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Tips for Starting Off the School Year Right


A woman holding a cell phone in a library.


There is no "warm-up" or slow reconditioning to the start of a college term. No matter how long—or short—your break was, getting back into the classroom can be challenging. There's a lot to juggle, including classes, a job and life.

Start off your school year right with these tips that can set you up for success.

Prepare for what's ahead.

College classes begin day one. If you're not prepared to jump right in, it's easy to fall behind.

"Before each term begins, review your course syllabi and create your calendar so that you can plan out when assignments are due and when you need to get things done," suggested Michele Swift, SHRM-SCP, the Assistant School Head—Management, Entrepreneurship, & Supply Chain and SHRM Student Chapter Advisor at Oregon State University.

Don't underestimate the workload of online courses.

Studying online is sometimes equated with a lighter workload. However, that is not the case.

"This is one thing that catches many students off guard," said Kristy D. Smith, SHRM-SCP. She teaches a fully online program at the University of Alaska Southeast. "Be proactive and work ahead if you can."

SHRM member Denise D. Smoot, SHRM-CP, emphasized the volume of reading required in online courses. In the online 400-level classes she teaches at University of Maryland Global Campus and Shepherd University, the knowledge gained through the readings is needed to complete course assignments. 

"People think they can go in and do an online course quick," Smoot said. "They don't realize they'll be loaded with reading necessary to complete the course."

Engage with your classmates.

Showing up to class—online or in person—is only a portion of the college experience. Find ways to interact with classmates to deepen each other's knowledge and hear differing perspectives.

"It is important to collaborate and learn from each other whether you are in a chat room online or sitting in a class together," Smith said.

Practice good time management.

There are many activities outside of class, and it is important to take advantage of the opportunities available. However, Swift offered this advice: "Be selective about what you get involved in. Don't let it get in the way of staying on top of your classes."

Smoot said this also applies to the number of courses you enroll in. The 400-level classes she teaches last just eight weeks.

"All of the assignments come due at the same time, so you need to allocate time to get it all done," she said.

Talk to your professor.

Don't wait until the term is almost over to ask for help or communicate challenges. If you wait until the end of the semester, it may jeopardize completing the course.

"Life happens," Smoot said. "People don't know they can reach out to their professor and ask for an extension. I have Zoom office hours and encourage students to stop in and get to know me."

Smith encourages students to show up and say hello during office hours, even if help is not needed. 

"We want to connect with students and not just hang out in our office or online by ourselves," she said. "Your professor wants you to be successful. They cannot help you if you do not communicate."

Give yourself grace.

"You are not expected to be perfect in all that you do in your first semester or throughout your program," Smith said. "So don't give up if you don't succeed on your first assignment or earn the grade you wanted. There is always room for growth and improvement."

Tips for Seniors

The end is in sight, and the clock is ticking down the last weeks and days of school. Squeezing in as much time for friends and fun before your first full-time job often takes priority. Fatigue can also set in during the home stretch.

Remember …

Keep pushing toward the goal. 'Senioritis' is a real thing that can impact a student's work and time," Smith noted. "Stay committed to finishing, and finish strong. A big celebration is waiting for you at the end of the year."

Be proactive. "Senior year can be very busy between courses and trying to find your post-graduation job, not to mention there's your current job [of being a student]," Swift said. "Planning and being proactive will be critical if you're to stay on top of your coursework."

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer based in New York state.

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