Welcome back! A new semester, a new set of classes, and a new set of goals and expectations. But do you have a plan for how to navigate the messy first few weeks of class? Many of the tips featured below are not new, but I wanted to pass them along once again because I know it will save at least a few of you some headaches. No doubt that the energy of the first week will help many of us make it through the uneasy transition to sitting in the classroom, but this checklist should also help organize those pesky new term details. Good luck and remember to soak up the remains of summer while they last!
1. Check your classroom listings: this is imperative to do, especially if you attend a large university or have classes that take place on more than one campus (yes, I always have students at the beginning of each term who make this mistake). It never hurts either to take a dry run finding your listed classrooms ahead of time and even scoping out the most advantageous seats and plug-ins for laptops. It sure beats the frustration and rushing around on the first day of class to make sure you find the place you are supposed to be. Online campus maps are also terrific for pre-planning, so Google your university’s name and map to begin the process.
2. Read over syllabi carefully: A syllabus is like a contract and establishes the mutual expectations for a class between student and professor. One of the first things you want to check immediately is the dates for any midterms and finals. These dates are written in stone and published well in advance, and if you cannot make them because of other plans (and no, a trip to Hawaii or a friend's wedding are not legitimate reasons to miss an exam), consider dropping the class. Remember, deadlines are your responsibility. Also, make sure to check your syllabus before emailing your professor with a question about the course. I cannot tell you how many questions I get each term that are clearly answered in the syllabus. Consider keeping a copy with you or downloaded on your laptop or phone whenever you attend the class.
3. Get your books (eventually): Ask any senior undergraduate or graduate student about purchasing books, and they will no doubt tell you what nobody ever reveals to you in your first year-- wait to buy your books. Yes, I said wait. And although some of you might find it really tough to resist the urge to line up with hundreds of other students and spend hours to buy books during the first week of class (something that always amuses me), you will have the luxury of shopping in relative peace and quiet and perhaps save some money if you do. First, it often helps to wait until after you go to your first class and find out if you need all of the books listed at the bookstore (many times, you don’t and the use of online and open resources are more popular than ever). Another option is to wait and check the titles and prices of the books at the online university bookstore and see if you can find them for better prices elsewhere or if you can purchase an earlier edition (check with the Prof). I have seen students make ridiculous savings buying textbooks on Amazon, Chapters or Abebooks.
4. Check on-line course material: Almost all courses these days have an online component through tools like WebCT or Moodle where professors post links, images, PDFs, readings, class material and provide discussion boards etc... Make sure to check either on your syllabus or through a quick preview of your personal university homepage to see if your course has an online component. Most institutions have a personalized portal which links you directly to any online connection to a class. Make sure to check the online material frequently and take note of any additional information related to assignments and/or exams that are often posted there.
5. Note important dates and deadlines and WRITE THEM IN A CALENDAR: Along with the syllabus, it is important to bookmark or make a copy of your university’s dates and deadlines so that you are clear when add/drop dates, holidays, tuition deadlines, registration deadlines, graduation deadlines, final exams, etc.. etc.. occur. I usually just cut and paste these deadlines directly into my Google calendar and check them periodically to make certain I do not show up to teach a class during reading week or a holiday (it has happened). Also, and I cannot stress this enough, collect and write all of your course assignment, midterm, and final exam deadlines into your online or physical calendar. You may find that you have close deadlines and will have to figure out how to manage your time to make sure you meet the requirements of all your courses. Do not make the rookie mistake of checking your syllabus each week for the deadlines— be proactive and record all of them early in the semester.
6. Double check your registration: The saddest thing is when a student finds an “F” on their transcript at the end of the term because they erroneously remained registered for a class that they “meant” to drop. Be warned, not all universities will listen to your tale of woe, so do yourself a favour and double/triple/quadruple check your registration before the final add/drop deadline to make sure you are not registered for classes other than those you are actually planning to attend and pay for.
7. Purchase school supplies: I admit that this is my favourite thing to do each term. And yes, I was that geek in grade school who was happy in August when the school supplies showed up in the stores! Remember too that you can charge a killing if you are that one student with a mini stapler on the day any paper assignment is due in class.
8. Look into recording your lectures: I encourage students who find it difficult to keep up with note-taking or enjoy having another listen to ideas raised in classroom lectures and discussions to consider taping lectures. Some things to keep in mind—first, make sure to check and see if it is OK with your professor before taping the first time (you need their permission); and second, see if your professor is already having the service done by another source. Some universities provide a lecture taping service and playback for large lecture courses.
9. Make a transportation plan: You might be surprised how easily and affordably you can create a carpool or learn about better ways to get yourself to classes by talking to fellow students and/or checking with your university’s website for resources (many schools help arrange car pooling). Also check your transit provider's website for routing plans or Google Maps-- many of them give alternative (and shorter!) suggestions getting from Point A to B.
10. Pay your tuition: Don’t forget—it is crazy how many students do.