7 Ways to Succeed on the First Day of Class

college classroomThe first day of class is not big deal, right? Wrong! Many students blow off this day and don’t take it seriously—and that’s a mistake. Professors and other college instructors spend the first day of class setting the tone for the class and going over the important information you need to do well in the class.

It’s also important to take the first day seriously because that helps you get into the right mindset for the rest of the semester. It’s kind of like going on a diet. If you don’t take it seriously the first day, how are you going to get into the habit of eating right and exercising more? Which doesn’t mean that diets don’t fail—and that your classroom experience won’t be a failure—but neither diet nor a college class is likely to go very well if you don’t get into the habit right away of taking it seriously.

Here’s how to succeed on your first day of class:

  1. Be there. There’s no way around this. If you’re not there, you’ll miss key information. And believe me, as a former professor, I knew who wasn’t there– and this made a terrible first impression! Nothing says, “I don’t intend to take your class seriously” more than not showing up on day one. So if circumstances dictate that you can’t be there on day one (and sometimes they do) be sure to call your professor ASAP, apologize, and arrange to stop by his or her office to get the syllabus and to chat about what you missed.
  2. Pay attention to the course expectations. The purpose of the first day is to let you know what’s expected of you in the class. The teacher will probably give you a syllabus and go over it. Knowing what’s expected of you is necessary before you can succeed—so be sure you know.
  3. Ask questions. If something that the syllabus or the professor says about the course expectations are unclear, ask questions. Don’t be shy—this is information you need to know.
  4. Be friendly. Say hi to the professor and your fellow students. I’m not kidding. Help create a pleasant classroom atmosphere from day one by being nice.
  5. Participate in whatever is asked of you. Perhaps the teacher will include an ice breaking exercise, or ask the students some questions. Do what you’re supposed to do, or you risk making a bad impression.
  6. Get a hold of required materials immediately. On the first day class, you’ll find out which books and other materials you need. Don’t procrastinate. Take care of getting what you need now before the semester becomes very busy.
  7. Do your homework. Is there a homework or reading assignment due soon? Even if it’s not due the first night, do it as soon as you can. This is a fantastic way of getting off to a good start, and also freeing up time later when you’re more busy.

Adjusting from High School Academic Expectations to College

Most incoming college students are in for a shock when they first enter a college classroom—even if they did well academically in high school. The set of expectations are quite different, and it takes some time to get used to the changes. Here are the changes you can expect.

First and foremost, you are responsible for your own education. College instructors will be more than happy to answer questions and help you if you stop by their office hours. But they’re not. It’s up to you to:

    • Read the syllabus and know when your deadlines are. In high school, you may have had daily reminders about what to read for the next class period, or that a paper is due next week. Not so in college.This information is all on the syllabus, and you’re responsible for keeping track of it.
    • Take good notes. Although the instructor might use PowerPoint or give you some kind of outline to help you organize your notes, don’t count on it. You need to pay attention and get it all down.
    • Figure out what’s going to be on the test. Yes, you might get study sheets and some information from the instructor about what to study. However, in a college classroom, anything you read or hear about in class in fair game for the test.
    • Get help if you need it. Help is available, but you have to ask for it.

Second, one big change from high school is the amount of time you’re expected to spend studying. Instructors generally expect 2 to 3 hours of time outside of class for every credit hour you spend in class. That means if you’re taking 15 credits, you’re expected to spend 30 to 45 hours outside of class studying every week. Sound like a lot? Not if you want to do well.

Another big change is the difficult level of the reading. Your reading assignments will be longer and more difficult—and you’ll be expected to complete them.

Finally, a big change is your schedule itself. Although you’ll probably have an academic adviser to help you out, no one is going to tell you exactly what you need to take. You get to choose your major, choose your electives, and figure out which classes you need to fulfill the requirements for the school and the major. If you forget to take a class that’s required for graduation, you won’t graduate–end of story. Again, academic advising can help you—but you have to seek this out. It’s rarely required for students to meet with their academic advisors, so take advantage of the help that’s available.

If this sounds overwhelming, it is—but it does get easier if you’re willing to put in the work. Come to college expecting to be a little overwhelmed, and know that you’re not alone.


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