The Freshman 15: Smart Ways to Start the New Semester

Although today marks the first official day of summer, the end of June doesn’t always mean “time to relax.” While some of our friends are spending their afternoons at the beach, others are getting ready for a summer semester at college. For me, it’s just a way to stay close to all of my school friends while getting a few less desirable classes out of the way for sophomore year, but for many freshmen, it is the first semester of the actual college work and experience.

Back in April on my old blog, I wrote an entry about the fifteen most important lessons I learned from my freshman year of college, entitled The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned. As a continuation of my Freshman 15 series, I would like to share my own monthly tips for different aspects of college (and freshman year in particular). This advice extends not only to freshmen, but to anyone who is interested! πŸ™‚

Ready to begin a new semester? Here are 15 smart ways to get started!Tweet this!

The Freshman 15: Smart Ways to Start the New Semester

1. Stock up on school supplies.
While you may not know the exact requirements for each of your classes, it’s always good to have some paper, notebooks, and folders to get a good head-start. You want to find a way to keep important papers and notes in order, and sometimes that will differ by class, so it’s great to have a little bit of everything. Even if you don’t end up using all of the supplies you purchase this semester, they’re always good for next semester.

2. Look over your textbooks before your classes start.
You’ll want to have a basic understanding of what you’re going to be learning in the next few weeks, so why not jump ahead and peruse the textbooks you bought? You don’t need to do any hardcore studying or note-taking, but it’s helpful to read the introduction ahead of time and even flip through the Table of Contents just so you have a general idea of what to expect.

3. Keep track of your professors’ office hours (and use them)!
On the first day of classes, make sure you ask for your professors’ office hours and where to find them. That way if you have questions on anything later in the semester (assignments, material, etc) you can talk directly to the source, one-on-one. Even if you choose not to go in for questions, office hours come in handy later if you’re ever sick and you need to make up a test! (Been there, done that.) No matter what your needs are, office hours are a vital resource to have.

4. Become familiar with available tutoring opportunities.
Sometimes, meeting with your professor for help isn’t enough. Make sure you’re aware of the other available resources on campus! Is there a Math Lab where you can meet with a math tutor? A Writing Center to go to when you’re having trouble writing a paper? An academic resource center where you can talk to teaching assistants and graduate students who know all about your subject? Most campuses have an abundance of places where students can seek help, but rarely many of them do. Don’t let your pride get in the way when you need help.

5. Be friendly and talk to your classmates.
It may be scary at first, but when you talk to the people around you, you can potentially make new friends (which in turn make class much more enjoyable to attend!) and you also have a connection in the class. If you ever have to miss a day, it’s much easier to call up a classmate and borrow his or her notes than to convince professors to let you copy theirs outside of class. Besides, I firmly believe that you can never have too many friends.

6. Pay close attention to announcements.
Once you start taking classes that pertain to your major, listen up for any club announcements or opportunities at the beginning of class. My intro classes for Advertising and Public Relations were both great platforms for the professors to announce meetings for the Ad and PR clubs at the school, and if I hadn’t jotted that information down, I might have never joined. (Hint: If a club sounds even remotely interesting to you, go to its introductory meeting. Worst case scenario? You get free food and you decide it’s not worth your time.)

7. Invest in index cards.
It’s true that we all have our own ways of studying for tests, but if there’s one study tool that helped me the most this year, it was index cards. I swear, I will never stop singing the praises of index cards… especially after last semester, when I relied on them for three of my classes. Even if you decide not to use them this semester, there will come a time one day when you will need them.

8. Get a good night’s sleep!
The first week of classes is important because it gives you a feel for the semester ahead, but getting that extra hour or two of sleep now will help you form better sleep habits later in the semester. Yes, it’s difficult to stay awake in that 8AM class, but with a full night’s sleep and a cup of coffee (or English Breakfast Tea, if you’re an oddball like me), it shouldn’t be totally impossible.

9. Take your vitamins and fill up on brain foods.
I spent plenty of my first fall semester of college at the Health Center, because I was constantly sick. Living in such close quarters with other students definitely makes you more susceptible to illness, but I honestly think that poor nutrition in the beginning made things even worse. Make sure your health comes first!

10. Save your syllabus.
The most important piece(s) of paper you will receive during that first week of classes will be your class syllabus, because it tells you all of your assignments, expectations, grades, policies, and other information that you’ll need to know. You might never use it again, but you probably will — so keep it as a back-up just in case.

11. Start a calendar and/or planner to keep track of dates.
Even if you’re only taking a few summer classes, you’ll want to be in control of your schedule. Having a little planner to carry with you is always smart because you can pencil in events/upcoming tests/club meetings/etc. as soon as you hear about them. I also keep a dry-erase calendar board in my apartment, and it’s great for mapping things out one month at a time. If you’re visual like me, it’s a helpful way to view your schedule at a glance.

12. Don’t be late!
Make time in your schedule so that you can be where you need to be when you need to be there. It’s better to be early than late, so I try to get to class about ten or fifteen minutes early so I can get a good seat and settle in. Trust me, you won’t be the only one there, and it’s much more professional than being that one person who straggles in after the lecture has already begun.

13. Find ways to relax.
No matter how prepared you are, you will probably have those days when you just want the semester to be over. To avoid going completely crazy, find something that will help you to calm down when things get too hectic. For some, that might mean laying out by the pool, while others might turn to the gym or to some kind of creative outlet that helps them de-stress.

14. Never bite off more than you can chew.
If it feels like you’re doing too much, take it down a notch. No one expects you to be Superman or Superwoman — do what’s going to keep you sane! Your health should come first, then classes, then extra-curriculars.

15. Find an organization method that works for you!
The most surefire way to do well in classes is to stay organized and on top of things. This means different things to different people, but it’s important to figure out your own way to manage and prioritize your time… something that works for you.

What do you guys think? For those of you who have already gone through it, what were some of the most helpful things for you during that first semester?

9 thoughts on “The Freshman 15: Smart Ways to Start the New Semester

  1. laundryonsundaes says:

    This is great! Lovely blog – keep up the good work!

    I’d say the most important thing I’ve learned after 2 years of college is to find what works for YOU. Everyone has different methods of learning and studying and you need to find out what routine you prefer. Some people like to study in their room, whereas others can’t do anything outside the library. Some like index cards, some like highlighting, some like making their own notes…. try as many different ways of studying as you can and find your own method!

    And also – keep up your health. Eat healthy, find ways to exercise, sleep, and try to lay off the caffeine!

    • Valerie says:

      Thank you so much! Those are all great tips… I know after my first year I am definitely still learning what makes me tick and so that is definitely an important thing to do — try out a bunch of methods until you find out what works.

      Thanks for the comment! : ) I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Kevina says:

    The #1 thing for me was definitely staying organized and on top of things! I have a dry-erase calendar thing too! I don’t think I would be able to survive without it. πŸ˜› GREAT LIST!

    • Valerie says:

      That dry-erase board was probably one of the best purchases I ever made! I moved back in today and one of the first things I did was update my calendar for July… I’m such a nerd, but it works for me (and it sounds like it works for you too)! If I ever do a post on college must-haves, this is probably going to be at the top.

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