How Not To Get Lost at a Large University

Sep 26, 2011

Some students at large universities feel like a single grain of sand in a giant desert. But going to a big school doesn't have to equate to being a faceless number. If you play your cards right, you can situate yourself to make the most of a large community.

By Sarah Wright

large university survival tips

Take Advantage of Extracurricular Opportunities

One way to narrow down the giant pool of potential friends in a large student body is to join clubs, play intramural sports and take advantage of other extracurricular activities on campus. Fraternities and sororities are one route to take, and are common at large schools. But if 'Greek life' isn't your scene, there are usually tons of other clubs and activities that appeal to a variety of different subcultures and interests.

Go to Office Hours

If class sizes at your university tend to be large, there's probably little chance that you're going to stand out unless you make a face-to-face connection with your professor or teaching assistant (TA). Both professors and TAs usually have office hours. If the professor doesn't have much to do with the day-to-day aspects of the class, like grading assignments and giving lectures, focus on seeing your TA out of class.

Drop in on their office hours with questions or to discuss course material. Putting a face to your name might help you stand out in a crowd of students, and having a pre-existing relationship with TAs can be an asset if you need their attention for something.

Learn the Infrastructure

There are usually tons of different buildings, offices and departments on a large campus. In some cases, you might be assigned to classes that are in buildings miles apart from each other. It's a good idea not only to get a physical lay of the land at a large university, but also to have a good understanding of the way things work administratively as well. That way, if you're scrambling to get your financial aid forms in on time, or turn in your first paper to a department secretary, you'll know exactly where to go and who to talk to.

Take Advantage of Peer Advising or Mentoring Groups

A lot of big colleges and universities have peer mentoring groups for freshman and new transfer students. These might be departmentally based or available school-wide. Typically, these groups consist of volunteer upperclassmen who have been selected for being friendly, knowledgeable people who want to help you make the most out of your college experience. You might even be matched up with an individual advisor or mentor who will be there for you to answer questions, show you around and give advice. Since the students in these groups are volunteers, you can count on them being friendly and non-judgmental.

Go to Orientation

This might seem obvious, but a lot of universities cram a lot of information into orientation that they neglect to repeat later in the school year. Going to orientation ensures that you get off on the right foot. It might feel a little embarrassing to go around with a tour group during the first week of school or participate in other organized activities, but the information you gain in this introduction might prove invaluable later. This can also be an important part of 'learning the infrastructure,' as mentioned above.

Decide on a Major as Soon as Possible

Most students change their minds about what they're going to study in college. This is totally normal. But at a large university, it can be important to establish yourself within a department as soon as possible. This way, you'll be aware of the classes you need to take and what professors you want to work with before it becomes too late. This can be particularly important if you intend to continue at the same school for graduate study. Having a years-long relationship with a faculty mentor can make a big difference in being granted a place to study for an advanced degree.

One big benefit of attending a large university is the large alumni network that you can access for career help.


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