The Economics of Choosing a Seat in Class

by JT McGee

This girl might be your partner in class, but only if you choose the right seat.While choosing a seat is not necessarily an economic study, economics is all about making a rational decision. I hear this all the time in my super rudimentary economics 241 class, a class that everyone, regardless of their major, has to take.

In it we discuss the primal topic of “thinking like an economist,” which basically means using your brain. As a highly linear and logical thinker, a class on how to think with your touchy-feely side might be more beneficial, but seeing as I’m paying $1000+ for the liability of having to show up in the same place for three hours each day, I’ll be damned if I don’t get some good blog content out of it—know what I mean?

Anyway, the economics of seat choice…

So you walk into class for the first day and there are a million choices of seats from which you can choose. But which should you choose? Conventional wisdom says that you should sit to the front since you’ll pay more attention, be in direct view of your professor, and you’ll be closest to the teacher and thus hear each and every breath they take, as well as the last second test information they murmur under their breath before the end of each class.

I like to sit at the front because I’m likely to forget my glasses at least once in each class for any given class. Actually, my glasses are currently nowhere to be found, so for the past week I’ve been pretty happy to have chosen a seat at the front in each of my six classes.

But not everyone wears glasses, and not everyone may require a seat toward the front of the class. We all have that one class or one topic where we could show up for the tests, fail to do every single piece of homework and still get out with an A. So why would it make sense that we should sit in front in ALL classes?

Here’s my own biased explanation for seat choice:

where to sit in class to get the best grade, group projects

The people who sit in the front of class are often very attentive, very detailed students who, even if they don’t grasp everything immediately, will go home and scour each and every chapter until they “get it.” These people are to me what 50 more lifeboats would have been to the Titanic. If I don’t understand something in two minutes, I throw the book across the room until I cool down and approach the topic again the next day.

I want to spend a lot of time with these people who have the study skills I don’t, not because I want a partner, a tutor, nor do I want someone who I can trust with all my secrets. I want to sit by these people because I know I’ll need them.

You see, group projects are a given. Professors use them because they can grade 15 things instead of 75, and because they see that every student, no matter what line of work they get into, will have to be able to work with other people.

So…back to the seat choice. You can sit in the back or the front, you decide. I say sit in the front.

By sitting in the front, you sit closest to the people who are:

  • More likely to learn the material
  • More likely to take an interest in the material
  • More likely to do their homework
  • More likely to understand that “group projects” require work from everyone

That’s just how it works. So, when the eventual group project pops up, you’ll be in close proximity with the people who make things happen. And seeing as you’re unlikely to know anyone already in your class, you might as well make a few friends with the people who are likely to get the best grade. And in doing so, you’ll also have the best partners for group projects.

There you have it, the economics of choosing a seat in class. Choosing a seat in front doesn’t cost any more than sitting in the back, and the benefit is that you’ll be immediately partnered with the people who are the most likely to do the best, and participate the most. I see it as co-opting their participation, activity, and their inner-drive to get an A. And if I can get all that benefit just by picking a different chair, there isn’t a chance in hell I’m not taking that opportunity.

Go forth! Pick that seat front and center! You’ll be glad you did.

Photo by: Shandi-Lee

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Ravi Gupta March 28, 2011 at 08:50

I think you make a very compelling case. One thing I would like to add is that more than likely people will talk in the back because the professor is less likely to hear them. This is an added “cost” to sitting in the back besides the reduced hearing and reduced visibility costs. Personally I prefer sitting in the front because it also keep me awake instead of having to incur the rath of a professor for sleeping.

-Ravi Gupta


Bogey March 28, 2011 at 12:36

You are over thinking this…

Just sit right next to the hottest chick you can find. Even if you get a bad grade, at least you’ll have something to show for it.


Squirrelers March 28, 2011 at 16:51

I was all set to laud this post for creativity and some real wisdom, until I read Bogey’s comment above. He has a point!

Or, one could take the personal finance approach, that by sitting in the front and getting the good grades, you’ll set things in motion for you to have something to show for it long-term…including Bogey’s point.

Anyway, I’m well out of school but good stuff for those there….


LaTisha @FSYAonline March 28, 2011 at 18:25

I always sat in the front usually in the third row though. I guess that would make me a social idiot, but I always tried to avoid those people who sat in front just to benefit from my hard work! lol


JT McGee March 28, 2011 at 18:39

@ Ravi – Yeah, I could have accounted for that. I guess also you could count the benefit of being able to screw around, depending on your perspective. I’m with you on the snoozing…early morning classes seem to get earlier and earlier each year.

@ Bogey – Aha! I knew there had to be at least one person to make that comment. That would make for a great post itself, but then I’d have to put a price on women. That wouldn’t fly… 😛

@ Squirrelers – I wish there were a way to isolate grades from other things, that would be an interesting study to see the weighted-benefit of grades as it relates to income, etc. It would make for one heck of a statistics headache, though. We’ll just go with Bogey’s solution, as it’s less complicated.

@ LaTisha – Haha, touché! Watch out for those people in the front of class third-row people, they just want your brains, you .


Bogey March 28, 2011 at 20:37

I think there’s actually been some research done that folks that went to state colleges and got B’s and C’s tend to earn the most money. Cannot recall the exact study, but I think the point was that the socialize that the B & C grade earners undoubtedly did proved to be much more valuable than earning top grades.

Personally, I was a top graduate from my college about 4 years ago. Having top grades did allow me to get a great first job, but I also networked hard my last 2 years of college to get that specific job, so its hard to say exactly whether it was the connections or the grades that paid off, probably a bit of both.

But honestly, there is a lot to be said for having the confidence to sit right next to the hottest chick in class….sometimes, doing well in life takes guts.


JT McGee March 29, 2011 at 00:21

Thanks Bogey for that tip, I’m going to have to make a post about that. I’ve got a post on real estate coming up on Wednesday, stick around for it. 😀


Jon | Free Money Wisdom March 29, 2011 at 00:39

I think I’m an exception to this theory! I actually had anxiety with big crowds. So, sitting in the front of a 700+ person class was not enjoyable for me. I ended up sitting in the back and still staying focused. But let me tell you, the idiots do sit in the back. So many kids go to class, sit in the back, and pay zero attention to the professor. What’s the point!


Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog March 29, 2011 at 13:23

Great tips, I must say. Usually in class I sat somewhere towards the middle, I always paid attention, but didnt always study really hard until I “got it” sometimes I just focused my studying energies where they would offer the highest reward (like classes where I didn’t get most of the material)


jeff March 29, 2011 at 17:50

I always sit in the front, but as a result I barely know anyone’s names behind me.


JT McGee March 30, 2011 at 01:36

@Jon – I don’t have class that large, luckily. Taking mostly night classes, I avoid the HUGE classrooms. And I’m glad, too.

@Jeff – I hear you on that one! Time management is probably the best thing to be learned at a university!

@Jeff #2 – That’s a good point…I didn’t consider that, but definitely should have.


natasha September 17, 2011 at 19:12

This is great stuff. I love the economic view of the situation. Everything written is perfect and is broad enough to fit almost every criteria. I really enjoyed this, I am currently preparing for my mid term paper which is about choosing a seat on the first day of school and how successful you will become depending on your seat choice. I am looking for more creditable resources to back my theory. If anyone has any idea where that might be please post.


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