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Live, laugh, love, lectures: How to thrive in your classes this semester

College classes at Rutgers are not easy, but with these tips, they can hopefully become more manageable.  – Photo by Rachel Chang

When it comes to college, you'll find most of the advice you receive stops becoming useful about two weeks in.

If I had a nickel for every time I was given advice on what to tack on and off from my packing list or how to organize my closet or given reminders to reach out to people on my floor and in my classes to make friends, I'd be able to pay my tuition about 10 times over.

And then, the advice seems to fast forward to the end of your college career: Did you get the right internships? Did your extracurriculars suit your future career and your majors? Did you make the connections to properly network?

When it comes to actually succeeding in school, there are study tips and playlists and hacks for how to talk to your professors. But if you’re feeling lost about what might happen in class or how to best succeed within the four walls of your lecture hall — this is how you can prepare for exactly what’s going on and flourish this school year.

Consider buying your textbook carefully

As a perpetually anxious person, I understand the desire and/or perceived need to buy every textbook before classes begin, as per the syllabus. But sometimes, you don’t need the most recent version of the textbook or, even, at all. Within the first two classes, your professor will probably tell you if any older editions are okay or if you truly need the textbook for the entirety of the course.

When it comes to buying new — don’t. You can buy a used book, rent a used one or even rent a new one for much cheaper. Sites like Chegg offer many books for rental, and new and used textbooks are often cheaper on Amazon than they are at Barnes & Noble.

Bring both a laptop and paper

You can definitely use one over the other based on your preferred notetaking methods, but having a laptop or an iPad in addition to a regular notebook with some pens or pencils at your disposal will make your classroom life infinitely easier. Writing down your notes, homework assignments or exam dates in a planner can significantly help improve your ability to remember them.

Laptops or iPads also have benefits, too — if you’re a college student in 2022, you can almost certainly type faster and for longer than you can write, and having the entire internet at your fingertips as well as unlimited coloring, bolding and highlighting tools can help immensely with your note-taking.

Though, you should be sure to check the syllabus about this as some professors might not allow electronics!

Pay attention, but don’t burn yourself out

When professors lecture for the full length of a class, whether it be an hour and 20 minutes or as long as 3 hours, distractions are inevitable, and especially if you’re only there for a general education credit, sometimes boredom is, too. It’s important not to slack off in class, but it's equally as important to give yourself room to breathe.

If there’s not a designated class break, feel free to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom on your own time. If you’re on your computer, don’t shop online for the entirety of class, but feel free to check what that text notification (or worse, Canvas notification) says and quickly reply. It’ll eat you up more wondering and waiting!

That’s if they're available on your laptop, of course, as many professors will find taking your phone out disrespectful — so maybe save it for that bathroom break.

Find what seat works for you

Placement in a classroom can be almost as important as what you bring to the classroom.

Whether you’re in a tiny room with 12 students or a lecture hall with hundreds, where you choose to park yourself to learn for the rest of the semester is important. People will generally sit in the same spot after the first couple of classes have passed, so follow etiquette, and don’t steal someone’s seat if you’re making a mid-semester move.

If your eyes strain even with your glasses and you want to make sure you aren’t slacking off, scrolling through Twitter or snoozing during lecture, sitting toward the front might be beneficial. If you want to participate, but don’t want to look too eager or draw too much attention to yourself, the middle of the room might be a good spot. If you want to quietly listen (or take a nap — I’m not here to judge) take a spot toward the back.

And wherever you are, in large lectures, focus on the aisle seats. It’ll make getting in and out that much easier, no fuss necessary.

Participate, participate, participate

Even if it’s not possible to sit forward facing, eyes fixated on your professor for the entirety of class, remaining engaged in the content of the lecture will really help you absorb the information. Don’t be that person that’s raising your hand every 5 seconds and interrupting the class flow, but if your professor is open to contributions or questions, don’t be shy, either!

Your commentary or answer to a question could be valuable information, and the questions you asked could help the class gain a better understanding.

But even if it doesn’t benefit anyone else, it benefits you. At the end of the day, you’re there to learn. Speaking in class (within reason) will make you more memorable to your professor, even in a large lecture hall. If you’re shy, show up to office hours or try and chat to ask a question after class. That extension email you’ll send later in the semester will thank you for it.

Regardless of your major, whether you’re in intimate classroom settings or large lecture halls, the most important part of college is, in fact, your education. Absorbing information, forming a good relationship with your professors and making sure you don’t burn yourself out are integral to ensuring you actually learn. Good luck this semester!  

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