August is on its way out (uh-uh, the time does fly, doesn’t it?), and it’s about time you got yourself into shape for the new semester. I know, I know. I am not here to nag and depress you. I am here to help! With these 10 tips, your transition back into campus life will be as seamless and enjoyable as quietly slipping into the refreshing pool on a warm summer evening.
Get your sleeping patterns in order
Get ahead of your assignments
Take care of your health
Set your career goals and think about the major
Balance your classes
Budget your tuition and complete scholarship applications
Apply for campus jobs and part-time gigs
Tidy up your room
Hone your planning and organizing skills
Keep a positive attitude
You don’t have to be a full-fledged night owl (pun intended) to start sleeping in during the summer and go to bed well after midnight. Lack of responsibilities and structure tends to do that even to the early birds. By now, your circadian rhythms must be all over the place. If that’s the case, ease yourself into a regular sleep cycle by getting into bed a bit earlier day by day. This way, the alarm on the morning of your first day of classes won’t be such a shock to your system.
On the other hand, if you have been getting up early because you had worked during the summer – good for you. You will have it easier – and healthier.
Completing some of the reading assignments beforehand is also a great way to get into the swing of things gradually. Moreover, you will have fewer obligations once the semester begins, so it’s a win-win. When I was at school, I would totally pull a full-on Hermione Granger and even try to write my essay about the reading assignment beforehand.
That’s taking it a bit too far, though. If you aren’t in the crystal ball business and don’t know what your future assignments will actually be, starting early is a daft idea. Still, if you already have some time-consuming tasks on you, why not take care of them and clear up some time spent better on revisions for mid-terms and finals? Your holiday self will thank you later.
Go through your yearly back-to-school checkups. If you are an athlete, you are probably used to those, but even if you don’t plan on being heavily involved in sports this year, it’s still worth doing. Go through head-to-toe physical, but don’t forget about your mental health either, which is particularly important for students with all the cognitive load and stress.
Also, it’s 2022. As Dr. Catherine Troisi, an associate professor at the UT School of Public Health, remarked on this subject: “In 1972, President Nixon declared war on cancer because – he said – we have conquered infectious diseases. Didn’t exactly turn out to be the case!” Not only are we still not free from COVID. We now have monkeypox and Marburg virus to worry about.
So that’s another thing to take care of, especially if you plan to resume your studies in person. Get an anti-COVID booster, or get your first jab if you haven’t been vaccinated yet. In other words, get yourself in order to have a successful year ahead of you.
No pressure but you will have to graduate as something, eventually. I am all for the creative exploration and following your varying intellectual interests. Yet keep in mind that the classes you take are the time and money you invest, so the sooner you figure out your end goal, the sooner you arrive at the destination.
Even if your entire schedule is already set up for the semester, taking an inventory of all your skills and inclinations might be a fruitful endeavor. When you have some idea of what you want to do after graduation, you can see which skills you lack. Use this academic year to pursue relevant projects and internships that will give you a leg up in the industry you aspire to join.
As much as you would like to take all those delicious courses with promising names and stellar instructors, I urge you to keep a cool head and have some compassion for the future you at the end of the semester. Even if you can cram just another one into your schedule doesn’t mean you need to. It’s like ordering a meal that is too big because you feel so hungry. The catch is that you are expected to complete all the courses by the end of the semester – and unfortunately, doggy bag is not an option.
Sometimes less is more. You will reap more benefits and enjoyment from enthusiastically exploring fewer classes rather than frantically trying to cope with too many.
Budgeting your tuition, course books, and living expenses is vital to understanding how much money you will need this year. Luckily, it’s not as complicated as it used to be with all the online student budget calculators and other handy tools. The next step is planning how to cover your expenses.
First of all, complete your FAFSA. You should do that every year you are at school – not just for your first year of college. The same goes for various scholarship and grant applications. Researching among the many government, nonprofit, and private fund opportunities and applying to relevant ones might feel like a full-time job sometimes, but it pays out – literally.
If you aren’t quite sure that scholarships or the aid from “the bank of mom and dad” will be enough for the year, try to secure some of the jobs that won’t disrupt your studies while supplementing your budget. These are campus jobs (resident advisor, librarian, lab assistant) or freelance gigs that allow flexible hours and load to work around your class schedule. By the way, I have a nice round-up of on-campus options here, check it out.
Of course, if you are absolutely positive you will need a job, you might want to look for a more lucrative placement that requires more time and commitment on your part – commuting, juggling responsibilities, and possibly taking fewer classes in the first place. Still, as a backup option when the situation isn’t perfectly clear, on-campus gigs are a sweet spot.
A cluttered environment is highly distracting, so to get your mind into shape for studying, start with cleaning up your room and especially your desk. Make your studying space a pleasant place to inhabit but keep things down to a minimum on the desk – only the stuff you need. Make an exception for maybe one or two little pick-me-ups like your favorite scented candle or lucky charm.
When everything is nice and tidy around, you will find it much easier to concentrate. Plus, you won’t have an excuse for procrastination – the all-time favorite of “This place needs tidying up NOW! How can I study in this pigsty?”
If you are a sophomore, you already know that without a planner or a task management app, you are lost. Even if you are a “go with the flow” kind of person, you must summon the organizer part of your nature and tap into it hard, unless you want to find yourself crying on the floor of your dorm with five unwritten essays on your hands – all due tomorrow – just a few weeks into the academic year.
Print out your schedule for the semester and hang it somewhere you will always see it. Have a paper planner or an app where you mark all the deadlines for the projects, papers, tests, etc. If you find long-term planning overwhelming, take little steps. First, map out the biggest and most important things for the semester. Then, just plan one week at a time, day by day, and hour by hour, chipping at this mountain of responsibilities.
Yet by far, the most important thing you can do for yourself is staying in a positive mindset. Don’t focus on the challenges that lie ahead. Instead, embrace your return and find something to look forward to – be it a reunion with your study group, new acquaintances, Greek life, exciting classes, or cute stationary kits you will boast about on TikTok.
Also, it won’t hurt if you set a self-care plan – things you commit to doing regularly to maintain your wellbeing. Write down what you will do daily, weekly, and monthly. Dr. GiGi Giordano, a psychologist and training director, points out the importance of planning self-care measures for “a really difficult day” because “on days that are tough and hard, it’s helpful to have those written out somewhere before it gets to be an issue.”
What are your favorite back-to-school routines? Is it shopping for the supplies, putting together the outfits, or having a pizza with your high school friends before you all go back to your colleges again? Whatever that is, I hope you have a lot of fun with it. Good luck in the upcoming fall semester, and may nothing hold you back!