylinders, and pipettes. Learners may be responsible for some of their own materials, such as goggles and lab coats.

Although labs consist of various hands-on procedures, many online courses include innovative alternatives to accommodate remote learners. For example, some virtual labs allow students to use at-home lab kits.

Some procedures require instructor or TA supervision or have other practical or safety limitations. Virtual labs allow students to visualize concrete outcomes, chemical reactions, or anatomical structures through interactive digital simulations.

What Is a Studio Class?

Courses in artistic disciplines like photography, graphic design, dance, and fine arts may require accompanying studio classes. Learning the principles of these creative disciplines in a traditional lecture can be limiting. Studio courses generally encourage more hands-on and independent learning.

These classes allow students to actively implement various theories, methods, media, and techniques with the supervision of an instructor.

Professors or TAs may lead these courses. Instructors usually provide feedback, guidance, and constructive criticism of students' work. Students may also critique each other's work.

Some studio classes take place in spaces equipped with specialized materials and infrastructures like darkrooms, light tables, and computers. For this reason, enrollment size may be limited.

What Is Independent Study?

With specialized programs and remote learning options available, college students have access to an expansive selection of courses. However, some especially inquisitive or self-motivated learners may enjoy exploring topics of their choice through independent study.

With independent study, students can use a unique, self-scheduled curriculum to pursue a specific subject or meet an academic goal. Learners usually submit a proposal before beginning their independent study to ensure that the subject and structure are appropriate.

After the proposal is approved, students typically design their course of study with the guidance of trusted faculty members. Students usually choose their own readings, course materials, and writing prompts alongside a faculty advisor.

This type of class can be a creative outlet for students who feel their interests are not covered comprehensively in existing courses.

Although independent study does not follow a standard class format, students still must be assessed or graded on their work. Students may receive a traditional letter grade from a designated faculty member or take their independent study course pass/fail.

What Is an Online Class?

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in virtual learning. Before enrolling, students should consider the benefits and challenges of online learning. When comparing online versus on-campus classes, think about your personal learning style.

Many college students embrace the flexibility of online courses. These college classes can operate in either synchronous or asynchronous formats. Asynchronous classes can help students balance coursework with personal and professional commitments.

Nevertheless, online college classes are not ideal for everyone. Some students find it more difficult to focus without the support of a campus environment. They may struggle to feel engaged learning at home.

Although some students might be apprehensive about the quality of online coursework, various infrastructures help remote learners engage. For example, students may use video calling platforms like Zoom or Google Meet to attend classes or meetings. Instructors can also post resources, videos, announcements, and forums on learning platforms like Canvas and Blackboard.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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