A Guide to Taking Your First "Real" Class

March 18, 2021
Grady Trexler

Everyone’s new at college, until they aren’t.

Last semester, I took a fairly easy schedule, all things considered — I was only taking classes with other first-years, or 200-level introductory courses. I wanted to give myself a chance to ease into the college experience and try out some extracurriculars without feeling like I was straining myself. I highly recommend this strategy for incoming students. As first semesters go, I had a very good one.

That was then, and this is now; I took my first “real” class this semester, a lingusitics course, LIN 306: The Structure and Meaning of Words. Unlike all my other classes, this class had prerequisites (gasp!) and is filled mostly with sophomores, juniors and seniors. The first day of class, we shared our backgrounds and reasons for taking the class. As the spotlight moved around our virtual classroom, my heart began to sink: it sounded like everyone in the class was an upperclassmen studying in the department, who had taken years of collegiate linguistics. All I had under my belt was the introductory course! I was worried about what I’d gotten myself into, and I felt very much like a little kid playing dress up. Everyone else in the class was a real linguistics student, and I was just a fraud.

To my surprise, the first lecture passed, and then the second, and the third, and I found myself understanding a lot of it. Sometimes, the professor would ask a question, and someone would respond so quickly that I didn’t have time to register the question or the response. But other times, the professor would ask a question, and another student would respond, and I would be thinking the same thing. And still other times, the professor would ask a question, and I would answer myself. The places where I found myself struggling were places where others were struggling as well.

Now, the semester is still young. Ask me in May, and perhaps I’ll tell you that taking a 300-level linguistics course was one of the worst mistakes of my life. But I doubt that will happen. I’m enjoying the course, and if I take the time to do the readings and work on the homework independently before I study with others, I find myself able to keep up the course — and the other “real” students in it. Rather than thinking about my schedule as having “real” classes and easy classes, there are just classes, and the students that take them, and the homework and the exams. 

Make no mistake, you should try to figure out a schedule that works for you. I started this semester with five classes, but quickly dropped to four! It wasn’t realistic for me to take all five with the extracurriculars I was a part of. But no one has more of a right to a class than anyone else. I met the requirements, I do the readings and I show up to the lectures just like everyone else. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be one of the upperclassmen scaring off the first-years in an upper level class. For now, I’ll just stick to reading about morphology and trying my best on the homework.