Tips for success at a large university

Hi everyone,

I’m a 28yo soon-to-be student in Oregon. I got my undergrad degree in Sociology and have been working in the government/public policy sector since college. I started seriously considering med school about a year ago, and I’m now offically going to start a post-bacc program this fall. I’m very excited, but also a bit nervous.

One thing I’m a little worried about is navigating student life at a big school. As an undergraduate, I attended a small liberal arts school (~1800 undergrads) but I’ll now be doing my Post-bacc program at a large university (~30,000 students.)

A big change, to say the least. At a small school I was used to having the administration bend over backwards to help you out and I had great access to professors. I wouldn’t say we were coddled (as you still had to be in charge of your own education) but you certainly had a lot of people who were there to help you along the way. Of course, I’ve already discovered that it will be nothing of the sort at the big university. Want to talk to your academic advisor? You’ll need to make an appointment 2-3 months in advance. Want to talk to the registrations office? You’ll need to sit on hold on the phone for 20 min until the next operator is available.

So long story short, I’m looking for some advice on how to succeed at a big university. I already know that I’ll need to be very proactive and very self-directing when it comes to administrative things. Any other tips?

I’m especially lost when it comes to classes. In my undergrad program my classes had anywhere from 10-30 students, so it was easy to be involved in class and get to know the professors. But how do you stand out and get to know the professor when there are 100 students? Not only do I want to succeed in my classes, but I want to be able to get good recommendations when it comes time.

Any tips, advice, words of wisdom, etc would be greatly appreciated!


Sit down front, ask questions (good questions - do the reading before class), go to any office hours the professor has or GTA has to clarify points. Do not argue for POINTS on a test, but do go get clarification for your understanding. That’s how you stand out.



Go to class. Go to class. And lastly…go to class.

Unless they use a clicker for attendance, many large universities rarely take attendance.

If you sit up front where the professor can see you, it WILL make a difference when LOR time rolls around.

The second week of classes, stop by the professor’s office hours. If you have questions, great, otherwise just step in and ask them for advice. If they didn’t cover recommendations on studying in their syllabus or first lecture, ask how they recommend you best manage the material. If they did, read up a bit and find some questions to ask. BUT GO TO THEIR OFFICE HOURS THE SECOND WEEK. Everyone else will put it off until the week before an exam.

Other Tips:

Sit in the front row or three. Read the material and pay attention in class so you can ask questions - but don’t ask just to ask. And don’t ask “confirmation” questions to make yourself look smart. Ask questions that let the professor talk, they actually remember you better for it.

Join or create study groups. This doesn’t help with LORs, but if you can teach someone else to understand something, than you will know it well enough for exams.

Lots of good advice here and i will add a little more. Whether its a school or University its pretty much a situation where you try to absorb and learn as much as possible, be punctual always listen, take notes go the extra mile to learn something you don’t quite understand in class, research and do more research, have regular conversations with you tutors, stop them as they’re leaving class to ask a few questions etc.

These are some of the ways to stand out, whats the worse that can happen?

Thanks for the advice everyone! Many of these tips overlap with strategies that I found to be helpful as an undergrad at a small school, so it’s reassuring to know that it’s not really all that different at a larger school.

Good luck with everyone’s upcoming fall semester!

Boy can I relate! I am starting my post bacc at Hunter College in NY in two weeks, and it has been a serious hassle navigating the bureaucracy. I also went to a liberal arts college of under 3000 students so it was similarly shocking to find myself with absolutely no help or advising offered.

One thing that I found really useful was to seek out advice from other students who had been in the system for a year and could point out certain traps and pitfalls to watch out for.

Another tactic that has worked at Hunter is to take care of as much as possible in person, rather than by phone or email. For me, it has proven to be drastically more effective in taking care of logistical stuff. Phone calls and emails just seem to fall into the abyss!

Good luck to us!!

I could not agree more… sit up front, ask meaningful questions, and if anyway possible make those top grades on your tests. Out of a gen chem class that started out with about 150 students (down to about 70 after the final drop day) when my professor would on occassion pass me in the hallway he would say hello and address me by name. First time that happened I didnt even know he knew my name. I had to study like I had never studied before at the time but I was consistantly in the top 10% of the class as far as test grades.