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Students raising their hands in a lecture hall
August 30, 2023
5 mins read

What are university classes like?

Scared you’re going to feel lost in September? Don’t worry—you’ve got me as your guide! Star Trek: Next Generation showed us the excitement of going where you haven't gone before—I'll try showing you the same. 

I remember my first day at UBC very clearly. I was wearing an outfit I picked out a week in advance (with my mom’s help of course), I was nervous out of my mind, and I had a total of…drumroll please…0 friends at UBC. Classes, big and small, were where I ended up making most of my friends in first year—and they just might be where you’ll make many of yours, too!

Curious about what it’s like to attend university classes? Here’s the run-down, along with a few tips to help you navigate this new experience. 


Classes come in a range of formats—from lectures and tutorials, to labs and seminars. Depending on what courses you choose to take, you could have a lot of different formats and sizes (anywhere from 10 to 200+ classmates) in your schedule. 

While some classes, such as labs, might have assigned seating, the majority of the time you’re free to choose where you want to sit. Front and center isn’t reserved just for those itching to ask questions, but can be a good spot if you struggle to see or pay attention from the back of the lecture hall. If you’re scared of being called on (a rare occasion but still a valid fear), the back is perfect for assessing the class before venturing into the rows closer to the prof. 

Your classes will be so much more than just their size and format, though—they’ll be a whole new way to see school, learning, and socializing. However, that doesn’t need to be intimidating! Here are 5 tips to help you thrive in your classes:

1. Get to know campus beforehand

You might need to bus or drive to campus, and then walk, bike, or even skateboard to get to and from each classroom. UBC Vancouver is often called its own little city—in other’s big. Don’t underestimate how long it’s going to take you to get from one class to the next. 

  • Jump Start and Second Year Welcome: Orientation programs are a fun way to experience campus and beyond with your very own guides. You’ll start classes knowing where buildings are and the best places to grab a bite—all courtesy of your upper-year leaders!
  • Timing: Use Google Maps to estimate the walking time between class locations, or better yet, come to campus a few days before class starts and time it yourself. If you don’t have much time between the end of one class and the start of another, make sure to sit near the doors so you can make a quick exit. 
  • Navigating buildings: UBC’s Wayfinding tool is a great way to explore campus interactively. Use it to find building entrances, check accessibility information, locate buildings on a local area map, find the closest parking to a building, and much more!
Student at a wayfinding sign on Main Mall

2. Be mindful of classroom etiquette

While some profs may explain their classroom expectations on the very first day, others may focus only on the syllabus before jumping straight into the course material. So if you’re unsure about the dos and don’ts of classroom etiquette, here are the basics:

  • Food and drink: A lot of profs don’t mind snacks in class, but even if they’ve OK’d eating, make sure to keep it noise friendly. Keep that bag of delicious salt and vinegar chips for after class, and opt for something like a smoothie or protein bar instead.
  • Coming late to class/leaving early: No matter the class size, coming in late and leaving early can be disruptive and distracting to those around you—so make sure you enter and exit quietly when you do. There’s also a chance you might get locked out of the class or miss out on crucial information, so if you’re worried, make sure to give your prof a heads-up.
  • Absences: While a prof might not notice if you miss class in a huge lecture, they definitely will in a smaller class. So if you need to miss a smaller-sized class, let your prof know when and why beforehand. Doing so shows respect and gives you the chance to ask about the topics you’re going to miss. 

3. Come to class prepared

Half of the work you do in class is really what you do beforehand. Whether it’s reading the required pages, looking over your notes from the week before, or even taking a look ahead, it all helps to make the class more engaging and manageable.

While you might not be required to participate in some classes (e.g. you might need to speak up in a tutorial, but not during a lecture), in others you might need to answer multiple-choice questions using your iClicker or discuss class materials in groups. Reviewing the class material beforehand can not only help you arrive with a fresh perspective, but also alleviate some of the anxiety or stress that comes with having to speak up in class. 

A student in a classroom focusing intently on their laptop

4. See seating as an opportunity

Campus will be buzzing once again in September, with students running from one end of Main Mall to the other to catch their next lecture, grab the perfect study spot at Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, or beat the lines for their new favourite drink. 

These won’t be your only new experiences though, and you can add making friends in lecture halls to that list. While smaller classes might seem like less daunting places to make friends, it can be just as easy to make friends in a lecture hall that seems as big as a field! Here are some ways to start a conversation with a potential new friend in class:

  • Ask if the seat next to them is free. You might not have this luxury if you’re coming into class late (or a few seconds before it starts), but if you do—extending this courtesy is a great first step to showing your potential new friend you respect their space. It can also prevent any awkward “Oops sorry, I’m saving this seat for my friend” scenarios. 
  • Crack a joke. Looking to break the ice? Making a joke about how you’re feeling (whether it’s nervousness, excitement, or a lot of both) shares a bit about yourself while letting your classmate relate and laugh alongside you. 
  • Compliment them. Whether they have an awesome Iron Man sticker on their laptop or a pair of bright Air Forces, a compliment is a fun way to show a common interest.
  • Show curiosity. Just because you’re in the same class doesn’t mean your intended path will be the same. You can ask them about what drew them to this class, what they plan to major/specialize in, or what brought them to UBC!

5. Remember to ask for help

If you’re concerned about struggling with course material or the pace of university classes...

Don’t worry—you’ve got a huge support system behind you including your profs, TAs, Academic Advisors, and classmates.

Some profs or TAs have back-to-back classes, but if they don’t, they tend to linger after class to answer questions. If you don’t get a chance to catch them after class, you can always email them your question or schedule a time to discuss your thoughts in more depth. 

If you’re nervous about talking to your prof or TA, there’s another group of people that can help: your classmates. A great way to make friends and set yourself up for studying success can be to form study groups within your classes. Study groups are a different way to socialize, ask questions about the course material, and keep yourself accountable with your assignments and exams.

Remember—your classmates are navigating starting university classes, just like you! They have the potential to be another big piece in your support system.

If you’re still feeling unsure about starting your university experience, make sure to check out some more tips and tricks on navigating your first year.