College Coursework: What’s Expected?

While one key difference between high school and college classes is the course structure and frequency with which classes meet, other key differences include the expectations for learning outside of the classroom.

In high school, your teachers developed curriculum to help you learn inside the classroom. You were assigned homework on a daily or weekly basis that complemented the learning that took place in the classroom. Your teachers gave you reminders about important dates. Your teachers may have approached you if they noticed you were challenged by a subject.

College is very different. Most of your subject learning is self-directed and happens outside of the classroom. Required readings, related research assignments, and homework are all outside of the classroom learning.

How Will I Know What Is Expected?

At the start of each semester, you will receive a course syllabus for each class. A syllabus provides an overview of all relevant information and expectations for the course and can sometimes be seen as a contract between the student and the course instructor. Everything you need to know to be successful in your courses are outlined in your syllabi. In general, a syllabus serves many functions including:

  • Instructor’s contact information and office hours
  • Learning expectations and goals for the course
  • Required texts and readings
  • Course schedule, topics, and supplemental readings
  • Exam or project deadlines
  • Expectations around coursework, deadlines, participation, and attendance
  • Grading information and how participation, exams, and projects are weighted
  • Supplemental resources that support learning in the course

How Much Time Is Needed Outside of Class?

Many college and university’s advise that for every credit hour, students should be spending about 2-3 hours each week outside of class studying and completing supplemental work. Depending upon your individual learning style, you may find you need more or less time to adequately prepare. Your instructor and the course syllabus may have specific assignments to help guide your study time outside of the classroom.

How Do I Prepare Outside of Class?

Consider the following to support your coursework while not in class:

  • Rewrite your notes from class or write down your own notes on provided lecture outlines
  • Create a key concepts sheet or outline and review regularly to help you prepare for exams ahead of time
  • Quiz yourself
  • Create flashcards
  • Generate a reflection connecting what you are learning to your readings or experiences
  • Practice additional problems or case studies to help with learning

And remember—your instructors will not bite! If you are finding content difficult, you are expected to advocate for yourself and seek help. Your instructors post office hours specifically so they have time set aside from teaching and research to support you and your learning. Visit with them and ask questions! This is especially helpful if your class is a large lecture. Outside of office hours, you may never have a direct interaction with your instructor. It is equally important to communicate with your instructor as soon as you have a question about content, especially if the content is foundational to other items you are learning in the course. Waiting until the day before an exam is not the best time for you to start trying to understand a concept you find challenging. Lastly, if participation and attendance are graded, you need to communicate with your instructor ahead of time when you need to miss a class. You may be able to connect with them during office hours to review information, or they may provide you with an opportunity for extra credit to off-set any participation grade demerit.