In huge, crowded lecture halls, how can I stand out to professors and not feel overwhelmed?

College Experience

Our counselors answered:

In huge, crowded lecture halls, how can I stand out to professors and not feel overwhelmed?

Robin Boren
Founder The College Doctor LLC

Momma knows best...

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 ( or Free Video Lectures ( 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.

Anne Johnson
Director of Admission Iowa Lakes Community College

Practice makes perfect!...

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.

Kiersten Murphy
Executive Director and Founder Murphy College Consultants LLC

Tips to keep you focused...

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.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Make your education your own...

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. 

Pam Proctor
Author The College Hook

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

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.

Wendy Williams
Educational Consultant Williams Educational Resources

Make your classroom smaller...

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

Susan Marrs
Director of College Counseling Seven Hills School

Where you sit matters!...

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.

Marie Bullock
Independent Counselor Washington Lee High School

No need to feel initmidated!...

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!

Janet Rosier
President Janet Rosier's Educational Resources

Make yourself known and visible...

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.

Christopher Kaiser
Associate Dean Seton Hall University

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

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.