Since shopping week is over, I have finally accepted the fact that what I have now is my finalized schedule. I like to think that I have put a lot of thought into my schedule and that I’ve made the right choices, but that’s not something anyone can say with certainty. As of now I thoroughly enjoy all my classes and even look forward to going to them each day, but realistically I know that as the semester progresses, my attendance in lectures is going to decrease.
While attendance in lectures is highly recommended and supposedly beneficial to your education, there is also no denying that—realistically—your grade depends primarily on how well you do on assignments, projects, papers, and exams. As such, sometimes I have no choice but to sacrifice the one hour and 15 minute lecture in order to complete an assignment or study for an exam.
I’ve learned in my time here that attendance in class does not necessarily mean you’ll do well in the class or even that you’ll learn anything. In an ideal world, regularly attending class and paying attention would lead to understanding of course material. However, we do not have that guarantee. Therefore, the strategy becomes to only attend mandatory classes—lectures become optional.
If a lecture is interesting and connects well to the assignments, then it makes sense to attend the class. However, if a lecture is confusing or boring and seems to lead nowhere, then I would rather skip the class and use that same time to read the textbook or study the material on my own.
Last semester I hardly ever missed my history lecture. Our professor was really good at presenting the material and connecting events to various themes. On the other hand, I rarely showed up to my math class even though it was a much smaller class. I tried going for a month and it just didn’t work out. I could not understand what my professor was saying and could never understand what was written on the board. Furthermore, the weekly problem sets hardly tied in to the lecture and I felt that exam questions just came out of nowhere.
Since this was a 9 a.m. class, I just slept in every day instead of attending class. But that time slot comes out of somewhere. By not intending to go to my 9 a.m. class each day, I was able to stay up later and work on homework assignments. I still kept up with the class by reading the textbook, working on the assignments, and occasionally doing extra problems.
I ended up doing much better, grade-wise, in my math class than I did in my history class. Even if this was due to my engineering background, my experiences do show that you do not need to attend class to do well or even to learn the material. I wish I had the time to go to my math class regularly and had gotten to know my professor better, but I simply did not have the time to spare.
Simply put, attending lectures is a luxury that we cannot always afford. When you have an assignment due for your 4:10 p.m. class that you have yet to finish, would it make sense to give up one or two hours before that class to attend a lecture for another class that doesn’t have an assignment due that day?
It is, in fact, difficult for one to measure the amount of learning that actually occurs in class. In the past, some classes that I’ve really looked forward to when I registered for them ended up being some of those classes where you just force yourself through the material for a grade without truly learning anything. But I’ve also had the experience where I’ve done very poorly in a required class but came out of it with some applicable knowledge that would hopefully help me in life. Maybe the approach should be to learn the material however you can, whether that be by attending class regularly and doing all the readings or by skipping class and teaching yourself the material.
I truly wish I had the time to go to all of my classes every week, yet it never works out. It doesn’t matter whether I plan ahead or not—something always goes wrong. There is too much to do and not enough time at Columbia. Unfortunately, our lectures must get the short end of the stick, because when you need to buy an hour or two, the easiest way to get it is to skip class.
The author is a School of Engineering and Applied Science junior majoring in computer science.