I Hope Your Semester Is Off to a Good Start
By Marcy Kraus, dean of freshmen and director of the College Center for Academic Support
The traffic in the College Center for Advising Services is busy these days as students come in and out to drop and add classes, ask about independent studies, check on the status of their summer transfer credit, and meet with advisers to discuss their schedules. Most of my emails to students begin by saying "I hope your semester is off to a good start." In many courses the first classes begin gently; readings and problem sets are underway but exams and more comprehensive assignments are scheduled for weeks from now. There is great temptation to "take it easy." Yet, those students who don't plan carefully during these first weeks of the semester may find themselves quickly at sea.
What steps can students take at the start of the semester to assure that they are well prepared for the challenges to come?
- Carefully evaluate your course choices during the first week and decide early on whether you have made appropriate choices.
- Read the syllabus for each class and create a master calendar noting due dates, exams, reading assignments and other important course activities.
- Get into the habit of sitting in the first few rows of class.
- Expand on your master calendar by noting class times and time devoted to studying and preparing assignments; add in other regular commitments such as hours you will spend at a job, weekly club meetings, regular appointments and other "must do" activities.
- Consider that many students will underestimate the amount of time needed to prepare for each class. Some students would find it surprising to learn that "A" students in organic chemistry spend an average of 25 hours a week studying for the course. Freshmen, in particular, will often use their experience in high school to decide how they will spend their time in college – a notably poor way to plan for their more challenging college-level courses.
- It's obvious but worth saying: go to class and go to class prepared even if you believe that "nothing important happens" in the first week or two of the semester.
- Take steps now to develop healthy routines: eat regularly, get enough sleep, find time to exercise, and practice positive self talk when you find yourself stressed.
- Find a good place to study (usually not your residence hall room).
- Get to know your professors. Few students attend office hours early in the semester so now is a good time to stop by, introduce yourself, and ask a few questions about the course material.
- Schedule a study skills appointment with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to "tune up" your time management, note taking, and exam preparation strategies.
- At the first sign of academic difficulty, visit Lattimore 312 to learn about the academic resources available to you. Avoid the temptation of telling yourself that you can "fix it" on your own.