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    16 Tips For Navigating The College Classroom Part 1

    June 7, 2016 Amanda Cross 12 min read
    Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more details. Thanks for supporting the brands that make The Happy Arkansan possible!

    Through my time as a college student and graduate assistant I have learned a lot about navigating the college classroom. I wanted to give all you incoming freshman out there an opportunity to get some in depth information on dominating the college classroom. Join me every day for the next three days as I give you 16 awesome tips for navigating the college classroom.

    16 Tips For Navigating The College Classroom Part 1 | Click through for four in depth tips for college students about navigating the college classroom as part one of a three part series all about dominating the college classroom.

    1. Always Show Up On Time

    The first thing you HAVE to understand is to show up to class on time. When I was a graduate assistant last year, I always noticed when people came into class late. Even if you are being as quiet as a church mouse, you can still notice the change in the classroom. It is a chain reaction, a slight pause with the professor who usually sees most of the classroom, a change in the demeanor of your classmates as they turn to look at you (or turn because they see other people turning.) It’s really hard to get past that in the classroom.

    All Publicity Is Not Good Publicity

    Okay, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I knew the names of everyone who was late. It is such a shame that I knew their names, and I wish it wasn’t easy to do that, but seriously, if they were late chances are I knew their names and faces. But, that does not mean that it is a good thing. On the flip side, I went out of my way to try and remember the names of the people who were always there. Yes, it took me way longer to nail down their names (and I probably failed even at the end to remember some of them) but I went out of my way to remember their names. I TRIED to match their names and faces. I didn’t just do it because I had to. Yes, the people who are always late or gone will probably have their names remembered quicker, but the attachment of “late” or “never in class” is not something you want to aspire to have attached to your name as a student.

    Minimize Your Lateness Impact

    If you have to be late, minimize your lateness impact.

    1. Take out your binder, book, and writing utensils before you get in the classroom (if possible) so you don’t need to zip and unzip your backpack inside.
    2. If you can see into the classroom locate your seat or a seat that you will sit in before you get inside. Pick a seat that is easy to get to and doesn’t cross in front of the professor if possible.
    3. If the classroom has a back exit you can use, use it. Be careful about this because your professor might not like people using the back exit, or it might even be locked. If you know that it should be open, using it is always a good idea.

    Let Your Professors know

    If you know you will be habitually a few minutes late due to something like another class, an on-campus job, or something like that let your professors know. Your professor wants to help accommodate you, but they cannot do that if you don’t let them know. Try to catch them after class on the first day of class to let them know about your schedule. Let them know that you will try your hardest to be in class on time, but that it might be difficult due to your schedule. Also let them know that you will always try to take the proper steps to minimize the impact of your lateness. If you don’t let your professors know about your tardiness ahead of time they cannot help you. Sometimes professors are pretty strict about things like that, so the sooner you let them know, the better.

    2. Go To Class

    The next tip is to go to class. I know what you are thinking, “Why didn’t Amanda just add this as a subset of always show up on time?” I didn’t do that because I think they are totally different things. I think they are both equally important. Your professors not only notice when you don’t show up on time, but they also begin to notice if you go huge blocks of time without attending class. Some professors take attendance to notice this, but sometimes it’s just easy to tell. If you are an extremely vocal classmate or you always sit in a certain location—your professor will begin to notice when you are not there. Since everyone should be vying to sit in the same location and speak up (we will talk about that later.)

    Just as a note, it doesn't matter how big the class, you can still be noticed. I remember I skipped my Physical Science lecture once. It was a pretty big class (around 60-ish students) and I didn't really think she would notice that I was gone. I went to lab that afternoon (because I believe I had already skipped the maximum amount of labs) and she asked about where I was in class that morning. Even if you think you are getting out of it, depending on the professor, they can still notice your absence.

    Going to class can be more difficult than you think. Here are my tips for making sure you get your booty to class every day.

    Set Up A Great Schedule

    Scheduling your classes around the kind of person you are is important. There are many things you need to think about when setting up a great schedule.

