What to Expect on the First Day of a College Class

Academic Success
Heading off to college?  In many cases, you’ll be expected to know what’s expected of you from the start–even if no one ever told you what that means.  In this post we offer advice for your first day of class.

What the Class Will Look Like

Every instructor does things differently, but, generally, most use the first day to review the syllabus and course expectations with students.  Many also try to get to know their students.  Some will take attendance and simply ask you to shout “Here!” and tell them if you have a nickname you would like them to call you.  Others may subject you to various ice breakers.

After these preliminary activities, many instructors will remind you of the homework for the next class and let you go early.  Others will jump right into the course material.  They may have even assigned readings for the first day that they expect you to discuss.  Usually, however, this course material is of an introductory nature and not as intense as later material will be.

What You Should Bring

You should be prepared at least with a pen and a notebook.  You can bring the textbook if it makes you feel more comfortable, but few instructors will ask you to refer to it on the first day since they know many students wait to go to class to see if the textbook will even be required.  Of course, if your instructor emailed the class with readings for the first day or other homework, you will want to bring the text and the homework.

Should You Buy the Textbook Ahead of Time?

Many articles suggest that you save money by waiting to see if the textbook will be used in the course since some professors assign a text, but barely use it.  However, if you choose to do this, you are running a risk.  Some instructors will have assignments due the second class.  If you have not yet bought your textbook, you may find that the school bookstore has run out of copies or run out of the cheaper used copies.  You will also be stuck paying for what is most likely a more expensive text because you will be forced to buy at the school bookstore rather than be able shop around online for a better deal.  You could choose to buy a cheaper book online anyway, but then you could be waiting for weeks for it to arrive, especially if you bought from an individual seller and not an online retailer.  To be safe, you can consider buying your textbook ahead of time and seeing what kinds of return options are available to you, should the instructor announce they won’t be using the text.

What if the Instructor Says They Won’t Be Using the Text?

The instructor may say they won’t be  using the text because the department assigned it and they don’t like it.  Or maybe they say the text is only recommended, not required.  Perhaps they’ll say that readings from the text are listed on the syllabus, but you won’t be discussing them in class.  Should you try to return your textbook?

It really depends.  For example, if the instructor says they hate the textbook, you probably will find they aren’t drawing much material from it. However, if the text is recommended or listed for your own reading, you might want to keep it and actually read it.  For example you may find yourself in the following scenarios:

  • You’re in a science course where the readings are assigned but not discussed.  Others choose not to buy the book for this reason.  However, if you do the readings, you will be better prepared for the course and may find that it gives examples of how to solve homework problems–problems the instructor did not go over in class before assigning them.
  • You are reading a complicated text like The Iliad or The Divine Comedy.  There is a companion book assigned that will explain the reading.  You don’t have to read this since you will discuss the readings together, but if you do read the text, you’ll be more confident about approaching the text and discussing it.
  • Your instructor assigned their own book as “recommended” reading.  You read the book and now know what kinds of questions and approaches they are interested in.  You can address these topics in class and in your papers.  For example, you may realize they’re concerned with gender issues or economic questions.  You can talk about gender issues in your paper.
  • Your instructor recommended an MLA handbook and you don’t yet own one.  You should probably keep it.  It will be easier to reference and more accurate than a website on MLA.

Krysta 64

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18 thoughts on “What to Expect on the First Day of a College Class

  1. TeacherofYA says:

    I like to get my books after I go to classes because half the time you won’t need some right away and you can get them cheap. If they’re novels, you can get them from the library like I do.
    The worst is when you buy textbooks from your school, and they tell you that you can sell them back. You can…and get $4 from a $110 book!!
    Thanks for sharing tips to help those who aren’t accustomed to the college life!!

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      That’s true. Your discipline may make it easier to acquire some books. I was dealing with $200 textbooks and if I didn’t grab them before the semester started, all the cheap used ones would be gone. And libraries typically don’t own textbooks. My friend on the other hand would usually just borrow her novels from the library–but sometimes someone else from the class had already checked them out.

