I am, admittedly, not a science person. Big lecture halls scare me, even if they are “small” lectures. I get nervous on the class registration page is listed as a lecture instead of a seminar. I need a professor to know my name, and to know when they call on me that I didn’t do the reading last night. These are all things that I have learned about myself in the last year and a half, and they’ve been vital to my success at Vandy.
This morning, I rolled out of bed, did my reading, and then walked across the street to my favorite coffee shop for class. No, that wasn’t a mistake – my professor met us at the coffee shop for class today, where we sat for an hour and a half and discussed a fable written by a scientist. He even bought me and the other student coffee. That also wasn’t a mistake, there are really only two of us in this class! To some of you, that will sound terrifying. And at first, it was. I have never really studied poetry before, so to be one of only two students in a class on 17th century literature, which is mostly poetry, was intimidating. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hide behind someone else’s answers, or to skip reading for a class. But gradually, this has become one of the best experiences I’ve had yet at Vanderbilt.
As an English and Russian double major, most of my classes are seminars between 6 and 15 people. This is perfect for me; I learn best by discussion, and I thrive in an environment where I can ask questions and build ideas off other peoples’. Memorizing information can be difficult for me, so to have the opportunity to internalize concepts by talking about them is important. I have lots of friends who find this to be an overwhelming way to learn, and need the big lecture halls and textbooks, recitations and TAs. And that’s fine too. But learning how I learn best, paying attention to what stresses me out about a class, and why it stresses me out, have gotten me to a place where I know how to build a schedule for myself that makes me excited to work, motivated to learn, and engaged in the material.
If you’re a senior in high school, pay attention to what you like about classes that engage you, and figure out how you can translate that to college next year. One of the things I love about AXLE (basically our general ed requirement structure), is that it has allowed and encouraged me to test these things out: I took an Astronomy lecture, which I really enjoyed, but allowed me to affirm that I like smaller classes. My freshman writing seminar was Cryptography — a math class. This allowed me to experience math in a class of 15 people that was discussion based; even with a subject (math) that I’m not usually passionate about, I found that I learned better through discussion! AXLE isn’t just to help you be well rounded in terms of what you know, or to help you figure out what you should major in, it also gives you the framework to experiment with class sizes and teaching styles, so that you can figure out how to set yourself up for success.