What to Know About College-Level Math

When you go to college, you’ll more than likely have to take at least one mathematics course as part of your general education requirements. Whether it’s algebra, geometry, calculus, or statistics, the first math classes that you take in college will present new challenges that you may not have faced in high school.

Depending on your major and/or any AP credits you may have earned in high school, you might be exempt from certain levels of college math, or you might not have to take any at all! Whether you’re looking for an interesting elective to switch things up, or you’re facing several more years of math, here are some things to be aware of so you can succeed in college-level math…

1. Take a math placement test

Your college or university will likely have a placement test to help ensure you are situated in your optimal level of math in this new environment. For example, trigonometry at your new university may mean something different than trigonometry at your old high school. However, if you have earned a sufficient score on a qualifying exam — like AP Calculus, AP Statistics, or an SAT Subject Test in Mathematics — you may be able to move on to the next math class level immediately. Or, your exam may simply satisfy the mathematics requirement for your school/major. Talk with your advisor to check on what math credits you personally need to complete your college program.

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2. Seek insights from upperclassmen about math classes and professors

Juniors and seniors at your university will probably have recommendations on which math classes to take and which ones might be less helpful. Their experiences with the campus culture and with their professors can tell you a lot more than what you’ll get from simply looking at a course title and description. Some professors’ classes and teaching styles might be better fit for certain students, for instance — perhaps certain professors cater best to mathematics majors, while others present material in a way that is more compelling to students studying another major.

Furthermore, consider your goals for your field of study. Taking a class like Classroom Practices in Elementary School Mathematics might be great for an education major, whereas Mathematical Cryptology could potentially benefit a computer science major. Consult with upperclassmen in your department to get an idea of what math classes you should take and when.

3. Get subject-specific materials for the classes you take

Not only should you bring your textbook, notebook, calculator, and pencils to the class, but think about any additional supplies that might benefit this specific course, like a protractor or a more advanced graphing calculator. Read the syllabus to see what materials the professor lists and recommends. There will probably be assignments every week, along with quizzes and tests every few weeks, so also make sure you have a planner where you can record these tasks and their deadlines.

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4. Remember that professors have office hours

For each course you take, there is a separate block of time that your professors schedule each week. During this time, students can come into the office and talk about classwork. Professors want to see you and help with areas of weakness, whether your weakness is differential equations, algorithms, problem solving, etc. Plus, the professors’ teaching assistants often have meeting times as well, so they can also be great resources for students who need more one-on-one attention outside class time. If you find yourself having scheduling conflicts with a lot of these office hours, you could also consider math tutoring.

Your college-level math courses will likely be harder than the math you took in high school, but you have more freedom to choose what classes you take and from whom. Plus, your courses will probably relate more to what you want to focus on as a career. Even though the first math classes you take at your university may challenge you, they will also provide you with a deeper understanding of mathematics, as well as how to be a successful college student.


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