The Undergraduate Academic Experience

Just knowing why you chose Penn State will help your academic performance. Many students come to college to get better jobs or make more money than they otherwise would. Nonetheless, the value of an undergraduate education should not be measured solely by grades, anticipated salaries, or good jobs. An undergraduate education is valuable for other reasons, too.

It is expected that Penn State graduates have learned to express themselves clearly in both speech and writing. Graduates should have developed a capacity for open-mindedness, careful analysis, logical thinking, and evaluation. They should have an interest in continued learning and self-study. We hope their exposure to literature, science, and the arts will become the basis for continued understanding in these areas. Students should graduate having mastered at least one subject in depth and attained a measure of intellectual competence in an academic discipline.

Your appreciation for the classroom experience at University Park campus is related to your perceptions, attitudes, and expectations. For example, if you expect all of your classes to be open forums for the free exchange of ideas, or that each instructor will be a cross between Socrates and your favorite entertainer, chances are you will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you recognize that your classes will run the gamut in size, instructor performance, and student responsiveness, then you are well on your way to understanding student classroom life.

The college classroom environment differs from the high school classroom in several respects. Class sizes may be different, and the role of the faculty and the number of checks on your performance can differ, too. Class size may vary from twenty-five to thirty-five students in a discussion class to 300 or 400 in a large lecture. In the smaller classes, you may be asked to initiate and participate in classroom discussions. Professors may encourage you to express yourself, both in speech and in writing, with greater clarity, logic, and precision.

Other dynamics tend to work in the large lecture room where classes are more informational in nature. Here, a faculty member may lecture for an entire class period without taking questions from students. The professor may never take attendance.

In the college classroom, fewer checks are made on your performance than were made in high school. Three exams may be scheduled in a semester, or a midsemester exam (eighth week of a semester) and a final exam may determine your course grade. If you have questions or don't understand the material, you must take the initiative to see your professors, ask the necessary questions, and get the help you need.

To survive as a new student at Penn State, you must be aggressive in finding solutions to your problems and answers to your questions. The day-to-day hustle and bustle of this large and complex campus can overwhelm a student who is uninvolved. Don't get lost in the shuffle. Prepare yourself by learning as much about the University as you can.