College classes are similar to high school classes in many ways, but a few key differences—the amount of control you have over your own education, the lack of close supervision by instructors, the and the academic intensity of your in-class hours—can make the transition from high school to college difficult for some students.
It took me a full semester to become comfortable with college classes. Here’s what I had to learn:
1. Don’t take too many college classes. It doesn’t matter how well you did with your 8am-3pm schedule in high school; taking seven hours of classes every weekday in college (without a very, very good idea of what you’re getting yourself into) is a whole different story. Check your syllabi, or ask former students, how much of a time commitment (homework included) each of your intended classes demands, and plan from there.
2. Do your homework. Even if it only counts for three percent of your grade, it probably won’t count for as much of your final grade as it did in high school. But every little point helps—and, more importantly, you’ll be able to use it to check how well you understand the material you went over in class.
3. Show up for every class, even if they are optional. Getting notes from someone else rarely makes up for actually attending your lectures, and you’ll be more attentive to the lecture material if you hear it in person than if you webcast or podcast it afterwards.
4. Show up for every discussion/lab, even if it is optional—especially in larger classes. These are often your only opportunities to work closely with your TA’s, who may have even more control over your final grade than your professor does. In addition, they are also better places to ask questions than large lecture halls are, since you’ll get more personal attention from your instructor when you’re in a smaller class.
5. Ask for help when you need it. There is much less hand-holding in college than there is in high school; if you’re struggling, it’s largely on you to catch yourself back up on the material and to search out study resources. Most professors and TA’s are more than willing to help an eager student, and your college can offer further support in the form of tutoring, academic counseling, etc.
6. Make friends with your classmates. Don’t wait until the night before your final to realize you need a copy of someone else’s notes.
7. Make friends with your TA’s. They are often more accessible and approachable than your professors, and can answer almost all of your questions about the material, the class, and the professor. Since they’re probably the ones grading your work, they’re also your best resource for advice on improving your grades.
8. Actually like what you’re studying. You are given much more freedom to choose your own subjects in college than in high school; take advantage of that! It will be much easier to focus, avoid procrastination, and understand the material if you’re interested in your classes.
Courtney Tran is a student at UC Berkeley, studying Political Economy and Rhetoric. In high school, she was named a National Merit Finalist and National AP Scholar, and she represented her district two years in a row in Public Forum Debate at the National Forensics League National Tournament.