10 Realistic Tips to Planning for a Successful Semester

The start of another semester is upon us. If you’ve been struggling with the school (-work) – life balance, perhaps it’s time for a new plan. The key to a new plan is … planning. So get ready to do a little advance legwork to get your semester on the right foot.

We asked around and gathered these 10 tips to a successful semester.

  1. Start with a reasonable workload. If you’re sweating how you’re going to do it all before the semester has begun, perhaps you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew. Or perhaps you’re underestimating yourself. Decide which and, if it’s that the workload is implausible, pare it back.
  2. Get your life worked out before classes start. If you haven’t figured out your finances, or determined who is staying home with the kids on the nights you’re in school, it’s going to be difficult and stressful to concentrate on your school work. If you have any lingering life issues, try to address them prior to the start of classes when you have a little time.
  3. Read your class syllabus... Professors take the time to write and submit their plans for the courses. Read them and prepare what you can in advance, says Julie Katz, who is returning to graduate school in Arlington, VA in her 50s. “If it isn’t posted I contact the professor. My goal is to read as much as I can during a break. If the syllabus is not complete the professor will usually share a few readings he or she knows will be part of the course,” she said. If there is a concept in the syllabus with which you’re not familiar, look it up. If there are dates of exams or major papers due, block out the time around them in your calendar for studying or researching and writing.
  4. …and purchase your books in advance. The syllabus will list the books you’ll need for class. Procure them in advance so you’re ready for the first day. With a little time, you can get good deals online (bookfinder.com compares prices on a host of other sites) or from people who have taken the course at your school.)
  5.  Use a time management system.  The single greatest impediment to success in school (and work!) is poor time management. There are numerous time management systems on the market, some of which are even free, like this one. Find one that works for you and follow it. It may require that you invest some time on the front end, so don’t procrastinate.
  6. Establish a workspace and keep it organized. Megan Shelley Elam, a local College of Charleston graduate who works in logistics, says she needs to clean her desk in order to concentrate on the work. That may not be an issue for you, but it’s certainly more helpful to have an established work space than to attempt to focus while family or social life rages around you.
  7. Get your head right for class time. In most courses, the class itself matters. Commit yourself to arriving in class with your head clear and fully present for as long as class lasts, said Kate Tulloch-Hammond, a College of Charleston alumnus who works as a writer in the Tampa, Florida area. “Be present. Interact and participate in class discussions. Know why you’re there,” she said.
  8. Find a mentor. Here’s a fact that few students realize: professionals love to mentor younger people and help them succeed in their careers. Find someone in your area of study and ask for their advice. They will be honored to guide you if you demonstrate that you respect their expertise.
  9. Plan time to eat right and exercise. You mind and body are connected, so make sure your body is getting the nutrition and physical activity it needs. Eliminate the processed foods, particularly sugar, and clear your mind with a good workout.
  10. Get enough sleep. You know the saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead?” It is clinically-proven nonsense. Your body needs 7-9 hours of restful sleep to re-nourish your brain cells and help your psyche work through emotional issues. REM-cycle sleep – the kind you can’t get with sleeping pills – is critical to a functioning mind and body.