College Classes: A New Student’s Guide

College Classes: A New Student’s Guide

College classes come in all shapes and sizes. We break down the college class lingo so you can get started.

You can start a study group with your peers if you need some extra help studying. Plus, it's a good way to meet new people.

When you set your college schedule, the structure of each class will vary depending on the type of course, subject and department requirements.

While one format isn’t necessary better than the other, you should be aware of the different types of classes you’ll be exposed to in order to maximize your success as a student.

Classes can meet anywhere from one to four times a week, lasting different durations. Naturally, a class that meets once a week will be much longer than a class that meets three times a week.

College Class Formats

  • Lecture: This is generally the largest class available to students, and attendance can be in the hundreds. Lectures are taught by a professor in a non-personal setting. The professor will go over important material and will do almost all the speaking. There might be a brief portion of the class reserved for questions, but there will be little to no one-on-one interaction.
  • Discussion section: Don’t let the previous paragraph scare you into thinking you’re on your own in a lecture setting. Most lectures have a discussion section in which 20-30 students meet to go over the material learned in lecture. Often, they are led by a teaching assistant (TA), who is a graduate student working under the professor teaching the class.
  • Seminar: Seminars offer a more personal setting than a lecture, as the size is similar to a discussion (20-30 people). Unlike a discussion, however, these classes are taught by the professors themselves. The structure is a mix of lectures and discussion of the material.
  • Lab: Reserved primarily for science courses, labs allow you to apply the material you’ve learned in class in real-life settings. In a biology class, you will spend the lecture or seminar learning material. In the lab, you will spend time actually working. One example of this would be dissecting an animal.

With the exception of labs, which are specific to science courses, the format depends more on difficulty than subject. In general, lectures are reserved for introductory and general education classes, whereas advanced classes will be held as seminars.

Many courses will employ more than one of the aforementioned classes. For example, you may have a three-credit course that meets three times a week. This could mean two lectures and a discussion or two seminars and a lab.

Quick Tips

  • You can start a study group with your peers if you need some extra help studying. Plus, it's a good way to meet new people.
  • Don’t worry if you can’t get into labs or seminars as a freshman. Larger schools might not offer these courses to first-year students.
  • If you’d prefer to avoid lectures and teaching assistants, smaller schools will offer smaller, more personalized settings. Villanova University, which has an enrollment of just under 8,000 students, is small enough that all classes are taught by professors.
  • When multiple professors teach a class, it may be scheduled differently to suit each teacher’s tastes. Consult the instructors when you are registering to find the class that best fits your needs.

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How Should I Pick My Freshman Year Classes?
What is a Freshman Seminar?
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