The beginning of each new semester in college is like New Year’s Day. Plenty of students, disappointed in their academic performance, social life, time management or other internal metric, set new goals, just as those who overate during the holidays set New Year’s resolutions. The problem is, just like New Year’s resolutions, they typically go unfulfilled — bedtimes aren’t kept, study hours get pushed aside and procrastination rears its ugly head yet again.

Often, goals are not specific enough. “Study more” isn’t an opportunity for improvement; it’s non-objective and provides no new structure. Other times, goals are too specific: “I will study at 6:00 PM every day,” only to find that your entire group of friends goes to dinner at 6:00 PM. Neither of these is a plan for success.

Sometimes, the goals that help the most are the little ones; instead of “I’m going to lose 50 lbs this year,” the better goal might be, “I’m only going to stop by the bakery once a week.” Instead of “Study more and get straight A's” perhaps a better goal might be to find a reliable study partner, or to set aside a quiet place or time to study.

This guide offers five hidden opportunities for growth that happen at the beginning of a fresh semester to help college students get or stay on track.

Source: Tulane/CC BY 2.0Source: Tulane/CC BY 2.0

Seek out tutoring opportunities

Tutors are notoriously not busy at the beginning of the semester. The author of this article is part of an online tutoring platform, and students don’t request tutoring until they are in over their heads. Don’t wait for that! Many schools have a tutoring center with regular hours, or teaching assistants with office hours. Drop in and go over the work you’ve completed with them now, even if you are confident in it. By doing so, you will not only get better grades on the homework, but you will also build confidence in your skills, which will help you seek out deeper questions and boost your critical thinking skills.

Join a professional society

Most college campuses have a club fair at the beginning of the semester to show which clubs are available. Furthermore, professors often include information about professional societies in their syllabi and other documents. The beginning of the semester is the perfect time to join a professional society. Different engineering majors have different societies, such as the American Institute for Chemical Engineers, or the Society for Automotive Engineers. All of them will provide new networking opportunities, as well as resources for summer internships, co-ops, careers, regional and national conferences, and even free or low-cost learning opportunities. The trick is to join at the beginning of the semester instead of waiting for your semester to “get busy” before joining.

Get organized

The beginning of the semester is a fresh start. Before your first class, take the time to clean out your backpack, desk, workspace and living areas. You don’t necessarily have to do a full cleaning, but enough so that last semester’s notes aren’t getting mixed in with this semester’s notes. You will be less likely to do it once the chaos of the semester begins.

Don’t neglect your digital organization. Organize and backup last semester’s files, whether they are on your computer or on the cloud. Be sure to include your default “Download” folder and “Documents” folder, as these often fill up with generic file names from the previous semester. There’s nothing worse than submitting “Homework 7” only to find that it was last semester’s “Homework 7.”

Well-designed organizational systems will save time in the long run. Admiral William H McRaven once gave a speech to Naval Academy graduates, basically telling them, “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed." The idea is that if you have a good day, great. If you have a bad day, at least you have a nice bed to come home to. The same applies to organization — nothing can be quite as demotivating as coming home to a messy room when you need to study for a midterm, or you are trying to find your thermodynamics assignment, when every file on the computer is named “assignment 4.pdf” or “assignment 4 (1).pdf.”

Plan a quick, fun trip

College is a great time for seeing new places and meeting new people. However, seeing new places can be tough once the semester is underway and free time is in short supply. One neat way to explore without sacrificing study time is to take a small trip out of town the weekend before the semester starts. You will enjoy it more when it is not competing with academic activities, and it will help you transition from summer jobs or winter break into the semester, particularly if you do this each semester.

The trip itself does not have to be elaborate. It could be to a state or federal park for a quick camping trip or hike. It could be one last hurrah at the beach, attending a baseball game or concert, or visiting a museum. Depending on your personality, it might be fun to invite others, or maybe it’s a chance for you to disconnect and get away from other people and travel alone.

Source: ucf.eduSource: ucf.edu

Map out classes

In some semesters, you may have to take classes across campus from your core area classes. It is worth spending a few minutes at the beginning of the semester walking through where your courses will be. This will give you a realistic idea of how long it will take to hike between classes and get you better acquainted with each academic building. You can also mentally map out restrooms, snack machines, alternate entrances and other necessities. This will help on the mornings you oversleep, or the days you get extra hungry and need to grab a snack before the next class. It’s also a fantastic way to take the edge off from new semester jitters — you see what your Mondays will look like for the next sixteen weeks.

Conclusion

Some of these tips will only take a few minutes to implement and a few will require some extra planning. In general, every minute you spend organizing will save you three during the semester, and every minute you spend mentally preparing has the potential to save you 10 when you experience frustrations throughout the semester.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com