One thing to keep in mind when choosing a course to take, or even a college to attend, is class size. Being in a small class may be the more personal and engaging experience, but that might not necessarily work for all people. For me, one of my classes has fewer than a dozen students in it, but right after that course I have a class that is nearly 500 students in size. It seems like such a big disparity would be disconcerting but it’s actually really easy to get use to.
Some things I’ve noticed:
In my small class, there’s a sense of camaraderie after a difficult exam that is hard to describe. There’s nothing like the feeling of succeeding, or failing, together that brings a group of people closer to each other. Plus, there’s the extra bonus of the professor memorizing your name, face, and even grade. You’re not just a number.
If you’re shy, being in a small class really helps. It’s much easier to participate and ask questions if you already know everybody in the room on a first name basis. Furthermore, smaller classes are the easiest way to make close friends in a large college. You’ll be seeing many of the same faces over and over again.
Being in a large lecture hall with a couple hundred other students can be great too. There’s something about being inconspicuous that strips away that self-consciousness I have in small classes. I feel freer to learn the way I want to without feeling like the teacher is secretly judging me. Some times that means not taking notes even when everyone else is. In certain classes I just like to sit back and absorb the material without feeling obligated to take notes. In a large lecture hall, I like that freedom to learn how I want.
Of course, there’s a negative side to large classes as well. The freedom in those classes can easily lead to distraction. I mean, no one is going to notice if you decide to check your e-mail on your laptop instead of hanging on every word the professor has to say, right? In my experience, laptops can be super distracting in class, even more so in large classes. You’d be surprised at how many people are intently following your online Tetris game in the rows behind you. In other words, it takes a lot of self-discipline to take notes using a laptop, even though it is faster and neater.
And of course, small classes have a downside too. A fewer number of students usually means the professor will feel more inclined to dole out more assignments, since he doesn’t have that many to grade to begin with. More work does mean more chances to raise your grade though.
So the next time you sign up for a specific class, look at the maximum class size. Some people really do learn better in a certain class environment. Identify which environment you work best with and try to get in those classes. Don’t forget to take a variety of classes though. I find having a variety in your college learning experience really makes the journey all the more enjoyable.
Photo courtesy of Daniel Parks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).