How to Start Your Spring Semester on the Right Foot
Your first semester of college is most likely one of the strangest times you’ve yet experienced in your young adult life. Depending on how well it went, you might be either really excited or pretty reluctant to return to school. Both emotions are valid. For some, the transition away from home is painless; for others, adjusting to social and academic pressures can be a bit more difficult.
No matter which camp you fall into, we’re here to help. Read on to find tips for making the most of your next few months at college.
If you had a successful first semester…
Take note of what you did successfully, why it worked, and how you did it.
Take a moment to evaluate (and celebrate!) your personal growth. In which areas did this progress occur? Let’s say you notice that you became a lot more outgoing or socially confident. Now, think of the reasons for this—were you making active efforts to speak to people in your classes and attending extracurricular events?
Academically, think about the environments that were most conducive to your success.
You can ask yourself a few more questions here: Did you prefer to study alone, with a small group or with one partner? What methods worked best in preparing you for exams? Was there a certain type of teaching style you grew to enjoy more than others?
Make plans to continue on that trajectory.
This one is straightforward enough: Once you figure out what made your first semester go smoothly, keep doing those things. As you progress through college, these skills and habits will become second nature.
…But, don’t be afraid to occasionally branch out.
While you should continue practicing the fundamentals of your success, you should also refresh things by switching up your routine from time to time. Doing this will keep you from becoming bored and may challenge you to become even more adaptable.
If you normally thrive in social settings, regularly take some time for yourself to recharge and enjoy being alone. Or if you typically study alone and do well, attend a casual, low-stakes study session with a few classmates to meet new friends and develop interpersonal problem-solving skills.
Find multiple ways to stay motivated and on task.
Right in line with changing your routine every now and then, developing new methods for motivation will help you stay focused.
Start reaching out to friends—maybe agree to hold each other accountable for not skipping recitation sessions of a shared class.
When you need to concentrate on a big task and stay off the Internet, try Flora, an app that encourages you to decrease phone use by ‘planting’ a virtual tree that withers if you unlock your device.
And, finally, think of small ways to reward yourself. You can treat yourself for outlining a paper early with a takeout meal from your favorite restaurant or have a no-talk-about-school day to relax with your best friends. (Remember, it’s important to take breaks!)
And if you had a difficult first semester…
Before you do anything else, remember to be kind to yourself.
There is no universal college experience, and it’s okay to struggle. Don’t beat yourself up dwelling on what went wrong.
There are plenty of reasons why a first semester might not go smoothly, and we also recognize that some factors might be uncontrollable—you can’t really predict that you’re going to feel homesick or have trouble studying.
Set concrete goals to solve some of the problems you faced.
Begin by addressing a few ‘core’ emotions that you frequently felt, and then identify courses of action that could help combat them in the future.
For instance, if you mainly struggled with loneliness or had difficulty making friends in your residence hall, try joining a team-oriented club sport, a volunteer organization or any other extracurricular activity that aligns with your interests.
If you fell behind in your classes, make it a point to attend office hours or peer tutoring sessions more often.
Make sure that your goals are specific and realistic.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew and attempt to attend every single tutoring session offered.
Instead, modify your goals to make them more manageable—if they’re not threatening, you’ll be more likely to actually follow through with them.
You can start small by pledging to stop in for 20 minutes of office hours once a week or attend a tutoring session before each test. These goals are specific, giving you no room to ‘back out’ of doing them. Plus, they occur at reasonable and realistic intervals.
Identify resources that could be helpful to you.
Chances are there’s an office on campus that’s specifically equipped to handle almost any challenge you’re facing.
Consider making an appointment to speak with someone at your university’s counseling and psychological services center. They can start you in individual or group therapy appropriate to your situation, as well as redirect you to nearby off-campus practices if needed.
If you have a disability that made certain aspects of college difficult or inaccessible to you, you can discuss accommodations with student disability services.
And, of course, the library is a resource-rich place where you can find almost anything you need related to your studies, be it assistance with research or a free subscription to a major newspaper.
It may be easier said than done, but asking for help—no matter what about—truly is something you should never, ever be ashamed of doing. You’ll be glad you did.
Remember that it was just one semester.
You can’t move forward and have a better second semester if you’re mentally stuck in the first.
And it’s all too easy to think that having a bad first semester means you’re doomed for the rest of your college career, but that’s just not true.
Remember that you have years ahead of you to improve your grades, work ethic, or social life—most people will be sympathetic to a rough start, recognizing the difficulty of the transition. You have much more time than you might realize right now, so remind yourself that you are smart, resilient and deserving of attending your school.
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