College vs. High School: Classes


With the thresholds of my high school classrooms only just behind my heels, I often find myself comparing the atmospheres of college classes to the atmospheres of my high school classes. My high school teachers made an exemplary effort to expose us to college level assignments and teaching methods; but there are some things about college classes that you can’t understand until you are dropped into your new habitat, like an animal raised in a nature preserve suddenly released into real nature. What is so different about college classes? Read on to learn more!

  • The Schedule: This is, perhaps, the most alien aspect of college courses: most of them do not meet on a daily basis. Remember how you grew so used to going straight to a certain classroom after lunch every single day your sophomore year that you almost went straight back to that classroom after lunch on the first day of your junior year? In high school, your routine is probably identical from one day to the next. In college, that is not the case. Most classes only meet 2 to 4 days of the week, some classes even meet only once a week. This can be nice, because it gives you more time to digest material and do assignments between lessons. However, it can also be a problem when you forget that it is Tuesday, and show up 30 minutes late for your literature class because you had linguistics 30 minutes later on Monday in the same classroom. Oops! Hopefully your professors will be as forgiving as mine, but beware of the tricky time tables of the college course catalog….
  • Technology, all of it: There is so much of it, I need sub-points.
    • Laptops in Class: As an old fashioned young lady who owns a typewriter and is currently searching for the proper cartridges for her favorite fountain pen, I have similarly old fashioned views on note-taking. Pencil and paper suit me best. I understand that a laptop can make note-taking quicker and more eco-friendly, but why expose yourself to the temptations of the oceanically vast internet during valuable class-time?
    • Phones in Class: I don’t even want to address this one. Yes, you are technically allowed to do what you want, but please just respect your professors and fellow students by abstaining from checking Facebook for an hour, please. It is better for everybody.
    • Email: My awe for our ancestors’ achievements becomes even greater when I consider that they did everything without email. How? How did they even live? In college, you will probably communicate with your instructors by email much more than you did in high school. If you have a question about an assignment or if you miss a lesson because you are sick, you can always email your professors. Visa-versa, your professors will send you email updates all the time. The one negative thing about your college email account is that it will be bombarded with campus announcements and messages from student organizations.
    • Online Assignments: Most of your assignments will be online, and that is strange. You may have some professors who prefer paper copies, but they are few. You will access course documents and submit assignments digitally, so be sure you are comfortable with your school’s online academic systems at the start of the semester. W&M requires freshmen to take an online course on how to use BlackBoard, our academic network, which was unbelievably helpful.
  • The Syllabus: At the start of every semester, your professor will give you a road-map for the whole semester! As my motto  is “be prepared”(yes, I shamelessly stole it from the Boy Scouts), I love syllabuses. Do use your syllabuses to fill in your planner with assignments well in advance to avoid headaches later. But, of course, it is likely that assignments will change a bit throughout the semester.
  • Assignments: a few observations about them
    • There may be fewer to turn in: I say “may” because this is what I have experienced, but I can’t promise that it is true. I still have loads to prepare for classes, but most of it involves reading the material for upcoming lectures or discussions. Instead of doing lots of small assignments throughout the semester, like you probably did in high school, you may have just two or three large assignments, like papers of presentations.
    • They may be worth more: Again, it’s conditional, but be prepared for your grade to depend on a couple of large assignments and exams.
    • They are online!
  • Exams: It is the eve of midterms, and I have reached my point of terminal exam-prep, which is why I’m blogging. In high school, exams weren’t unheard (particularly if you took AP), but they were rare. In college, almost every class will have both a mid-term and a final exam. Keep up with course material, study early, and breathe. (Maybe this calls for a “study tips” post…stay tuned!)
  • Reading: A lot of college courses are much more reading-intensive than high school courses. The reading material can also differ significantly. While in high school you probably worked from one textbook, many college courses will use either a textbook or a range of books and articles.
  • Attendance: You are legally obligated to go to high school, not so in college. You are responsible for your own attendance. However, as an incentive to keep students in class, many professors will base part of your grade on attendance or participation. You may have a couple of free sick days, but use them sparingly and wisely. You need to be present to get the most out of the course! Professors are also brilliant and dedicated people who love to see the smiling, engaged faces of their students (written by a slightly biased prospective professor).
  • Lectures: Many of the introductory classes you will be taking could be large lecture classes. In these you could find yourself in a huge auditorium of classmates. However, many classes are small and discussion based. It all depends on the school and course. Here are few tips for surviving a lecture course.
    • Sit in the Front: This way, you will always be able to hear, and the professor is more likely to recognized you in the crowd.
    • Go to Office Hours: When you are in a large class, office hours are often the only way to actually engage with your professor one-on-one. If your professor knows you and your name, it can make a big difference when it comes to grading those papers and exams.
    • Stay Awake: For my drowsy midday art history lecture, my professor dims the lights to project pictures of artworks. Staying conscious can be a battle, but I have yet to fall asleep in any class. I find that the best way to keep your eyelids open is to keep taking notes.
  • You Get to Choose Them! I saved the best for last, of course. College course scheduling is much more flexible than high school scheduling. You will have to take courses to fulfill some general education requirements, but you still have a variety of options which can fulfill those. Apart from those requirements, you are free to pursue what fascinates you and explore even the most unusual subjects. Branch out, specialized, do what you will but try to tailor your schedule to your interests.

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