Back-to-School: 10 Steps to Making This Your Best School Year Yet
Whether you’re heading to campus for the first time as a college student, or you’ll be wrapping up your higher education experience this year, there are several steps you can take before classes even start, or during the first few weeks, to ensure that this year will be your best yet!
1. Map Out Campus
If there’s one universal fear when it comes to starting school – at any age – it’s walking in late to your first class, sweaty and stressed, because you were running around lost, trying to find the right room.
Take some time a day or two before classes start to walk around campus and take note of which buildings you’ll be frequenting, and even take a moment to locate the room, too. University buildings are pretty notorious for having hidden rooms at the end of dark hallways and weird staircases and corridors that lead to nowhere.
Ask a main office for a map of campus, or visit your school’s website and print one off, just to be safe.
2. Get Involved
Research your school’s Student Life and Student Activities and Organizations offices or web pages and jot down two or three groups you think sound interesting.
Intramural sports, political and religious groups, fine arts clubs, and even volunteer organizations are present on most campuses.
Plan to attend a group’s initial meeting to get an idea of what you can expect from it if you decide to participate. If you’re unable to keep up with it as the year progresses - it’s okay to step away.
If you can manage the school-work-extracurricular balance, though, an on-campus group might provide you with a creative outlet, strong social network, and résumé-worthy opportunities.
3. Sit Down with Your Advisor
Do not, we repeat, DO NOT wait to meet one-on-one with your college advisor until your grades go South. While most private institutions require students to meet with their advisors regularly, many larger universities do not.
Your college advisor can help you to determine the courses you need to take to stay on track and keep you from taking unnecessary classes. He or she will also be your point of contact between yourself and the department head – who often decides whether or not your credits will transfer, if you qualify to test out of a class, and so on – and your advisor can also be your go-to for letters of recommendation and career leads in the future.
4. Meet Your Professors
You might hold off on this one until after the start of classes, but within the first two weeks, take some time to get to know your professors.
Visit them during office hours to discuss any concerns you may have – for example, if you’re taking a required general education course with them in a subject you’re not a huge fan of – and they’ll be able to discuss any tutoring options, outside resources, or extra credit possibilities you might have.
Also, take some time to question them on what you can expect from their course – their teaching style and what they’re looking for in their assignments, class discussions, and more.
Once you’ve met with each professor, make a quick-contact sheet that includes their name, office number, phone number, and e-mail for future reference and keep it near your desk or clipped to your planner.
5. Locate Your Resources
While you’ll be able to gather what you need to get through a class during lectures, through textbook material, and additional research online in most cases, situations may present themselves in which you need a little extra help.
Most campuses have free, on-site tutoring centers – for math, science, and writing assistance – whether you need step-by-step guidance regularly, or simply want a second pair of eyes to proofread your essay. Find out where these centers are located, how you’d go about scheduling an appointment, and take down appropriate contact information.
In addition, make sure you know where computer labs are located around campus, how to navigate the library, and where you can go for non-academic assistance – if you need counseling, for example.
6. Stay Healthy
Staying on top of your academics and social life are top priorities as a student, but staying healthy is equally important.
Once you get a feel for what the semester will look like, develop a schedule that incorporates enough time for adequate sleep, healthy meals, and stress-release.
Don’t forget to stay in touch with your support system – friends, family, and mentors – and reevaluate your schedule if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s okay to drop a few credit hours, cut back on work hours, or skip a night out now and then if it benefits your well-being.
Take advantage of free health fairs and screenings offered on-campus, and keep up with your regular doctor visits and check-ups.
7. Set Some Ground Rules
College is the first experience many students will have in living with other people their age. Even if you’ve got brothers and sisters, sharing a small space with a total stranger is way, way different. Many campus housing directors work hard to pair up residents based on common interests and lifestyle preferences (that’s why you filled out that All About Me questionnaire) but that doesn’t always mean that you’ll be 100% compatible on every level.
It might be a little awkward to do it, but in the first few days of living together, set some ground rules. Speak up about your needs and let your roommate(s) speak up about theirs. Then, create an official Dorm Room Rules document that you can hang on the fridge or back of the door.
Also, reach out to your Resident Assistant early on. Even invite them to sit in on your initial conversation with your new roommate. Save their number in your phone and make sure you know where their room is located and what their schedule looks like – they’re your go-to for any housing-related emergencies (locking yourself out of your room, roommate conflicts, maintenance issues, and so on.)
8. Create a Budget
You might be feeling pretty good about your financial situation at the beginning of each semester – when leftover student loan and scholarship money is deposited into your account. But, especially if you aren’t working a full-time job, keep in mind that this is the bulk of what you’re working with until next semester rolls around.
If you’ve got a little free time in between studies, on the weekends, or during semester breaks, read up on these creative ways to supplement your income.
9. Get Organized
Create a distraction-free zone dedicated solely to studying in your space. Stock up on folders, binders, paper clips, and other useful office supplies and invest in a planner (or snatch one of the free ones likely being passed out on campus.)
Create a weekly calendar and block out class time, study time, and extracurricular time to see what you’re working with. From there, you’ll have an idea of when you can squeeze in eating, sleeping, traveling, and making appointments.
Once you’ve gotten your student e-mail set-up, create folders for each of your classes, one for financial aid e-mails, and one for extracurricular e-mails so you can stay on top of all of your messages and quickly reference them later.
10. Experience it Fully
There are two college stereotypes: The kid who goes just for fun, who spends everyday like it’s the weekend, takes forever to graduate, and “wastes” his or her money on simply having a good time, and the student who is so hardcore about studies and his or her future job that they totally miss out on anything fun that college has to offer.
Strive to be the student somewhere in between. Realize that you’ll likely be paying off your college debts for many years, so ensure that you’re getting the education you’re paying for. On the flip side, keep in mind that you’ll only experience these years once, so you’ll want to create memories that aren’t focused entirely around all-night study sessions.
Take advantage of free on-campus events. Socialize and make friends. Discover what your college’s community has to offer and take in its history. Travel – there is no better or more affordable time than in college to spend time overseas, so look into your study abroad options.
And at the same time, fall in love with your studies. If you start to feel uncomfortable, unsure, or unpassionate about your chosen field, it’s okay to switch paths and start down one you truly care about.
Make every moment count.