      I’ve had that trouble with selling back. You need to be among the first to sell back at the bookstore to get the promised “up to 50% back!” The price goes down each time they buy more of the same book back because now the demand is low. Also, if the school isn’t using the same book the next semester, they’re going to offer you less money, and if the textbook went to a new edition, they’re going to offer you little or nothing. The trouble is that for the best price you need to sell during finals week, but I was often still using my textbooks to study then.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TeacherofYA says:

        Yeah, it’s like, “Um, it’s finals week. I kinda need this now, even if I never needed it before!”
        Only the novels do I recommend getting at the local library. It worked for so many of my ENG classes (but then again, I’m an English major that’s almost done, so all I’m taking is English classes). Sometimes a teacher will tell you it’s ok to get the older edition. I also have a friend last semester that scanned my entire book and printed it out. It was a lot of labor, but she didn’t have the money so I didn’t mind. And she also found a complete textbook as a PDF online.
        You can buy them early and always return them to the bookstore the first week of classes if you find you don’t need them or can get them cheaper, so that’s also a good way to go. Me? I rent the textbooks, and I use the library for novels. Sometimes I wait until the first day of class…but this year I’m going to see what I need and email the professors. My money is super-tight because I’ve used all the loans I can get and am going based (hopefully) on Pell Grants and my own savings. So every penny counts this semester. Then I graduate.
        Yay!

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        • Krysta says:

          A lot of students don’t take advantage of the local library, in my experience, so when they find the university library doesn’t have something, they panic. I think maybe some students don’t realize you can get a local library card if you’re attending school there even if you’re not a permanent resident and I think for some students it’s just too much effort to leave campus, especially if they don’t have a car. 😦

          I’m not really a fan of scanning books or finding PDFs online since I’d the people who created the textbooks to get the money for their work. The used textbook industry has already forced publishers to raise textbook prices since they’re not seeing any money from publishing textbooks now–companies like Follett and Barnes and Noble are getting it instead–so every time I see one of those posts explaining that you can pirate PDFs, I get upset.

          I’m also conflicted about renting because if you don’t return the rental book, the fees mean you end up paying more for than the book than if you had purchased the book new. I’ve seen a lot of people slammed with crazy fees because they didn’t realize when they signed the legal contract saying they’d return or pay, they apparently thought it wasn’t serious. :/ I’m sure you don’t have that problem, but it just seems that bookstores are kind of saying “Look, we’re so nice we’re giving you these cheap rental books!” and then they make so much money off the poor souls who don’t return them on time. And it’s not like the library. Once the return window has passed and your card is charged, they don’t care if you show up and try to return the book. It’s yours now.

          I think emailing the professor is a good way to go, though. I know all the time I was being assigned an MLA handbook or something and I had one! I’ve always had one! I don’t need five! 😉

          Yay! Congratulations on graduating soon!

          Liked by 1 person

          • TeacherofYA says:

            Thank you!
            I have kept some books over the years that wouldn’t give me a decent buy back price. I’d rather keep them than get $5.
            I’ve resold some over Amazon so other students could use them. It’s just tight for money for some students. But I also don’t want to hurt the textbook industry, either.
            I’ve been charged for a rental or two…but it was my bad. I was only charged the difference though. I always rent from the school so they benefit. I don’t highlight in my books because I don’t want ppl to have to be stuck with my notes.
            I’m nervous about graduating. This is going to be the tough semester!!

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            • Krysta says:

              I think we’re all in a place where we kind of need to buy used textbooks; it’s just not possible for most to afford everything at a new price. I just think we should be aware that the publishers aren’t to blame for trying to make a decent living–they’re not making tons of money while gleefully squeezing students for cash, which is what a lot of people I talk to seem to think. Then they go thank the booksellers for renting them cheap books while not realizing the irony that the rental books are making the textbooks expensive in the first place.

              I’ve usually seen overdue rentals charged as the remainder of the book price plus a high fee, but I imagine it could vary from place to place.

              Yeah, I don’t like other people’s notes in my books, but other people don’t care.

