College Life: Ditch Big Lectures For Small Classes

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College Life  Ditch Big Lectures For Small Classes dv740025 jpgToday, I start my last semester of college. With seven semesters behind me and one to go, I’ve accrued, if not a great education, at least some stellar skills in playing the system.

As I descend upon this last era of my collegiate experience (for now, at least), I’ll bestow some wisdom I’ve learned…while I still can. After all, there’s nothing more annoying than a college grad (parents, professors, old people who god you don’t get it anymore ughhh) telling you how to navigate your way through to a bachelor’s degree. So, before I become one of those or worse, a sappy nostalgic recent grad, I’ll share my tidbits with you while I still have access to student discounts.

My most sagacious and valuable tip is this: take smaller classes. And unlike declaring a major in Contemporary Dance or Pottery, your parents and advisor will approve too. Everyone wins.

First allow me to dismiss the claims that taking small classes is harder. Friends of mine have complained that taking small seminars is far more taxing and pressured: you have to be in class and once you’re there, you have to be on top of your shit. Sure, you have to show up and you might be more inclined to do the reading, but in the end, I’ve found, the experience ends up being a hell of a lot easier and less stressful.

Now for a moment, picture yourself in a huge lecture hall, with some guy who sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown pontificating about something – and even if he’s a good lecturer, which he probably isn’t – you’re probably pretending to take notes, but actually texting, or looking at Facebook and zoning in and out of the lecture. Lie to yourself all you want, but this is what you’re doing. You’ll also probably be forced to stare at a boring PowerPoint typed in Comic Sans.

In a small class, you’ll be more likely to pay attention because you’ll sort of be forced to, but also because your desire to do so will inevitably be increased. Sitting within a couple feet of the person talking at you will make a difference, but I can bet the subject matter will be better too. In general, big lectures tend to cover vast topics like “Russian History” or “Film History Since 1945” or “Introduction to Psychology,” none of which are topics you can really expect to cover in a few month’s time. As a result, I’ve found the topic ends up being way too massive, which leaves you anxious and feeling like you have really no clue what the hell is going on. In little classes, the topics are usually more specific, and accordingly, you learn more. Topics are covered in greater depth, meaning if you’re hungover or distracted and end up zoning out for a portion of the discussion or the idea is over your head, you’ll probably still be okay. But oh, hey there big history class student, you missed the part on the Revolutionary War? Yeah, you’re probably screwed.

Which brings us to where most of us end up at the end of a semester in a big lecture class: with a half- or quarter-read textbook, a smattering of notes and an unsettling anxiety that you’re never possibly going to be able to learn all the material. And with a professor who wouldn’t be able to pick you out in a crowd, it’s hard to care.