How Do You Prepare For A New Semester?
“I discovered that a fresh start is a process. A fresh start is a journey –
a journey that requires a plan.” – Vivian Jokotade
As a kid in elementary school, the start of the new school year was a big deal. I always begged my mom for the cutest school supplies or new clothes for the first day of school. Some years my pleading succeeded. Other years not so much. I remember feeling excited and nervous before the first day of school. So much so that I took time the night before to prepare my backpack and layout the outfit I wanted to wear. The next morning would come. Heading out to the bus stop, my mom would take a picture to commemorate the new year, and I was off.
The ritual of getting new school supplies, maybe a new outfit, has slowed throughout the years. As I transitioned into higher levels of education, my preparations of supplies and the night-before outfits have changed. Now, as a college student, I don’t always get the same excitement preparing for a new semester to start. Nevertheless, my ritual of preparing for a new school year has never gone away.
Starting college can be stressful, no matter whether it is your first semester or your last. I have gathered perspectives in today’s blog post from our Academic Peer Coaches about their routines or ritualized habits before an upcoming semester. We hope this post aids you in successfully preparing for the new semester.
Jump to Perspectives:
As summer comes to an end, there is a lot more changing than just the weather! Weber State is now offering a greater number of courses meeting face-to-face than there were during the last academic year. At first, transitioning from classes being held online to in-person may seem daunting, especially if you, like me, have never experienced a face-to-face course! Here are a few ways that you can prepare for your on-campus semester.
Use a map. I know it may seem silly at first, but how else are you going to know where your lecture halls, labs, or studios are? Locating where you are supposed to be on campus is a bit more complex than simply following a Zoom link. Fortunately, the building and room number can be found in your online class schedule prior to the start of the semester and will also be provided on the course syllabus. If you are looking at your online course schedule, expand the “Meeting Times” tab to see the building and room number. The best course of action is to successfully find where each class is held by visiting campus a day or two before the semester begins. However, if getting to campus before all the chaos ensues is not an option, Weber State has campus maps available for both Ogden and Davis campuses, as well as floor maps of a few individual buildings. Deciphering where your classes are taking place beforehand will help ease the overwhelming feeling that often accompanies a new semester.
Realistically plan out your schedule. While you may have finally found where all your classes are being held, it is important to note how long you have between each class and how much time you need to allot for traveling. Your classes will most likely be in different buildings. The campus maps will be useful when sketching your route. For any consecutive classes, it is important to double check that the lectures are held on the same campus. Your schedule will often have gaps where it would not be productive to return home before you need to be back on campus. In situations like this, you may find it helpful to look for quiet places to study or a computer lab near your upcoming class. This way, you can make the most of the time you do have. Planning out your schedule can lead to an effective routine, giving you a head start.
Pack your backpack. The start of a new semester can be hectic. Allowing yourself the time to pack all the essentials in your bag the night before your classes the next day contributes to a seamless morning routine. A previously packed backpack will hopefully eliminate the need to run back into your house for the third time to grab the textbook off your desk, making you 3 minutes late to class. If you are not sure what should be in your backpack, some basics are the outlined course materials found in the syllabus along with a paper and pencil to start. Being prepared makes for a big step in the right direction and hopefully gives you some well-deserved confidence for the first day of a new semester.
The transition from attending high school while living at home to attending college and living on campus is no joke! First, you have to pack up everything you own and transfer it to your new home. Then, you have to meet your new roommates and learn how to live with a whole new group of people. Finally, you have to learn to feed yourself as well as keep up with your school schedule. Overall, it can be an overwhelming process. However, I have 5 tips to help you out.
Know you are not alone. There are many times during my time at college that I have felt totally alone. When I came to Weber State, I left all of my friends behind to start my new college life. In this transition, I felt like I was the only person on the planet who was struggling. The truth is you are not alone. Moving from high school to college is not an easy transition. You should be proud of yourself for what you have been able to accomplish. Almost no one knows what they are doing, and they are all just faking it until they make it. So join the club! We will all get through this together.
Dealing with homesickness. For me, homesickness was inevitable. No matter how often I talked to my parents, no matter how often I visited home, I still had bouts of homesickness. Homesickness is a totally normal thing to feel. Try not to beat yourself up for feeling sad. Take the time to do something that reminds you of home and makes you feel better. For me, that was listening to “Party In The USA” by Miley Cyrus. In this song, the lyrics say, “My tummy's turnin' and I'm feelin' kinda homesick, too much pressure and I'm nervous. That's when the taxi man turned on the radio and a Jay-Z song was on!” This song reminded me that feeling homesick is normal and that a good song can set you back on track.
Take the time to settle into your new place and make it your own. Every time that I moved on campus before classes started, I took the time to set up my home base. I did everything from hanging up pictures on the wall to putting trinkets on my desk to adding my throw pillows to the couches in the living room. Really moving into your new place gives you a home base, a place to come back to and know that you are safe. I always loved returning to my place at the end of the day and putting my keys in their special place and knowing that I was home.