              You can do it!! 😀

              Liked by 1 person

            • TeacherofYA says:

              Thank you!! Yeah, you made me think about this and you’re right. I’ve always been angry at the publishers, but maybe they have to up prices to compete and stay in the publishing game. I’ve never thought of it that way…

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            • Krysta says:

              You can think of it this way (with my totally made up numbers). In the past, maybe publishers priced a textbook at $5 per book because they would sell 500 and make $2500. Now, because of the used book industry, they’re only going to sell 200 books and make $1000. But they still need to pay all the people involved in the book production from the author to the editors, copy editors, design team, etc. So now to make up that missing $1500 they’re going to have to up the textbook price. And, contrary to popular belief, people in publishing are generally not paid well. Editors, for example, make about $30000 AND a lot of them are living in NYC, so that’s not a good salary for them at all.

              Liked by 1 person

            • TeacherofYA says:

              Ooh. You’re really making me see it from a whole new perspective. And yes, it’s unbelievably expensive to live in NYC, or else I would do it! Lol!
              Ok, you’ve totally shown me a new side. I’ll have to share this info with other students. I’m about to get my books soon (at the bookstore) and I am going with a friend! I still might get the novels at a library, but that’s only because I don’t have any money. (Pell Grants and savings only over here…thank goodness there is only this semester before graduation, though I have another for my stupid minor! Argh!)
              Thank you. 😊

              Like

            • Krysta says:

              I don’t judge people for buying used books. I do it, too, because I have to. I just think we should also acknowledge that publishers are just trying to make a living, not make out like bandits. 😉

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Briana says:

    I can’t really think of a time in college when a professor assigned a textbook and didn’t use it. Maybe for econ, where we weren’t technically assigned chapters to read, but I found reading them useful anyway.

    Honestly, if you’re really not sure, I recommend emailing the professor. Definitely think of a way to phrase the question that isn’t aggressive or accusatory like “Are you REALLY going to be using the book, or should I just save my money?” :p But asking can’t hurt. If enough students ask, I could see the instructor sending out an all-class email that addresses the topic like “You will need the book by the third day of class” or whatever.

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    • Krysta says:

      My professors pretty much always used the book. Sometimes they didn’t explicitly assign readings that they then covered in class, but reading the relevant chapters always gave me an edge over the people who didn’t use the textbook. I would consider that “using the textbook,” though because it was still an important part of the class, even if they weren’t sitting us down and making us read the chapter aloud like we were in grade school.

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  3. Adri says:

    This is really helpful. I’m a freshie and I’ll be starting classes in about 10 days. I tend to get anxious in new situations so I’m always trying to be prepared for EVERYTHING. The worst part would be if we’re required to introduce ourselves or something. I hope that’s not a thing in college too…is it? Anyway, good advice. Regarding the books, I personally chose not to get the books because I’ve heard they’re not put into use much. I’m considering borrowing the textbooks for the first few days to see if I need to actually buy them.

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    • Briana says:

      It is definitely a thing if the class is small enough! (Say, 30 students rather than 300.) I’d say start preparing now to say your name, your major, your year, and one interesting thing about yourself. 😉 On the bright side, it’s my personal theory that everyone hates this exercise so much that no one is actually listening to what you’re saying. They’re just scrambling to figure out one interesting thing about themselves. :p

      I think it really depends on the professor. I think I used every book I bought, but I know people from other colleges who said the books were not used. Hopefully the professor is upfront the first day of class about how they’ll be using the book. (I have had professors say things to the effect of “This isn’t necessary, but I think you’d find it helpful.” Uh, for $100, I’ll take my chances not buying it….)

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    • Krysta says:

      I like to know exactly what I’m doing, too, and it occurred to me that I’ve never seen anyone explain what the first day looks like. I used to try to ask people and they all told me they didn’t remember–which was not helpful!

      Introductions vary by professor/course. If you’re in a large lecture hall with hundreds of students, they might not even take attendance. If you’re at a small liberal arts college with maybe 18 people in your class, you’ll probably have to at least say your name. Some professors have made me do ice breakers and I always hate that.

      That’s probably a good idea with the textbooks. My instructors were always very good about using them, but I know people who went to other schools who had different experiences. Sometimes it can be sort of not the instructor’s fault. I know the local community college has the department assign a book for all the instructors. Some of the instructors don’t like what the department chose, so they don’t use it.

      Like

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