August 23rd, the start of my graduate school classes, is fast approaching. Starting Sunday, my days will be filled with orientations and getting acclimated to this new life. It’s been three and a half years since I finished undergrad, and while I am grateful for the valuable work experience I have had since then, I do feel a little nervous and out of practice with school.
As I prepare for this new adventure, I’ve been reflecting on my undergraduate experience and what worked for me and what I would like to improve. I’ll be starting graduate school, but I can see this list applying to undergraduate students as well. Some of it can also apply to you studious high schoolers! Here’s how I’m planning to start my semester off strong:
1. Finish That To-Do List
My to-do list seems to be never ending, so I’m not sure if “finishing” it is an actual possibility. However, I will admit that there are some tasks that I have been migrating, or putting off, for months! This weekend I want to focus on getting those done so that I can focus on school, and its own impending to-do list, with a clean slate. One of the Five Sutras of the Aquarian Age (a yogi thing) is “when the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off.” This applies here, and it will also be useful to keep in mind as my to-do list grows.
2. Tidy Up Living Space
Some college students are moving into a new dormitory or their first apartment. For me, I moved across several states into a new place. Others are living in their own place that they’ve had for awhile, some may be saving costs by living at home. No matter what your situation, I think it is important to start the semester with a clean living space. If you have time, you can go through the KonMari method and discard that which no longer serves you. At the very least, ensuring that every item has its own place will help you keep a clean space. Not having to constantly tidy up leaves more time for studying (or self-care!), and I find that I can focus better when my home is neat. (I know my mom is probably laughing if she reads this… I used to be VERY messy! I’m much better at staying organized now, though, and it makes a huge difference.)
Having a neat bookshelf is making SUCH a difference for me! I love it so, so, so, much.
3. Acquire School Supplies
Sometimes you won’t know what you need until class begins, and that is okay. However, I do think it is best to get the essentials so that you aren’t overwhelmed once class starts. Simple supplies like notebooks, folders/binders to organize your materials, your favorite pens and pencils, and a stapler will help you off to a solid start. If you can afford it, I also recommend getting a printer, paper, and an ink cartridge or two. While most students do get a printing quota, having a printer at home has been really helpful in times when I have been super busy or just haven’t felt like making my way to a computer lab. In regards to books, I prefer to get them ahead of time, but I know some people who wait until class starts to see what they really need. If you’re lucky enough to get a syllabus before the semester starts, at least make sure you have what you need to read for the first few weeks of class in case there are shipping delays!
4. Set Up A Study Space You Love
When I was in undergrad, I tended to change up my study space every semester. I’ve spent many long nights at our campus library, in the computer lab, at my favorite local coffee shop, and eating club sandwiches at the 24/7 diner. While I am hoping to find study spaces now, too, I also am hoping to do a lot more studying/reading at my own apartment. I’ve set up my desk so that it is functional, inspirational, and aesthetically pleasing. I love sitting here, which will make it easier to motivate myself to study! (In fact, it is 3:30 AM as I write this… and I have no problems with sitting at this desk instead of laying in my bed.) Give your study area your own personal touch. When you’re sleep deprived and feel like you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, these little things will matter.
Highlights of my desk: Vision Board, Himalayan Salt Lamp, Globe, and Hermione Pop! Figure
5. Pick A Planning System
Ah, planning. One of my first loves. I have tried so many different planners. In undergraduate I used a planner from Barnes and Noble for a couple of years and then I settled on a Moleskine. Since then, I have used the Move Nourish Believe Planner, the Passion Planner, and the Happiness Planner. I have enjoyed them all, but I’m pretty much set on my new planning system: the bullet journal! I love how it is customizable and you can do literally whatever you want with it. Some cons of bullet journaling are that it can take awhile (at least for me because I like making it artistic, some people just do simple spreads and that’s totally fine). I am considering getting a Filofax for the new year and incorporating my bullet journal into that… we’ll see. Basically, whatever your planning dreams, there is a planner or system for you! Experiment, do some internet searches, read some blogs. Finding a planner can be really helpful with time management, and I know I would be lost without mine.
6. Check Out Campus
A lot of freshman students will have campus tours built into their orientations. However, if you are a new student to any school, it is important to learn to navigate campus and what resources it has to offer. Some key places to look for before classes start are the buildings your classes are in, the computer lab(s), the library, the recreation center, and the main student center (this building often has different names; at my school, it is the Student Union). It may also be useful to locate different cafeterias/dining and coffee shops on campus.
7. Practice Transportation
This is pretty related to the previous point, but it is also important to practice how you are going to get to class. Popular options are walking, taking the bus, riding a bike, and driving. Practicing how you will get to class will help you know how long it will take and ensure you know exactly where to go. Remember to account for a little extra time because it will most likely be busier once class starts. Parking may be harder to find and there could be more traffic. Preparing the best you can for things like this will help make your first days less overwhelming!
8. Prepare Self-Care
Whether you are a college veteran or new to the experience, college can be stressful. Students are busy and have a lot of pressure and expectations put on them. It is important to prioritize yourself, and this is something that I wish I had done more in undergrad. Going into the semester with a list of ways to practice self-care daily will help manage that stress and make you feel better about yourself. Seeing it as another item to check off your to-do list will defeat the purpose. Instead, look at self-care as treating yourself for being awesome and working hard! I am planning on incorporating self-care into my day by waking up a little early and doing a Miracle Morning (meditation, affirmation, visualization, read from a self-development book, journal, and exercise). This can be as quick as six minutes or as long as I want. This way, I know I am prioritizing myself first thing every day.
Some go-to self-care items in my Bullet Journal.
In addition to preparing a list, it can be useful to look into your school’s mental health resources in advance. Most schools offer free counseling to students. I know my school has one-on-one counseling, specific groups (graduate students, women, etc.), and drop-in workshops. I am an advocate of utilizing these resources before you feel like you need to. Mental health is so important, and even if you don’t have a specific mental health disorder, you could benefit from these programs! On that note, it’s also probably good to learn about the medical services on campus and to stock up on generic medicines. Being sick while in school is the worst, and being prepared will make the experience a lot better.
I love journaling, although I understand it may not be for everyone. Even if you aren’t a daily journaler, I still recommend writing something down before school starts. Although I can’t say I have always enjoyed looking back at all my old journal entries, I have definitely gained a lot of perspective from doing so. I have grown A LOT, even in the past year, and my journal entries and thoughts are proof of this. Write a journal entry, write a letter to yourself… anything to help you see how you change!
Additionally, I also recommend writing a list of gratitude. Gratitude is SO important to a positive attitude/perspective. Who helped you get to where you are today? What experiences led you to this place? I write down one item of gratitude every day, but I am going to do a larger list before school starts.
10. Set Goals
Finally, it is important to set goals. This can be part of your journaling or you can do it in a separate place. What are you hoping to get out of this semester? Do you have a specific GPA you aspire to? Is there a new experience you’d like to try? I personally like to set goals for my mind, body, and spirit so I am well-balanced. I am planning on continuing my practice of monthly goals and adding some semester goals as well. When you set goals, you want it to be specific so you can see how you’ve progressed. For example, instead of saying “get healthy,” you could say something like “use the fitness center 3x a week” or “pack a clean lunch every day.” Today I read in Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong that the ability to set goals is one of the key factors in hope and getting out of despair. Not to be dramatic, but there may be times when you feel despair, especially towards the end of the semester. Setting clear goals from the beginning can help avoid this and remind you of your priorities and values.
With just a few days left until classes start, I am almost ready to go! I hope you all have a wonderful semester– let me know how these tips work for you and if you have any additional advice in the comments! xx.