Roommates. Roommates can be a bit of a hit-or-miss situation. Every time that I have moved into a new place, I have been moving in with total strangers. I feel there is this expectation that you have to be super close with your roommates or the situation does not work. I have not found this to be true. It is important to remember that your roommates do not have to be your new best friends to be good roommates. Good roommates are people you can openly communicate with and feel safe around. If you ever feel unsafe, do not be afraid to ask for help and move out. It can be tough to make the decision to move out, but you always want to feel safe in your own home.
Spend time on campus. It is really easy to get caught up in schoolwork, stay in your new bed 24/7, and never leave the comfort of your new home. However, Weber State has so much more to offer right outside your front door. Take a chance and get out to some events! The best way that I have found to know what is happening is to go on campus and read all of the signs. I like to peruse the postings on the grass as well as on the bulletin boards that are around campus. Finally, it is always a good idea to peek your head into the Shepherd Union whenever you are nearby. There are often activities and tabling events happening where you can find out information about different organizations and events happening on campus. Getting out of bed and looking outside your front door will give you the opportunity to meet friends who can help you through your own college experience!
Approximately 60% of Weber State students are nontraditional, meaning they are more than 25 years old, married or have a committed partner, or have been divorced or widowed. Parents are also under the umbrella of being a nontraditional student. I am one of these nontraditional students. Through trial and error, I have learned a small bit about preparing for upcoming semesters. While each of the following are applicable to all students in general, from my experience, they are even more important (and often more challenging) for nontraditional students.
Know your limits. Being successful in class starts before the semester begins. When you begin registering for classes, understand ahead of time how many credits are doable for your current circumstances. It also helps to be aware of the level of difficulty to expect from each course, which format the class will be in, and any constraints on time that might add stress (ex: commute, potential distractions, childcare) and plan accordingly. For instance, I may take fewer credit hours if the courses I’m signing up for are more time-consuming, more challenging or if I am expecting to have a lot going on during that time. Avoid taking more credits than you’re ready for or that are doable for your current phase in life.
Find buddies in class! They can make the class more enjoyable, offer clarification or insights when completing assignments or class projects, and are a great support system. There is value in connecting with other students. I have recognized the benefit of having several peers from many life situations that I can reach out to. We each have individual perspectives that we share with each other. When you have these kinds of relationships with classmates, they are willing to help you just as you are willing to help them. They encourage you, as you encourage them. Having that support system is invaluable.
Balancing Multiple Responsibilities. Time management and prioritizing is key. Practicing good time management helps to maintain a balanced life while attending college. While a perfect balance is not achievable, each day I decide what to focus on and what to prioritize. My family is always my highest priority, but it is possible to devote time to your family even with a full class load. As a nontraditional student, that means on some days my attention is solely focused on my family whereas other days I am attentive to my family’s needs but place an emphasis on my schooling. My kids understand why education is important to me--and that makes it important to them too.
Based on what I’ve learned, it comes down to quality time over quantity. I made a commitment to my husband and kids that when it was time to spend time together as a family, other distractions (namely smartphones) would be put aside. I put my phone away when studying, so why wouldn’t I when spending quality time as a family? Having support from family in dividing housework and allowing me to have study time free (or almost free) of distractions is also monumental.
Staying Organized. I always make sure to have some form of an academic planner ready to go. Personally, I prefer having a paper planner (I just love the feeling of completing tasks and crossing them off!), but digital planners work well too! Just as I schedule out school work, employment, and other personal commitments on my planner, I also block out that quality time with my clan.
Have due dates and other important dates listed in your planner (either digital or paper--both work well!) One of my rituals for the first day of class is to read through each class’s syllabus and mark on my planner the due dates for assignments and the days that exams will be open. I use different colors of pen for each course. For example, I go through one course’s due dates for the entire semester in blue pen, due dates for a separate class in black pen, another in purple, and so forth.
Set aside days to devote to each class: As I go through the syllabus, I watch for patterns since often individual classes will have consistent due dates. Sometimes finding patterns among classes is easy, but when due dates for all classes fall on the same day of the week (i.e. Saturday night) I set my own schedule to stay on task and ahead in each course. I prefer to print out my syllabi and keep them accessible throughout the semester. For me, having a paper copy makes it easy to highlight critical information for easy reference, such as the professor’s preferred method of contact, their office hours, and specific requirements for assignments. For those who prefer to download the syllabus electronically, there are options to highlight digitally or simply make note of these pieces of information elsewhere.
Buy Books and Supplies in Advance. Weeks before the first official day of class, I check out my book list and compare prices among sellers. Comparing prices early is a simple way I save my family a little money while also eliminating last-minute stress. As I compare, I look at what it costs to purchase versus rent (there are pros and cons to each) or to buy the book used. Often ebooks are also an option. When you check the book list early, there is an increased chance that you’ll have more options and a decreased risk of having the books sold out.