    • Are you a morning, afternoon, or evening person? There are so many times to take classes in college. I went to college thinking that I’d be an afternoon person, but I really like morning to afternoon classes. I usually started around 9:00 AM and ended at the latest at 4:00 PM. I took a few night classes when necessary, but what I found out more than anything was that in undergrad they were not for me. You may want to schedule your hardest classes during the time where you are most motivated that way you feel the need to go to them.
      • While I was getting my undergraduate degree, I did my best work before lunch (or a few hours after lunch) so I tried to schedule my tough classes around that.
    • Block your classes: I really encourage a schedule like 3 classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and 2 classes on Tuesday/Thursday. If you can schedule them all on MWF or TTh, that’s great too, but you don’t have to. Blocking your classes, in general, is just a great way to plan your classes so that your classes are close together and you don’t have to be all over campus or all over town between your classes.
    • Never have a day with just one class: Never do this. Especially if the class is only 50 minutes or an hour. (I make exceptions for night classes.) If you only have to go to class for a 50-minute session, especially if you live off campus, you will frequently find ways to get out of it. Just don’t do it.
    • Can you handle long breaks? If you think you will have a problem getting to class, I really don’t encourage having a break that’s longer than 1 hour long within your class block. Some people can handle longer breaks though.
      • The important thing is that you have something to do during those breaks. When I had long breaks I hardly ever went to my dorm or apartment if possible. Sometimes I needed to because the break was super long. Other times I would eat lunch, work on homework in the library, or something like that so I didn’t need to go home during my class block. This is so important, because oftentimes once you get home, it becomes harder to leave again for school.
    • Use various sources to pick great professors: Picking great professors can mean the difference between a class that you love to attend and a class that you hate to attend. I love RateMyProfessors, but I know it can be a bit deceiving. Understand that someone may hate a professor that you love and someone may love a professor that you hate. RateMyProfessors is a great place to start (especially if you are new to campus.)
      • After you have become acquainted to campus a bit reach out to people you know within various departments and ask them who their favorite professors are. I LOVE to let people know who my favorite professors are from my old university. If I know anything about their teaching style I gladly let new students know my thoughts on who to take. I had a really great department so I never really had anyone to avoid, but I had tips for taking basically any professor.

    No excuses

    Setting up a schedule that allows you to go to class is so important. Ultimately though, you need to be a responsible adult. College is your full-time job right now even if you have a part-time or full-time job right now too. You wouldn’t dare miss tons of days at work. You are paying for your education and the only way to get maximum return on that investment is to go to class daily.

    3. Get To Know Your Classmates

    The next tip I have is simple, get to know your classmates. Your classmates can be so important to the development of your time as a student and can be essential to keeping you in the loop during those sick days you may have to take or when you are out of class for a school activity such as an athletic game. You need to create a mutually beneficial relationship for your classmates and you. Here are some tips on getting to know your classmates.

    Come to class early on the first day of class and introduce yourself

    Pick your seat (more about that in a second) and be sure to introduce yourself to your classmates around you. Have a conversation about the weather or the class books if you have to. Find a way to interject yourself and thoughts into conversations happening around you. Don’t sit on your phone and fiddle with it until class starts—get out there and get to know your classmates!

    If there is group work, find a nearby partner

    This can be difficult if someone is taking the class with someone they already know, but more than likely everyone is looking for a partner. Team up with someone close by, because honestly you will probably sit by them a lot.

    Be open

    This goes back to the part I talked about earlier, no cell phones, no looking down at your desk intently, no zoning out. Being open, sharing your smile with the world, and looking like a positive person who wants to have a conversation goes a long way. Often times we aren’t making friends, and it’s because our body language is a friend repellant. You need to have positive body language so that people feel comfortable talking to you and opening up to you.


    I am going to talk about participation later from a professor’s point of view (and a little more from a different student perspective) but right now, let’s talk about participation as a way to seem like a good class partner. Participate in class so people want to get to know you more—especially if you are trying to get those mutually beneficial “when I skip you take notes” situations.

    Take clear notes

    Especially on the days where you see one of your nearby classmates is missing, take notes. Take amazing notes and offer those notes when you see them next. Be sure that you are taking notes all the time honestly, you want to make sure that your general notes are great too, because you know, you study from them.

    Be careful who you decide to partner with

    Okay, so if they have missed 3 out of 5 days and their notes are sloppily written you may not want to partner with that person to swap notes. You can still share your notes with them, but only if you want to. Don’t depend on those people to take notes for you if you are gone. If you are surrounded by those types of people, you may want to branch out when it comes to finding mutually beneficial relationships.

    This doesn’t have to be a spoken agreement

    It can be, if you feel comfortable enough with the people around you, but it doesn’t have to be a spoken agreement at all. It may just be an ask when they are gone one day or an ask around when you are gone one day. If you have kept up a pretty positive rapport with your classmates and they see that you are alert and in class like 90-ish% of the time, I am almost certain they will let you off with a few “copy my notes in class” passes. Just don’t make it a habit.

