Knowing how to start a semester strongly can be one of the most important skills to learn during your time in college. After all, the choices you make during the first few weeks (and even days) of a new semester can have long-lasting effects. So just where should you focus your efforts?
New Semester Basics
- Get a time management system. Managing your time just may be your biggest challenge while in college. Find something that works for you and use it from day one. (Not sure where to start? Learn tips for managing your time in college.)
- Take a reasonable course load. Taking 20 units (or more!) this semester may sound great in theory, but it most likely will come back to haunt you in the long run. Sure, it may seem like a good way to improve your transcript, but the lower grades you might get because your course load is too heavy is a sure way to bring your transcript down, not up. If you absolutely must carry a heavy course load for some reason, however, make sure that you've cut down on your other commitments so that you don't put too many unreasonable expectations on yourself.
- Have your books purchased -- or at least on their way. Not having your books the first week of class can put you behind everyone else before you even had the chance to start. Even if you have to go to the library for the first week or two to get the reading done, make sure you're doing what you can to stay on top of your homework until your books arrive.
- Have some -- but not too much -- co-curricular involvement. You don't want to be so over-involved that you barely have time to eat and sleep, but you most likely do need to be involved in something other than your classes all day long. Join a club, get an on-campus job, volunteer somewhere, play on an intramural team: just do something to keep your brain (and personal life!) balanced.
- Get your finances in order. You may be rocking your classes, but if your financial situation is a mess, you won't be able to finish the semester. Make sure your finances are in order when you start a new semester and that they'll still be that way as you head toward finals week.
- Have your "life" logistics worked out. These are different for every college student, but having the basics -- like your housing/roommate situation, your food/dining options, and your transportation -- worked out in advance is critical to making it through the semester in a stress-free way.
- Set up healthy outlets for fun and to relieve stress. You don't need to have a Ph.D. to know that college is stressful. Have things already in place -- like good groups of friends, exercise plans, hobbies, and smart ways to avoid pitfalls (like knowing how to avoid test anxiety) -- that will allow you to mentally check out and relax when things get intense.
- Get information on where to go for help -- you know, just in case. When, and if, you find yourself juggling more than you can handle, trying to find help while under that kind of stress is nearly impossible. Learn where to go for help before your semester begins so that, just in case things get a little rough, your small speed bump doesn't turn into a major disaster zone.