Organizing Homelife. For many nontraditional students, preparations go beyond academics. I do as much prep work as in other aspects of my life before the semester begins. As a mom, I do as much meal prep as I can ahead of time. I plan meals weeks in advance, buy nonperishables in bulk, and prepare meals to freeze and use during busy or extra stressful weeks. For some families, finding childcare (and backup childcare) and coordinating rides is also critical in avoiding stress. If you are seeking childcare, you may want to reach out to the Nontraditional Student Center (located at both the Ogden and the Davis campuses) or visit their webpage. There is also a Children's School on the Ogden campus that is helpful for many parents.
Breathe. Before the semester begins, allow yourself to relax and enjoy uninterrupted family time. For my family, this often happens the weekend before classes start. Most often, we let the kids choose where to go. It depends on the season, but we especially enjoy hiking, bowling, going on bike rides, and going out for ice cream. It is a fun tradition to start the semester out on a high note, and it gives my emotional health a boost.
Reach Out for Help and Support. These are just a few ideas that have helped me over the years. I hope they come in handy for you as well! To learn more about specific resources for nontraditional students, visit weber.edu/nontrad. For additional tips and tricks, or for general help and support, reach out to us. We are more than happy to help. We are here for you!
I started college a little worried about how to balance school life and a potential job. To simplify the new chaos, I decided early on in my college experience to work on campus. Becoming a student employee has allowed me to balance a full course load and a part-time job nicely. Not to mention, I only need one transportation plan: to and from campus. Going to work has been as easy as walking across campus to a different building. Maintaining the balance between work and school takes a little more time management than simply being a student, but I had my routine down to a science after a few semesters. Below are my top tips on how to prepare and balance work while attending college.
Studying While Working. Adding work hours to your course schedule can be overwhelming. Thankfully some WSU student job positions can allow you to maintain a flexible schedule based on course lectures, labs, and study sessions. Weeks before the semester starts, apply for a student job on WSU’s campus that works with your course load. Or, at your current job position, sit down with your supervisor and determine your work hours for the upcoming semester. To help manage my time, I sit down before the semester starts and visualize my schedule using an organizational tool. I prefer to use a digital calendar because it allows me to change my events across multiple devices quickly. First, I enter my fixed or weekly events, such as work hours and class times, into my calendar for the length of the semester. Knowing my schedule, I can easily plan out flexible things, like study sessions, attending WSU sporting events, or dinner with friends and family. Setting specific times to study gives me confidence and allows me to feel calm, knowing I can complete coursework along with work. Just in case, always leave sometime in your day for any surprises.
Being Productive. Ask yourself the following questions: Are you an early bird or night owl? What time of day are you the most focused on? What time of the day do you get tired? Use your answers from above to help determine what work environment suits your lifestyle and when your best times are to attend course lectures. Personally, I have always been a night owl and have never fancied waking up early in the morning. Still, I often have to schedule my work hours in the morning before my course lectures and labs. Making the sacrifice to wake up early, I find small ways to conquer my sleepiness at work. If I feel a decrease in energy, I take a mini walk or do stretches in my chair. On days when I am simply exhausted, a caffeine boost always works too. As I plan my day, I take note of when I have the most focus and energy. Using these times to my advantage, I schedule more complex and cognitively difficult tasks at these times. I always try to study my most challenging course subjects when I’m most alert. Being aware of your energy levels can help you conquer sleepiness at work and use your time effectively.
Self Communication. You communicate with others every day. But, do you take a moment each day to communicate with yourself? You probably have learned your body’s physical needs and act on them. If you feel tired, you sleep. If you feel hungry, you eat. However, mental health needs can be more difficult to identify and appropriately respond to. I learned the importance of listening to my mental health late in my college experience. For many semesters, I would work long hours while taking 12+ credit hours. My energy and motivation soon became depleted. To counter my bad mental health habits, I started to note stressful or emotionally draining situations. After a busy day, I would plan a relaxing evening consisting of watching my favorite T.V. show, playing video games with friends, or maybe an at-home spa treatment. Communicating with yourself can be hard at first, but practice makes perfect. If you feel that you are overexerting your energy between work and school, do something about it. Take the time to learn your signs and symptoms when you feel overwhelmed or anxious.
Prepare Like A Wildcat. No matter if you are a first-year student or a super senior, take the time to prepare for the upcoming semester in your own way. If you feel stuck, remember to be a WILDCAT:
W - Walk around campus
I - Invest in an organizational tool
L - Look at your syllabus often
D - Discover a quiet place to study
C - Communicate with yourself
A - Attend student events on campus
T - Think positively and relax
If you want the scoop on the Academic Peer Coach’s favorite school supplies, make sure you check out our blog post “What’s In Our Backpacks?”
Are you still concerned about preparing for the upcoming semester? Make an appointment with an Academic Coach today! We would be happy to help you start the semester off on the right foot. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you!
About The Author
Alexis (she/her/s) is an Academic Peer Coach and a recent WSU alumnus with Bachelor's Degrees in Microbiology and Zoology.
Back to Blog