How Can I Stand Out in Large College Classes?

US News and World Report

June 15, 2011

Many students take a college’s size into consideration during their college searches, and rightfully so. A large, urban campus is a unique experience, just like a rural college town. Beyond campus size, however, is another essential aspect that can play a huge part in a student’s success: the size of the classes. Steve A. in Decatur City, Iowa, is interested in several large state schools. He asks:

Q: High school classes haven’t been that bad, but I’m not sure how I’ll fare in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. How can I stand out to professors and keep from feeling overwhelmed?

A: If you don’t want huge classes, pick a small liberal arts college!
Dr. Michele Hernandez, president and founder, and

The top liberal arts colleges, such as Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, and Bowdoin, are some of the best kept secrets in higher education. Students at these schools don’t have to pick between small seminars and huge classes. Almost all classes are small and teaching assistants are almost never used to instruct undergraduates. If you choose to attend a larger school, you can avoid big intro classes by choosing seminars—which typically have under 20 students—and upper-level classes. Often if you ask the department chair, he or she will let you skip the larger intro class and go directly into an upper- level class if he or she can see from your coursework in high school that you are ready. Even in large classes, it’s usually not that hard to get to know the professor if you take advantage of a) optional discussion sections, which are often much smaller, and b) professor office hours where you can stop by to introduce yourself and talk about the class. Be a discerning student and pick your classes carefully: You only have about 32 to 36 classes in your time at college, so pick good ones!

A: Build your academic community by getting to know your professors.
Stacey Kostell, director of admissions, University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign

It’s important to be an active participant in your educational career. Don’t sit on the sidelines your first semester at college. Instead, beginning your first day, sit in front of the class, introduce yourself to the instructor, ask questions, and attend office hours. When you are an active student, you’ll form worthwhile relationships with your professors. This will reap many benefits, as they will share research opportunities, interesting course offerings, and study abroad possibilities with you. Your professors can also be a valuable resource when you need recommendations for scholarships, employment, or graduate school.

A: Maintain an open dialogue with professors in and outside of class.
Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO, IvyWise

Whether it’s high school or college professors you’re trying to impress, there are certain things you can do to make yourself stand out! Your presence and attitude in and outside of the classroom are important. Even if it’s a large lecture hall, maintain an open dialogue with professors and contribute to class discussions, which will help build effective relationships. Take advantage of office hours and meet with your professor outside of class. Also, keep in mind participation is often a set percentage of a course grade and this is where teachers have some flexibility with regard to grading.