Chapter 2: The First Week of Classes: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Arguably, an incoming freshman’s most highly-anticipated and simply over-thought-about week of the year is the infamous Syllabus Week, when students finally meet their course professors and get a sneak preview of the semester that lies ahead. I’ll be honest, when I began my very first week of college classes, I expected Syllabus Week to be a week of ease – no due dates for at least a week, right? Wrong. Not to worry you, however, because on the first day of class your professors will most likely spend at least an hour going over the course syllabus. This is absolutely not the time to daydream though, because this may be the only time throughout the entire semester your professor devotes to explaining the syllabus in full. Most course syllabi will outline vital homework directions, the overall expectations of the course, and the course’s semester schedule, which consists of important homework due dates, quiz dates, and exam dates. Often, professors may become irritated if their students fail to pay attention during Syllabus Week, and ask questions later in the semester that were answered on day one. 

As my experience as a college student grew over four years, I learned that taking the time to look at the course syllabus and class layout online prior to your first meeting is extremely helpful once the first day finally arrives. This way, the actual first day of class won’t feel as overwhelming, because you will already be familiar with the expectations of your class and how heavy or light the course loads will be. Additionally, it’s a good idea to review the syllabus before your first meeting because you will have time to absorb the information and come to class prepared with any questions that the syllabus was not already clear about. Even if you only have just a few minutes, I strongly suggest taking the time to at least download or print out the important sections of the syllabus to bring to class prepared.

In my opinion, one of the reasons I was very successful throughout my undergraduate career was the meaningful relationships I was able to build with each of my professors during my time at Pace. Obviously, your professors will play vital roles in your educational journey, and if you’re lucky they may remain a part of your life after your time in college comes to an end. Professors will present you with knowledge, advice, skills, and opportunity – but it is up to you to take advantage of what is being offered up to you. Many of the relationships that you will have the opportunity to build may begin on day one, and I urge you to consider what kind of impression you’d like to make on your professor on the first day of class. From me to you, it is not a good look to walk into class on the first day with your hood on, face hidden, AirPods in, and walk straight to the back of the room. Even if you don’t mean it, this behavior may signal to your professor that you don’t wish to be in their class and that you aren’t serious about your higher education. If you can, try to sit towards the front of the class, especially if you have difficultly seeing or hearing – and ask questions, be attentive, and make yourself known to the professor AND the class. In my experience, I am able absorb knowledge and material better if I am involved in class discussions, participating, and answering the questions being proposed throughout the lecture. This behavior signals to your professor that you are at least trying to be a successful student in their class, and that you are worth their time. Later on, if you need extra help, extra time for an assignment, or even a letter of recommendation, the professor may be more likely to help if you’ve shown you’re a committed student within their class. No professor enjoys teaching to a room full of brick walls.

Now, the question you’ve all been waiting for, what is the course load really like in college? It’s no walk in the park, as my freshman year included a larger course load than what I had dealt with in high school, but it was absolutely manageable and I had a very successful first two semesters. You will experience a great deal of pressing deadlines, late nights, and tough exams, but these will all be workable if you are able to manage your time appropriately and stay organized. From me to you, I highly advise you to keep an agenda, virtual or written, to help you keep track of due dates and exam periods as your schedule becomes busier. Personally, I have found that I am far more successful in a course if I use a weekly agenda to organize my time efficiently and plan out study/homework times accordingly. Usually, every Sunday night before the start of a new school week, I would sit down and review my course schedules and write down upcoming due dates for the week, planning out time to devote myself to each assignment. As a student athlete, this was vital – because I had to plan around class times, practice times, lift times, and game times. Some of my not-so-organized colleagues in school, who refused to use an agenda to organize their time, would sadly often forget about large assignments until just hours before the due date, and would stay up very late just to turn in a mediocre assignment on time. If you plan ahead and organize your time, you will be able to break up your assignments throughout the week and work on large tasks in pieces at a time, to avoid burnout and overworking your mind all in one day. 

The course load WILL be heavy, and do be aware that the classes you’re taking may be offered in formats you’re not used to, such as completely online or Hyflex, due to COVID-19. So, I advise you to be adaptable. Go into your first day with courage and an open mind, and do not shut down when things start to get difficult – college is about facing challenges and learning how to overcome them.

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    Meet the Author
    Chloe Mayhew is a 2022 first-generation college graduate, recipient of a Bachelor’s Degree in Global Professional Studies with a concentration in Political Science from Pace University. She is currently preparing for an exciting gap year as a volunteer with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) program for 10 months in the Southwest Region of the United States, based in Aurora, CO. Volunteer, global citizen, human rights activist, world traveler, lifelong student. Read more about Chloe >