While many students may feel pressured to attend college, the expectations only increase once they arrive on campus. Many college-goers develop anxiety about the unknown, fearing new challenges such as performing at a high intellectual level, standing out in large classes, and balancing heavier workloads compared to high school. Knowing what to expect from a course or figuring out how to perform well in a class can mean the difference between dropping out or graduating with a degree.
Succeeding in a Large Auditorium Class
Like many students who left home to attend college, I found college exciting, intriguing, and fun. I particularly enjoyed my auditorium-style classes. Not only did I barely need to show up, but the teacher didn't care if I did or not. I was just another face in the crowd.
My freshman year, I enrolled in a 300-person anthropology 101 course. The huge class size and lax attendance policy was great — until midterms, when I received the first "C" letter grade of my life. Panicked, I decided I needed to attend class regularly.
The truth is, even when I did show up to class, I wasn't fully participating. I skimmed the reading material, never asked questions, and slouched down in my seat, glancing up only occasionally while browsing Facebook. I failed the final and took the lowest grade possible that allowed me to pass the class.
My experience was not unusual; many students find that the transition from a high school classroom to a college course tricky. By my junior year, though, I figured out how to ace my auditorium classes, something I wished I had learned sooner.
For students who want to hit the ground running, here are a few tips that can help you succeed from your first day in college.
1. Do the Reading
As an English major, I thought I would never have a hard time with the reading for a class. That was proven wrong when I enrolled in a biology lecture. I found it nearly impossible to read about the life cycles of plants. I got through the course with an "A" because I made a rule: I would read for 30 minutes and I would highlight interesting things. Set a time limit for yourself, and actually read the material. Most lectures are structured where the material is a preface for each lecture, so you will often be lost without doing the readings ahead of time.
2. Show Up and Sit Near the Front
Actually attending the class is a challenge. Not only is it difficult to pay attention with a computer in front of you, but knowing that attendance is not mandatory makes it even harder. When I began attending my classes regularly during sophomore year, something interesting happened. There were days I would come into my 200-person lecture hall and I would be one of only 20 students who showed up. It allowed the professor to get to know me. I started making a habit of sitting near the front. I definitely did not want to sit in the front row, but I made sure I was in the first six rows, center aisle. Sitting closer allowed me to better focus on the instructor.
3. Ask Questions
At the end of my anthropology lecture, I asked the girl sitting next to me — a senior at the time — how she was doing so well in the class. Her response: Always ask a question. The advice was simple and it made sense. By asking a question about the reading, you are showing the professor that not only did you do the reading, but you are there to learn. You do not need to ask a question every class, but once in a while won't hurt.
Thriving in a Small Classroom
When I entered graduate school, I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant in an English 100 course. The sections I taught were small since they were capped at 25 students. I learned from several of my students how intimidating a small college class could be and how they learned to do well regardless.
Transitioning from a lecture hall where the professor does not know your name to a small classroom where attendance is required — and you are called on to share your thoughts — can be unsettling. Below, I've outlined some tips for students to thrive in a small classroom environment.
1. Remember You Are Not Expected to Know Everything
You will definitely need to do the readings, but you are not expected to be a subject-matter expert. Often, small classes will require you to participate in some way. Reading and staying engaged in the conversation can be enough for a professor to realize you are trying to succeed in a class. Students can stress themselves out thinking they need to memorize the course material or know all the answers. Remember: The class and readings are meant to teach you, stir up thoughts, and spark new ideas. The professor is your guide, so allow yourself to be a little lost.
2. Stay Off Social Media
hen I was able to observe the classroom I noticed a lot of students wasted class time on social media. Some students glanced at Instagram or Facebook, which was distracting enough, and there were also students who rolled into class, pulled out their laptop and spent the next hour browsing Amazon for their Halloween costumes. In smaller classes, you typically have less freedom to let your mind wander. We all have off days, so if you feel you need a small mental break, go ahead and take it. Just make sure you don't spend all of class online.
3. Be Honest About Your Class Preparedness
One of the most uncomfortable moments to witness in an English 100 course was when a student would be called on to respond to the assigned reading, and they would spend five minutes floundering or pretending to know what the reading was about. It is okay to say "I did not get through the entire reading, but I can comment on the beginning part that I read" or "I apologize, I didn't do the assignment so I cannot contribute to the conversation today." In many cases, a professor prefers the honesty so long as you don't make a habit out of not completing the assignments for the course.
Regardless of your course load or class sizes, it's important to know your learning style. Understanding your ideal study conditions and maintaining consistent attendance and participation can make a huge difference. Also, remember to relax — chances are your fellow classmates are just as worried about making a good impression as you are.