    4. Sit In The Front of The Class

    Okay, the next tip is to sit in the front of the class. My go to spot is in the front, but off to the side (mainly because my freshman year of college I sat front and center and I hated it with a passion). It really is up to you, but I really encourage you to sit in the front row (or at least the front two rows) of a college course. If you can’t sit in the front, stay in the middle of the room. Professors pay the most attention to the t-zone of a classroom. Plus, the closer you are to the professor the easier it is to hear what they are saying, to see what they are writing, etc.

    Sitting towards the front can be such a great way to interact with the professor and forge great relationships with students who also care about their education because they are sitting up front. I find that those who sit toward the back are often on their cell phones or daydreaming about something else while in class. Although, I do the occasional doodling and daydreaming session close to the front row, I just find that I grasp concepts easier. Also, I have pretty horrible vision when I sit far away from the board so it's the front row life for me.

    Don’t Take Someone’s Seat

    I am going to give you a little tip: no one likes the person who takes other people’s seats—especially the person you took the seat from. In college, there isn’t usually explicit assigned seating, but there is implicit assigned seating. If I sit somewhere on the first day of class, I probably want to continue sitting there. Professors will begin to associate you with the seat you sit in. This is also why I am giving you the sit in the front of the class advice before you pick a seat (hopefully!) Don’t be that person who takes someone’s seat. They worked hard to pick the seat they want, and I can’t tell you the number of negative thoughts I shoot at someone when they take my seat. Mainly because someone taking my seat, causes me to take someone else's seat, and then it just becomes some sort of crazy taking seats day. Don’t be that person, don’t take someone’s seat.

    Where you sit in college can make a huge impact on your educational career for the semester. Picking a seat shouldn’t be taken lightly. You want a seat that helps you see the professor and board clearly, works with any eye impairments you have (far-sighted, near-sighted, etc.), and a seat where you won’t be distracted by other classmates or other random things. Picking a seat, while it isn't the end all be all, can really impact your entire semester so please pick wisely.

    The Happy Arkansan Podcast

    I am super excited because I am back at it again with a new podcast for the blog. It's been a while since I created one for a post, and I really like this one. In my podcasts, I don't read you the post verbatim, I give you more information! So check out this awesome 10 minute podcast where I share further thoughts on the four tips I gave you today (and a sneak peek or two about what's on tap for tomorrow.)

    Final Thoughts

    I hope that you enjoyed this series all about tips for navigating the college classroom. There are so many random rules and regulations to the college classroom and I can't wait to share more of my rules with you in the next few days.

    Let me know which one of today's rules was your favorite in the comments below!

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  • Joules June 7, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    These are great tips! I teach info sessions for students interested in our MBA program and it drives me nuts when people wander in late. I absolutely make note of who they are…

  • TheOrdinaryGirl June 7, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    I wish I had read these when I was in college but it is too late now I guess! but I think these tips are great!

  • Amelie June 7, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Great tips! I definitely agree that going to class on time and simply going to class are super important! I always try to get to class a good 10-20 minutes just so I can set my things up. I think it’s kind of disrespectful for students to show up late for class. I do understand that, sometimes, something unexpected might show up, or that maybe you have a tight schedule, but I think it’s important to be there on time.

    I definitely need to start applying "get to know your classmates" tip though! It’s hard for me to make friends because I’m very shy, but I did see a huge difference when I started talking to the people in my class. Having a friend who can lend you their notes when you can’t attend class or when you lose yours (happened to me once) can be a lifesaver!

    I’m so looking forward to the rest of your series!
    Amelie |

    • Amanda Cross June 9, 2016 at 4:18 am

      Thank you so much for your comment Amelie! I can definitely get the shy thing. I am super introverted. I usually just scope out the class a bit and see who also seems like they are similar to me (introverted, shy people) and then I go up and start a conversation with them instead of someone who may be loud or super talkative. It helps me ease into getting to know my classmates if I can find a classmate that I feel is on my level.

  • Living in Full Bloom June 7, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    I agree with all of these! Another thing about sitting in the front row is that it is harder to get distracted. When I sit in back rows, I have to see all the people in front of me and whatever they are doing (like playing minecraft or watching netflix), which is super distracting! Just another reason to sit in the front row! I love this post and I’m excited to read the next part tomorrow!

    • Amanda Cross June 9, 2016 at 4:09 am

      I agree! For my Intro to Anthropology class I got in on the first day late and ended up being toward the back and it was literally the worst semester ever. So hard to stay on task when there are a million things going on around you!

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    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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