It’s back to school time and we’re especially excited about all the students who are embarking on their first semester of college (especially our TeenSHARPies!). While students’ hard work and rigorous preparation in high school will help them excel in these new environments, we also understand how important strong advising is for college success and completion. Starting the semester strong is particularly crucial. So below we’ve pulled together a few tips for the first few weeks of college.
- Read/skim the intro or first chapter of your textbook that describes what the discipline is about BEFORE the first class so that you are prepared to answer the question “What is psychology (or whatever class you are taking)? What questions is this discipline concerned with?” The first class is usually about context and the big questions the class will grapple with. Things will make much more sense if you’ve done a little prep work. If you are not already interested in the topic or immediately aware about why the topics covered in the class are important to know, prioritze talking to your professor about this. The class will be much more exciting if you understand the learning objectives and why they matter.
- Answer questions that the professor may pose during the introductory classes. Even if the class is an intro-level class with a lot of students! The professor is not expecting any depth of responses at this time but is trying to engage students. Make it clear you are excited about learning and you intend to contribute meaningfully throughout the semester.
- In smaller classes, you may actually be asked to introduce yourself. You will be in introduction mode for a while as you connect with new professors, students, join groups, etc. So if you don’t have one yet, get your “elevator pitch” together. Think of an introduction of yourself that describes where you’ve come from but also highlights your academic/professional interests.
- Approach your professor after the class to introduce yourself personally and say that you are excited about the class (you can add why you are excited, e.g. this is my first intro to a discipline I intend to study for my career; I’ve never taken a statistics class, etc.) and look forward to learning a lot. Note that professors are always happy to hear that students in their class are there not only because they have to take the class, but because they are actually excited about the subject-matter. Also, note that the first day of class can be equally awkward or anxiety-inducing for you and your professor. Feel free to break the ice.
- If you’re in a class where students are asked to sign up to lead a discussion, do a presentation, etc later in the semester it’s often a good idea to sign yourself for the first or the earliest opportunities. The natural inclination is to postpone the inevitable but the workload only gets heavier as the semester gets underway.
- After day one put all of the key dates for each class (exam dates, paper due dates, final presentation dates, etc.) in your phone calendar and in your Google Calendars (if the calendars aren’t synced!). Some of our students have found the app iStudiez useful for these purposes. Then you should practice “backward calendaring” and put preparation dates that will correspond to each due date. For example, if you have a midterm paper due on October 20th you want to put dates when the first draft should be completed in your calendar and perhaps a date when you’ll have an outline of the paper completed. Your college writing center should also be used as much as possible. You can also ask your professors if they wouldn’t mind reading an early draft on your writing assignments. Many are open to this.
- In some classes, the semester starts off pretty slow with the first day only covering the syllabus. So get to work aggressively on readings or assignments you receive on day one to get a great head start.
- Organization is everything! Create a www.dropbox.com or Google Drive folder for each class you take and keep class and reading notes, important documents you receive from the professor, and any resources you find online to help with the class there. You can also use Evernote to organize yourself while in college (see a few tips here).
What other tips for the first weeks of college would you recommend for students? Please share in the comment section!
Tatiana Poladko is the co-founder and Executive Director of TeenSHARP. Atnre Alleyne is an Education Advocacy Fellow with 50CAN and co-founder of TeenSHARP. They were recently recognized as American Graduate Champions by WHYY.