Start the Semester Right

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This school year will feature higher standards and tougher challenges for many students. Don’t get left behind — find out how to set yourself up for success.

This past week, we hosted a webinar called “Start the Semester Right” (view it on demand here). The webinar focuses on things high school students should do in their first weeks of the new semester in order to set themselves up for year-long success in a school year that will likely be tougher than ever before.

Here are some additional tips to help you start the new school year off on the right foot:

Enjoy the blank slate.
The new semester provides you with a blank slate. Didn’t get great grades last semester? Last semester is over, and this semester is just beginning. Don’t worry about the things you can’t change (like last semester’s grades) and focus on the things you can (like whether or not you schedule enough study time this semester). Still worried about past grades? Not sure if you’re in the right classes? Check out this post for all things transcript, grade, and course choice related.

Be a joiner, not a loner.
Extracurricular activities provide you with an opportunity to showcase a wide range of interests and talents. When done right, your collection of activities can show colleges that you are a passionate student with strong community awareness and excellent leadership skills. Check out these posts for more help on extracurricular activities:

Frequently Asked Questions: Extracurricular Activities
The Secret to Getting Into Harvard (Isn’t What You Think)

Create a study plan.
Look at your class schedule. How much time will you need in order to do well in each and every class? Since there are limited hours in any given day, and since you’re an awesome student who is involved in extracurricular activities while also taking time to do well in your classes and prepare for upcoming exams, you’re in a race against the clock. The only way to win the race: Have a plan. At the beginning of the semester, review the syllabus for each class. Figure out the schedule for your various after school activities. Then use a calendar app (or go old-school with an actual calendar) and block out how much time you will need each day to get everything done.

Be flexible with your study plan.
Creating a plan is all well and good. If you’re anything like me, you don’t mind the planning part — it’s the execution part that poses a problem. When I was in high school, I always created an elaborate plan for my time. Within a few weeks, what with one thing and another, I too often found my plan to be unworkable and abandoned it. The key to planning success is flexibility. Maybe one day you’re just exhausted after track practice, so you skip the study time you blocked off, only to find that you then had to fit that study time in someplace else, and now your whole plan is out of whack, and oh, forget it, this plan doesn’t work *crumples up plan and throws it in the trash*. Life happens. Plan around it. If you’re schedule gets thrown off now and then, adjust accordingly — don’t just throw your arms up in frustration and abandon the concept of a plan.

Make time for test prep.
Between the SAT, the ACT, the PSAT, AP exams, and SAT Subject Tests, you’ve got a lot of tests to prep for. That takes time. Time, as we’ve already established, is in limited supply. The absolute worst thing you could do: Fail to plan ahead and find yourself cramming for that AP Chem exam when you have just two weeks until test time. The absolute best thing you could do: Create a testing game plan waaaaaaaaaay ahead of time and fit small chunks of test prep into your regular schedule.

What do I mean by “testing game plan”? Don’t just plan for this year. Plan for years ahead. (Be flexible, of course, but plan anyway.) Figure out which AP classes you want to take each year. Then you’ll know which AP exams you’ll take in May, and you can plan to spend time each week of that year prepping for those exams. Figure out whether you want to take the ACT, the SAT, or both. Then figure out which test dates you might register for. Depending on your current scores (and if you don’t already know where you stand, you should take a practice test to find out) and your score goals, you’ll need anywhere from 6 weeks to a year to prep for the test.

Check out these posts for more help with tests:

Why You Should Take SAT Subject Tests Now
What SAT/ACT Score Do I Need?
Can Your Genes Determine Your SAT Score?
FAQ: Testing

Work on that college list.
It’s never to early to start exploring colleges. The sooner you have some idea of where you want to go, the sooner you know what your ultimate goals should be in terms of grades, course rigor, test scores, and so on. For help exploring colleges and narrowing down the field, check out this post.

Curate your online presence.
Colleges will internet stalk you. It’s a fact of modern life that your online presence is a reflection of yourself. Make sure that reflection is positive. Now is a good time to get into the habit of maintaining a positive online presence because not only will colleges check you out online, but one day, job recruiters and hiring managers will also assess your worth based on your online presence. Check out this post for tips and tricks to creating the best you you can be online.

Final tips and tricks:

Start waking up early about a week before school starts so that you aren’t in shock during first period.

Take the time to clear out your at home study space so that you’re all set to start studying in the new semester. Don’t have a study space? Better create one!

Trouble following through with grand master plans? Create a reward system for yourself. Break goals into small, achievable chunks and reward yourself each time you achieve one of those goals. For example, if you have 2 hours of study time scheduled, break that into 20 minute increments. For each 20 minutes that you actually sit down and focus on your studying, give yourself 5 minutes of internet time. (The keys to making this work are to a) actually study for the entire 20 minutes, and b) actually resist the siren’s call of the internet after 5 minutes so you can get back to studying. I have faith in you. You can do it.)

Read. Something that isn’t a school book. Every day. It doesn’t matter so much what you read as that you read. Whether you want to be an engineer or a literature professor, reading is a fundamental skill that is absolutely necessary to success in ANY field. How do you learn about biology? By reading about it. Chemistry? Reading. History? Reading. You have to be able to read quickly and to comprehend what you’re reading — and that’s a skill that only comes through daily practice.

Write. Something that isn’t a school assignment. Every day. Why? Same reasons for reading — no matter what career path you choose, you’ll have to be able to write well. And that’s another skill that comes only with practice. So whether you keep a journal, start a blog, or write short stories, practice those verbal skills regularly. For more on improving writing skills, check out “Even Science Majors Have to Write”.