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Students Ask, College Counselors Answer

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This week's question from Steve A., Decatur City, IA asks:

High school classes haven’t been that bad, but I’m not sure how I’ll fare in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. How can I stand out to professors and keep from feeling overwhelmed?

Be an active participant and don’t be afraid to ask for help

Amy Swords | Director of College Advising
The lecture hall can be intimidating at first. Most large lecture classes break into smaller tutorial sessions for group discussion to accompany the lecture. It is also a good idea to utilize the professor's scheduled office hours once in a while if only to allow you each to get to know one another. Take advantage of any opportunity to meet with your professor outside of class. College professors teach because they like young adults and want to get to know you. Getting together with classmates for study groups will help you better absorb the information from the lecture and provide a social outlet as well.  And by all means, go to class!

Being assertive makes a large class much smaller

Craig Meister | President
Make a point to introduce yourself to the professor during his or her weekly office hours - periods of time that professors set aside for students to ask questions and clarify course content. Don’t just attend the professor’s office hours during the beginning of the semester - attend as many of these weekly sessions as you can in order to build a personal relationship with the professor and better understand his or her expectations. Your commitment to your education may impress your professor so much that he or she might recommend you for future educational, research, or professional opportunities.

Class assignments and attendance matters

Jacqueline Murphy | Director of Admissions
Not all college and university experiences need to be in large lecture style classrooms.  Why not consider medium or smaller sized institutions where you will have smaller, more intimate classroom experiences where you can connect with your faculty members? If you do end up in a large, lecture style classroom sit as close to the front as possible so you will be focused; take advantage of any class capture technology made available to students, do the assigned reading diligently and attend ALL classes. Take advantage of extra help session to clarify any questions you might have.

Don’t be intimidated – show up and speak up

Marilyn Emerson | Founder
With the right professor, large classes can be great. In fact, sometimes the class is large because the best speakers get the biggest audiences. Make sure you always show up for the lectures and stand out by acing the tests. If the professor takes questions during the lectures, don’t be intimidated by the size of the class—speak up. But, don’t be that student who seems to always talk just to hear yourself speak. Take advantage of office hours with something to say or discuss. Your teaching assistant (TA) might be a good pathway to the professor.

Dynamic professors make lectures a rewarding experience

Joan Casey | President
A lecture course by an engaging professor could be one of your most memorable college experiences. The key is to take classes with as many “rock star” professors as possible. If you walk into a lecture and immediately sense you won’t connect with the instructor, then drop the course. Talk to older peers to identify the best professors, focusing on challenging versus gut courses. Learn to take notes by focusing on the central ideas rather than writing down every word the professor utters. If you are struggling with notes, visit the academic support center on campus to learn new strategies.

Embrace your fear of unknown aspects of college

John Frahlich | Counseling Department Chair
The fact that you are already thinking ahead gives me cause to believe that you will find ways to connect to your professor. Gain familiarity and allay fears by making arrangements with admissions to sit in on a college lecture. Many lecture classes offer recitations or smaller break out sessions, often led by a T.A. (Teaching Assistant). These sessions will help you better understand content while providing a more intimate and engaging forum. Maximize efforts in all aspects of the class and you are more likely to produce intelligent and insightful work- that will give you confidence and help you stand out!

Esse non videri – To "be" rather than to "seem" – In college

Christopher Kaiser | Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students
You can ‘be’ rather than seem to a professor by following some simple advice.  You should try and sit in the front or center middle of the class, arrive early for class, remain engaged by staying focused and staying off your laptop unless it is needed for the class, and actively engage with the professor during and after class.  To prevent you from feeling overwhelmed is another story.  That takes using time management, employing your well-honed study skills, reading for both pleasure and class work, and living a healthy lifestyle.  Do yourself a favor and socialize, but in moderation.  Enjoy your college experience.

How to be noticed in college classes

Darryl Jones | Sr. Associate Director of Admissions, Coordinator for Multicultural Admission
Sit in the “A Zone”!  You should try to sit toward the front, and near wherever the professor likes to deliver his or her lecture so that your questions can be answered, you can show your level of engagement in the class, and so that you’re not distracted by anything else happening in the room.  That advice works no matter the size of the class—if you are in the front, students are generally better-behaved when they know that behavior is readily noticeable.

It’s now up to you!

