Curious about what a university classroom is like? You should know about what a course is, how some classes contain labs, and what to do with the syllabus.

What’s the difference between a course and a credit?

A course is just another term for a class you’re taking (for example, Intro to Business). You’ll usually take up to five courses at a time. Each course is worth credits, which can also be referred to as units or credit hours.

As you work toward your degree, you’ll earn credits in various subjects. The focus of your degree (the “major”) will be where you earn most of your credits. Once you meet all the credit requirements for your degree, you can graduate. For more information about credits and requirements, check your school’s academic calendar — it’s usually available online or at the registrar’s office.

Why do some courses have a lab or tutorial on top of class time?

Some courses have these extra parts, called labs and tutorials, to reinforce what you learn in the classroom. Labs give you a chance to apply what you’ve learned in a hands-on way — for example, a chemistry class will have a lecture (class time) along with a lab section where you get to work with the chemicals you’re studying.

A tutorial is different than a lab. Usually these are sessions where the professor or teaching assistants (TA’s) review concepts you learned in class or give you time to ask questions and work on assignments. Sometimes these are optional to attend, but you should check with your professor or read the class syllabus to make sure you don’t miss anything important.

What happens on my first day of classes?

Your first day of classes can feel overwhelming, so here are two things to keep in mind:

Know when and where your classes are

If you didn’t get a chance to tour the campus, check your school’s website for a campus map. If you have time before the day classes begin, take a walk around campus so you know where things are and how long it takes to get from place to place.

Get your course outlines from your professors

Professors usually use the first class of the term to explain the course, go over expectations and answer questions. Professors will also hand out a course outline (a syllabus) that explains how you’ll be graded, lists the content you’ll learn and gives you the dates of tests and major assignments.

The first day is also a good time to introduce yourself to your professors and make sure you know what’s expected of you for the rest of the term.

How do I find the reading materials for my courses?

Check your course outline to see what you need when it comes to textbooks or other required reading. You can find most (or all) of that at the campus bookstore, although some teachers will have certain materials or worksheets they will hand out in class.

Another option: You can buy your books secondhand, but if you do, make sure they’re the correct edition — textbooks usually get updated every year and anything from page numbers to entire chapters can be changed.

What is a grade point average (GPA)? How is it scored?

Your grade point average is how your grades are measured. Schools keep track of this by averaging all your grades each term and by keeping an overall average for your entire degree. The grade point average is usually a number on a scale from zero to 4.0 (or 4.3 at some schools), which can be translated into a letter grade — a higher number is better. Check with your school to find out how your grade point average will be scored.

Course grades: While most schools use a similar system for grade point averages, professors might give your individual course grades as percentages (such as 90%) or letters (such as A+). The school will then translate those grades to its GPA scale and record that number on your transcript.