How To Thrive In Small Classes As An Introvert, Or If You’re Really Shy

Large college lecture halls that accommodate 300+ students are what some college goers dream of. There’s no pressure to sit up front under the professor’s nose, no one will really notice if you fall asleep in the back, and you’re way less likely to get caught doing work for other classes. But, not all college classrooms are big enough to house a tiny village, which means that at some point you may be forced to sit in a high school-esque room with a mere 20 other students where the professor can actually see your face.

You’ve probably heard by now that in college, you can’t get away with not speaking up, and if you’re shy or introverted, that kinda sounds like a nightmare. Ya girl knows EXACTLY what it’s like to have that nervous sweat roll down your back when the professor warningly announces that they’re going to pick someone randomly to answer a question. And then your face gets so hot and so red that you swear you’re going to pass out in your seat at any moment—oh yeah, I’ve been there more times than I can count. It takes a lot of internal convincing for me to finally decide to raise my hand and answer or ask a question in front of the class. Unfortunately, some professors make class participation a huge part of your overall grade. You likely won’t get A’s in class if that’s the case. And while grades don’t define who you are, your academic success may be important down the line when applying to grad school or joining honor societies and programs.

Keep in mind that there is no special set of strategies designed specifically for introverts and shy people that will magically help them succeed in class. But these are some things that you should pay keen attention to in order to thrive in class if you’re shy about speaking up! Seriously, guys, I’m so excited to share this post with you—I thought of it while eating dinner and promptly put down a spoonful of mashed potatoes and scooted my chair back to lock myself in my room until this post was finished! So before I explode from the excitement, here are tips for being seriously successful in small, participation-heavy classrooms when participation isn’t a strength of yours.

1. Make a friend in class.

You don’t need to be the life of your class party of 30—just have even one friend in there with you who you can sit with, talk to, help each other out, and exchange confused looks when you have no idea what the hell is going on. Before I really started making any J-school friends, I remember how uncomfortable it felt to sit in a room where it seemed like everyone had a friend but me. It’s really important to have one or two reliable friends in the class if you aren’t going to speak up much because they can help you answer the questions you might not have asked in class. And, having a friend with you makes anything mundane so much more enjoyable. Find someone who seems cool and sit next to them every class. You’ll eventually start talking a little and exchange numbers. Read my 10 Secrets For Making New Friends In College!

2. Email the professor when you don’t understand something.

I know a lot of people who are afraid of sending emails to professors regardless of whether they’re introverted or extroverted, and if this is a fear of yours, you NEED to get over it if you want to do well. Professors always ask if people have questions in class, but some of them can be quite asshole-ish and dismiss perfectly valid questions as “stupid” which makes students less likely to want to even raise their hand in the first place! If you’re nervous about asking for clarification in front of your classmates, email the professor as soon as class is over to get answers. You may think you’re bothering him or her, but that’s kind of what they’re here for. You’ll get help, and your professor will see that you obviously care enough to reach out (easy participation points!)

3. Go to your professor’s office hours.

I took this English class last fall, and the professor was absolutely terrifying. She’s a sweet woman when you get to know her and when she sees that you care about the class, but I was honestly too scared to raise my hand in that class. The worst part of it was that I knew that was killing my participation grade, so when she offered easy points to anyone who visited her office hours to review their exam grade, I signed up immediately. Don’t hesitate to visit your professor if you don’t talk much in class. It can help you get full credit for participation, and your professor will get to know you better and understand where you come from. Plus, bonding with professors is important if you plan to ask for a recommendation letter. Be sure to read your syllabus to know your professor’s policy on office hours—do you just walk in, or do you need an appointment?

4. Create a good connection with the TA.

If you’re shy about talking to the professor, talk to the TA if your class has one! TA’s are like the bridge between the professors and students, plus they’ve already taken the class and did well in it, so they can give you the insider tips on how to get those A’s for days. As a former TA, I personally loved it when students—whether they talked a lot in class or not—approached me for advice or with questions about the class. It made me feel useful and trusted, and I could tell that it really made a difference for students. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to email your TA to ask for help; go up to them after class and introduce yourself, or ask if they’d be willing to get lunch with you to go over your mid-semester project idea.

5. Take impeccable notes.

If you’re not going to get on those class participation points, you better damn well make sure you have incredible notes to help you ace exams later on! I’m not going to talk about this too much because I have a blog post all about how to take good notes in class, but be sure to leverage your listening and observational skills in this situation.

What’s the one class you had that made you nervous to speak up?