Roby Blust | Dean of Admissions & Enrollment Planning
Although it seems as if the size of large lectures is what might prevent success, what really inhibits academic success is how students approach their learning in college classes.  In college, it is important to remember that learning now is your responsibility and the role of the instructor is to answer your specific questions that you bring to them during office hours or other help sessions.  The reason college classes only meet 3 days each week for an hour is because instructors want to give you the time to review material and think about the questions you have related to course material.

Learn how to advocate for yourself when taking large lecture classes

Jeannie Borin | Founder & President
Navigating large lecture classes will be new to many entering freshmen. These few tips may come in handy: attend every class; arrive early to class and sit up front; take good notes and remain attentive; stay current with all assignments; learn the professor’s office hours and make an appointment to introduce yourself and perhaps ask some insightful questions; remain in contact with the professor during the semester and see if you can be of help. In addition, most large lecture courses come with additional sections headed by a graduate student. These are discussion oriented. Stand out in these sections and you may very well be recognized and mentioned to the professor.

Make a professor less lonely: Take advantage of office hours

Rebecca Joseph | Executive Director & Founder
Professors, like me, must hold office hours at set times as part of our jobs. Very few students visit us, and we get very lonely during those hours. So students in our large classes who come by to say hello, ask a question, and/or get some extra help make us so happy.  We will help you with your assignments and show you examples of student work. If you’re really interested in our content area, ask us if we need help on any projects. We often need to hire students to help us. We will remember you when grading and hiring.

Make your classroom smaller

Wendy Williams | Educational Consultant
Lecture halls do not have to be overwhelming. Take control over the situation by showing up for class on time, sitting in the front of the room, becoming acquainted with your Professor and creating your own cohort group. Studies indicate that students who sit in the front of the class perform better. Outside of the classroom, you can take time to utilize the office hours to become acquainted with your Professor. Beginning a relationship early will help feel comfortable to ask questions later in the semester. Creating a cohort group allows you to feel intimate within a large lecture hall

Make your education your own

Bill Pruden | Head of Upper School, College Counselor
Lectures can be valuable learning tools if used properly.  To maximize their value, you need to use them as a jumping off point for discussions with your professors-- the college’s greatest resource.  Use their office hours to talk about what you heard and read.  You will make an impression on the professor, while also enhancing your education.  Yes, it is possible to simply sit there, listen, move onto the next lecture, and eventually graduate.  But ultimately, how you approach your college opportunity will determine whether you come out with simply a diploma or whether you leave having gotten an education. 

Make yourself known and visible

Janet Rosier | Independent College Admissions Consultant
Unless you will be attending a small liberal arts college, chances are you will have a few large classes. For big lecture classes, be prepared: do the reading, arrive early, sit in front and take good notes. Introduce yourself to the professor. Resist the urge to skip classes, even if no one notices. If the class also has a smaller lab or recitation, make sure you attend these, even if they are optional. You should also use the professor’s office hours as a time to get questions answered or expand on related topics not covered in lecture.

Manage your free time effectively and don’t fall behind!

Laurie Starks | Founder
The good news is you’re going to have a lot more free time than you did in high school. This means you’ll need to manage your time effectively and not procrastinate and fall behind in your classes. It’s tempting to skip class when there’s a sea of classmates, however you will miss important material and develop bad habits that are difficult to change. In large lecture halls try sitting toward the front. Make regular visits to your professors during their office hours, and develop a daily study schedule for each class so that you know what’s due when.

Momma knows best

Robin Boren | Founder
Remember your mother begging you to read ahead on school assignments and you just rolled your eyes at her? Well, it turns out mom was right (isn’t she always). She was advocating the psychological principle of Advance Organizers. The goal is for students to be introduced to new information prior to actually receiving formal instruction on a given topic. Find a favorite website, such as Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/) or Free Video Lectures (http://freevideolectures.com/). There, a short tutorial can be viewed exposing you to key concepts preceding the next day’s lecture. With just minimal planning, this simple cognitive strategy will help you better integrate the material and clarify complex lessons.

No need to feel initmidated!

Marie Bullock | Independent Counselor
My tip to students is to try and get a copy of the text book before classes start. Read the first chapter or two before classes start so that you have an idea of the scope and sequence of the subject matter right from the beginning. Go to the lectures—don't rely on others for notes!  If you have questions, raise your hand and ask them! Make sure you touch base with the professor during office hours within the first 4 to 6 weeks of class. If you have concerns express them... if you have thoughts discuss them. Don't be shy—this is your time!

