Pulling off last-minute assignments, putting in all-nighters and juggling academics with everything else can be a lot. But some preparation for the new semester can bring some balance to student life.

It may seem like more work, when you already have a lot going on, but there’s evidence to show investing some time now will pay off later.

Doing a little homework now can help you make the grade
We spoke to Kaylene McTavish, who is the New Student Orientation Coordinator at the Calgary-based Mount Royal University, about setting yourself up for success this semester.

What are some ways to prepare for the new semester?
“The Number 1 step would be to read your institutional emails and follow (your college or university) on Facebook or Instagram. There are a lot of different announcements coming out. It seems funny, but make sure you’re registered in class and know where and how to find the course schedule and start planning your week where classes are and commuting time.”

In other words, time management skills for students are important right?
“Yes. Assume that you’re going to need three hours of study time per one hour of class. Either that’s doing pre-reading or doing the assignments for the course. You should be roughly allocating three hours outside of class time — keeping in mind other priorities you might have such as work or family obligations or even something as simple as grocery shopping that needs to be accounted for.”

What are some simple time management and other tips for students getting ready for a new semester?

  1. Meal plan: “Healthy meals in the fridge can go a long way when you’re feeling stressed. Go-to recipes that include veggies or protein can go a long way so you’re not living off something like Kraft Dinner.
  2. Get organized: “Have some kind of calendar to track what’s going on. Set reminders in your phone and if your course syllabus is available, read it over the break. It might not be posted, so don’t panic.”
  3. Make school a priority: McTavish says you can do that in various ways. Essentially, look at your life outside of school and ask yourself if those activities “are filling the bucket up to be a better student.” If not, reassess. It could mean dropping your extracurricular activities for now and for some students could mean considering a student loan instead of continuing in a part-time job.
  4. This isn’t high school: Post-secondary studies demand much more accountability.

    “Students need to take responsibility for every aspect of their success. If they have a learning accommodation in high school, the school sets it up for them. In university, you do it yourself. That’s a huge shift,” McTavish says. “Instructors don’t remind you all the time when something is due. They don’t call your parents if you missed class.”
  5. Plan ahead: That can mean reviewing communications from your school, visiting their website so you’re up on the latest-and-greatest news and, if you’re new, ensuring you have your student ID.
  6. Look back: If you’re a returning student, it’s beneficial to look at how your last semester went to see how you can make improvements going forward.“What needs to happen is reflection first,” McTavish says.

    “What worked well and what didn’t work and really be honest with yourself about course load and if the program is the right fit.”

    She suggests writing it out to help you reflect on the experience and set new goals.
  7. Access resources early: If you have an inkling of issues arising, the sooner you get on finding a solution, the better. McTavish says most campuses have a wide array of support for students. Find out what’s available at your school and take advantage of opportunities to be the best you can be.

    Keeping up with all the COVID-related chaos: Post-secondary studies can be a lot at the best of times. Constantly changing health-related protocols certainly can make it more stressful.

    “The mental, physical and emotional changes students go through are very real. And I think there’s a lot of change that goes on and self-doubt that happens. Students who think they’re the only ones going through it, are not,” McTavish says. “Start by breathing and know that everybody in the institution wants you to succeed. We’re very much all in this together. Reach out early to an advisor, a faculty member, a tutor, a mentor. Struggling in silence is heartbreaking.”
  8. Don’t just show up: “Get excited to come back,” McTavish says. “Feel the energy. It’s exciting and there’s always a buzz on campus in January after the holiday. Go with that. Keep your eyes open for student lifestyle opportunities.’

    “Students who are engaged in some type of student activity tend to do better academically because they can normalize (issues and experiences) with other students. When you have that connection, it goes a long way.”
  9. Act like a professional: “Going to school should be considered a full-time job and (some students) don’t realize the stress and the pressure. So, give yourself permission to reset. Set some boundaries or let things go,” McTavish says.

    “Get dressed every morning. Even if it’s online, get yourself up at a desk and go to “school.’ When class is over, start your assignment so when it’s due you already have something started. Don’t walk away from the computer. While it might not seem appealing right away, it will really pay off in the long run.”

Some back-to-school hacks

  • Clean your computer desktop
  • Create folders for upcoming classes. Many students like to do this in Google Drive.
  • Read the class syllabus
  • Buy second-hand textbooks
  • Import syllabus for each class into your digital calendar
  • Clean your desk
  • Clean your backpack
  • Start to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier