What I Wish I Knew Before My First College Class

The following is a guest post written by Tiffany Sorensen, a tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors.

College differs from high school in a plethora of ways, and the transition can be brutal at times. But there is good news: you can learn from the mistakes of those who have already gone through it! To ensure a promising start to college, always go to class prepared and respect your professor’s rules. Here are three things I wish I knew before my first college class:

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1. I should arrive with the course syllabus

A word to the wise: bring along a copy of the syllabus on your first day of college classes. Your professors will most likely email you the course syllabus or post it via an online portal before classes start. And whether or not your professor says so, he or she more than likely expects you to have printed this document and carefully read it before you walk into the initial lecture.

By going to your first college class prepared with all the materials, you can avoid the embarrassment that I went through of being empty-handed. I remember how badly I wanted to make a positive first impression on my Spanish professor the first day. But instead of winning “brownie points,” I was stared down in the first row for having to glance at my neighbor’s syllabus. In college, only a handful of professors will go through the trouble of making photocopies for students. The majority of the time, it will be your responsibility to arrive with the notes, worksheets, and any other documents you might need to refer to in class.

2. I should hold off on buying textbooks right away (unless the professor specifies otherwise)

When you read over the course syllabus, you will probably discover a section that lists the course textbooks. Maybe the new and anxious college student in you will tell yourself that you should buy the textbooks sooner rather than later. This may be a good instinct, but in my opinion, I found the opposite to be true: you can often save yourself money and frustration by holding off initially.

College professors are human—they make mistakes, too. It is possible that the version of the course syllabus the professor sent is not updated or contains errors. The professor is sure to mention the course textbooks on the first day, so you may wish to wait at least until then to order them (keep in the mind, however, that this may not be the case for all courses—more intensive courses will likely make it clear when the listed books are crucial for the first day of class, so pay attention to all communications). Your professor may recommend a particular website or bookstore for buying the books at a better price, or he or she may have listed a book as “recommended” but disclose that it’s not ultimately necessary to buy it.

One of my earliest regrets in college was buying all the “recommended” textbooks blindly when I could have fared just fine just with the required ones. Of course, no one will fault you for going above and beyond the required readings, but if you are on a tight budget, eliminating a few unneeded books can be helpful.  

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3. I should not assume my professor allows eating in class

Some professors are okay with their students snacking or having a cup of coffee in class, while others frown upon it or outright forbid it. It all depends. Usually, the policy on food is outlined in the course syllabus, but there is nothing wrong with asking for clarification. Even if your professor does not like the idea of you having food or drink in class, he or she may make an exception if you ask politely, keep it neat, and throw out your garbage.

My junior year of high school, I did not have a lunch period. Instead of taking a lunch break, I took an AP class that fulfilled a college-level requirement. My high school teachers knew about my hectic schedule, so they allowed me to eat and drink in class without any problems. I just assumed my college professors would have the same attitude, but this was not the case! When one professor recoiled at the gigantic burrito I was going to enjoy in Literary Analysis, I realized I should have asked for permission first or, better yet, eaten beforehand.

Who knew something as simple as printing the syllabus could make the first day of college classes less painful? The little things go a long way. Take my advice to ensure a successful first day, and relax: by the second week, you likely will have already fallen into the rhythm of college.

Check out Tiffany’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.