Office hours are your friends

Diana Hanson | Independent College Consultant
If you're going to a large college, you will certainly end up having at least a few large lecture-format classes. The best way to get to know your professors is to attend office hours. The more you go (with good questions/comments), the more the professor will get to know you and the more connected you will feel. In class, you can ask questions or volunteer answers. Most large lecture classes have weekly discussion sections led by a grad student.  The grad student will report back to the professor periodically, so be an active participant, and soon the grad student might be telling the professor about this fabulous student--YOU.

Practical advice from a top student

Ruth Vedvik | Principal
Turn off your cell phone—always; even texting is disrespectful and they can see you doing it. Ask questions: raising your hand creates awareness and if you’re always in the front / left side the prof will get to know you as an interested student who comes to class prepared and listens. Take notes! Try to look like you’re thinking! If you use a notebook computer DO NOT have facebook or email open. They can hear bells/chimes and may have spies! Never leave early. Lastly, transfer your notes to note cards to use for studying. It really works and is easy

Practice concise note taking and visit your professors during office hours

Kathryn Favaro | Independent College Admissions Counselor
It is important to arrive well prepared for your college classes. In order to be academically successful, dedicate a notebook and binder to each class. Practice taking organized, concise notes. Listen for key points and support them with explanations. Avoid copying lecture slides word for word. Form a study group with a few students in each of your classes. You can review your notes and materials together. Visit your professor during his or her office hours in order to stand out and develop a relationship. Office hours are also a fantastic opportunity to receive one-on-one advice, explanations and feedback from your professor.

Practice makes perfect!

Anne Johnson | Director of Admission
One of the best things you can do to “practice” college classes is to begin taking them in high school. If your state doesn’t offer college classes as a high school option, take a class or two in the summer. If you’re ready to start college classes and haven’t had prior experience with them, take a small load – anything over 12 hours qualifies as full-time – and a mix of large and small classes. If you’re going to be part of a living group, ask returning students for their recommendations when you attend summer registration. Choose at least one class you can say you’re taking because it’s of interest and not just a requirement.

Regardless of class size, you can shape your learning experience

Lora Lewis | Founder & Educational Consultant
Jam-packed lecture halls can be daunting, but there are easy ways to make large classes more personal. Sit in the first few rows of seats. (With fewer people ahead of you the room feels smaller, plus the professor will begin to recognize your face.) After the first class, introduce yourself to the professor and grad student assistants. Stay after lectures to chat and ask questions. Finally, stop by professors’ office hours regularly as a way to cultivate relationships and get individual academic support. With a little effort, you can create the college experience that works best for your learning style.

Sit in the first or second row to stand out!

Shelly Levine | Certified Educational Planner
If you always look forward, you will not notice the hundreds of students behind you. Also try to sit in the same seat of the lecture hall every time.  Soon your professors will begin to recognize you.   Of course, attend all classes and be prepared by reading and reviewing the assignments in advance. Finally, to make the most of your learning opportunity, visit your professors during their scheduled office hours. Bring your questions or simply stop in to discuss the subject matter, possible internship ideas or potential research opportunities. This is your education. Make the most of it!

Speak with your adviser and ask which sections of the courses are the smallest 

Rachel Smith-Vaughan | College Guidance Counselor
 Make sure to sign up for the professor’s office hours. Speak with the professor about the course, ask questions and relate relevant experiences. Always attend the break-out sessions with the ‘teaching assistants” as they will review the information in more detail. Learn to take concise notes; discuss the information with classmates; read ahead in your text book to gather prior knowledge of the subject before the professor’s lecture. Research the possibility of joining the university’s Honor Program. This will provide access to smaller classes and possibly the ability to register for classes early.

Stay engaged (and awake!) by putting yourself in front and center in the large lecture-style class

Bridget Herrera | College Counselor
Lecture classes don’t have to be overwhelming.  Consider:  1) sitting close to the front and towards the center (you won’t even notice the hundreds behind you); 2) show the professor you are engaged by keeping eye contact with him/her; 3) ask questions and make comments about the information being discussed; 4) at the end of the class go up and talk briefly with your professors.  All of this will help you feel engaged and you will likely stand out to the teacher as well.  Some lecturers are fabulous, but the small, intimate classes are also stimulating.  It’s all part of the college experience!

