Thoughts from Counselors

Use These Three Simple Techniques to Start Your Semester off Right

College students often get overwhelmed at the beginning of the semester. They receive all of their syllabi, meet all of their professors, and promptly realize that they have no idea what to expect. Many students take their syllabi, and promptly forget about them, thinking that they will be able to handle all of the assignments as they come, or that the professor will always announce assignments as they are due and tests as they are coming up. Although many professors will announce relevant due dates as they arise, not all do. Frequently, around the first cycle of tests, students find that they are saddled with a huge, vague sense of stress, thinking that they have more things to do than they have time to do them. And then cue the all-nighters.

This may be the pattern that you follow as a student. It may seem normal, and even expected of you. I’m here to tell you, though, that it’s actually extremely unhealthy.

Many scientific studies have shown that our brains perform much worse during times of stress, and also that the brain loses cognitive processing ability (sometimes in excess of 60%!) during times of sleep deprivation. That’s not something that you want to go into your tests with. The best way to prepare yourself for these inevitable “spikes” in workload is to plan your time and your tasks right now. 

I will briefly review three simple strategies that you can use right now to get your semester started on a good foot. If you are not a naturally organized person, these may seem like overkill, but I promise that they will make your semester much smoother and more painless. One of the things that you will find, is that the better that you manage your time, the more time that you have for fun and relaxation. Let’s be honest, college is a fun and exciting time, and you want to be able to spend as much time relaxing and having fun in the company of your friends as you possibly can. A little bit of organization and prior planning can ensure that you’re able to have the best time possible in college.


  1. Take ALL assignments from your syllabi and put them in a calendar. Many of you use a cell phone to keep track of your assignments, so I will show you the process on my iPhone. Add a calendar (color coded) for each class. Then add in all of your assignments as “all day” events. You will be able to see at a glance everything that you have due for the semester. Whenever your professor assigns something that isn’t in the syllabus, add it into your phone in this was as soon as you can.
  2. Block time off on your calendar that you will devote to work time. Treat this like you would a class or a tutoring appointment. Pick consistent places and times, and do not miss it! You may have heard the old adage “you should be working three hours for every hour that you are in class.” This is a great rule of thumb, but I’ve found that it’s pretty overwhelming, and often is way too much time for what you will typically have to do. Start out with one hour of work time for every hour that you are in class. If you are taking 15 hours, schedule yourself 15 hours of work time. Try your hardest not to schedule this time after 9pm, or on the weekends just yet. Treat your schooling like a job. You should be resting in the evenings and weekends as much as possible so that you can perform your best during the week.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 9.10.37 AM
    Put your work time on your calendar and stick to it! It will make your life easier, I promise.
  3. Review your calendar and your to-do list weekly. I like to call this the weekly review. Put an appointment on your calendar and stick to it! Many students like to do their weekly review on Sunday evenings or Monday mornings. It should take you thirty minutes to an hour. There are a few simple steps to your review.
    1. Get out a plain white sheet of paper and gather all of your class materials (binders, projects, syllabi, notebooks, etc)
    2. Check your emails/texts/voicemails, and make sure that you have none that are unread that could be important. All emails that you don’t plan to read that are cluttering your inbox should go in a folder where they are not staring you in the face each day. Decide whether anything needs to be done from your email and write it down.
    3. Look through your syllabi and your planner. Is anything due this week or anything big coming up? Plan to work on these things in a slot in your worktime. The goal is to fill your worktime with specific things that you are working on, that way you are remaining accountable and getting things done! Write it down in a planner, or in the “notes” section of the calendar event.
    4. Brainstorm a bit. Is there anything that you are forgetting about? Any goals that you have set for yourself that you can make progress toward? Any important events coming up? (Job fairs, interviews, other things?)
    5. If there is anything that you have put in your to-do list that you can do in two minutes or less, get that done!


This may seem overwhelming at first, but try it out! You’ll find that if you remain diligent to schedule out your time and stay organized, you have much more time to relax and have fun!

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