Stay on top of your work and manage your time

Maureen Lawler | College Counselor
Large lecture halls can be intimidating.  There are, however, several things you can do so that you are not so overwhelmed.  First, go to class.  Sit in the same seat all the time (preferably in the first couple of rows).  Even in a large lecture hall professors notice students who regularly attend class.  Second, after you receive the course syllabus review it.  Set time aside on a regular basis to complete assignments.  Take good notes and review them regularly.  If a question arises during your review, flag it and then seek out your professor for answers.  Just keep studying.

Take a mix of large lecture and small seminar classes

Hamilton Gregg | Educational Consultant
There is no question that taking large lecture classes is a daunting prospect. The first time you walk into a lecture hall of 200+ students is scary and uncomfortable. You don’t know anyone and the professor certainly does not know you. I recommend taking am mix of courses the first year, some large lecture and some smaller classes that don’t have prerequisites. If you want to get to know your professor and you are interested in his/her subject area, then take some of the other courses they offer at the upper level. Stand out and speak out, knowledgeably.

Take notes on notes, prepare to participate, and meet professors

Pam Proctor | Author
1) Take copious notes and review them immediately after class. Underline and take "notes on your notes." Extensive note-taking helps prevent your mind from wandering. 2) Force yourself to ask questions or contribute. If you don’t have the opportunity in a large lecture, you’ll usually be able to speak in smaller breakout sessions. Before class, formulate some questions that you want answered. 3) Meet your professors. One student discovered that he was one of the few students who networked with his philosophy professor during after-class office hours. Those meetings turned into a friendship that led to casual dinners, where the two discussed ideas over sushi.

The myth behind large lecture classes – you can succeed!

Emily Snyder | Owner & Managing Director
Colleges and universities are focused on structuring courses to maximize student learning.   Usually, in addition to attending the lectures, you will be expected to meet twice weekly with a small group of your classmates.  Lead by the professor’s teaching assistant (more informally known as a “TA”) your regular participation in these “resuscitation classes” will show your professor your commitment to the course.  Most importantly, they are your opportunity to have your questions answered and better understand the course work—all of which will help you get the grade you are working so hard to obtain!

Three tips to make your large lecture classes feel smaller

Stephanie Meade | Owner
1) Know your professors: Attend every class, sit in front where the professor can see you, and go to professors’ office hours regularly. 2) Don’t miss a word: Lecture notes are often available through on line course resources or a student note-taking service, and can be a great supplement to your ownnotes. 3) Get your questions answered: Attend every small group meeting or review session offered, and form a study group with some classmates. You may have to be more proactive than you were in high school, but it can pay off in ways you cannot imagine!

Tips to keep you focused

Kiersten Murphy | Director
Transitioning from smaller classes in high school to a large lecture hall in college can be daunting.  First and foremost, it is important that you attend class and treat it like any other class in which you are enrolled.  You want to sit in the front of the lecture hall so that you won’t be distracted when the students in front of you pull out their laptops and start browsing Facebook.  You might even want to audio record the class so that if you miss something you can review it when you are back in your dorm. Remember to stay focused – this class is an investment in your future.

Where you sit matters!

Susan Marrs | Director of College Counseling
Try to sit in one of the first couple of rows—that will put you in a good spot to ask a question or offer a comment before or after the lecture. If you sit in the middle, you may feel surrounded by a sea of other kids; if you sit in the back, you may feel separated from the lecturer by a wall of other students. So, sit up front, come to class prepared, maintain eye contact with the prof whenever possible, and, at least twice a quarter, visit your lecturer during office hours.

Your learning style: Making the class size work for you

Jane Klemmer | Founder
What type of learner are you? If you enjoy interaction with teachers and classmates, the simple answer on maximizing your academic success is to seek colleges where you’re the big fish in a small pond rather than one of the crowd. Sometimes introductory lecture courses are unavoidable, but you can find ways to make them manageable. Take advantage of professors’ office hours, especially if you have specific questions on class material. Many lecture classes have scheduled review sessions with teaching assistants.  These smaller group discussions will provide an opportunity to revisit topics in a more comfortable forum and with the personal attention you may want.


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