Back to School Tips
By Dominick A. Fortugno, Ph.D., Chair/Director of Undergraduate Studies, Touro College School of Health Sciences, Bay Shore, New York
One of the main challenges students face when entering college is personal organization. They've been tightly managed their entire academic lives, so the newfound independence leads many to neglect schedules, submit assignments late, and otherwise sabotage their freshman year GPAs. In that vein, here are my ten tips for getting organized before you start college:
- Get a calendar app... Every mobile OS has a native calendar, and there are some excellent third-party apps out there such as Sunrise and Any.Do's Cal. Not a tech fan? Then go with a simple paper day planner. Your academic and social calendar is about to explode, so if you haven't been using a calendar, now's the time to start.
- ...and get into the habit of using it. The number one reason calendars and planners fail is because people wait too long and forget to enter appointments. Get into the habit of entering dates and deadlines immediately, so you never have to ask yourself if there was an important assignment or meeting you forgot to put on your planner.
- To-Do for you. To-Do lists are a great compliment to calendars. Whether you use Trello, Wunderlist, or paper Post-It notes, lists can help you break down seemingly enormous projects into manageable steps. Prioritize items that are due sooner on your calendar, and consider tabling less immediate tasks for later in the week.
- Link your student email address to your phone. Universities are not going to communicate with you via social media, so you need to get into the habit of checking your student email address on a constant basis. Registrar, bursar, and other issues are going to be communicated via your official student account, and missing or ignoring these problems can delay registration and get you locked out of classes you need to graduate on time.
- Schedule time for assignments. Many students record assignment deadlines, but don't pay attention to the time needed to complete them. Most of your high school homework was created so it could be completed in a few days to a week. College assignments can take weeks or even months to complete, so cramming will shift from dangerous to impossible. Schedule a few hours each week to work on big assignments.
- Budget! You're going to be more responsible than ever for your finances, and good budgeting will make the difference between a nice end-of-semester cushion and a finals week of Ramen noodles and cold coffee. There are some great apps for tracking expenses such as Mint and Pocketguard, and many link directly to your account so you can track how much money you'll have at year's end long before you have to make an embarrassing call home.
- Get as much contact info as possible. The first few months at a new college can be incredibly isolating. Fortunately, everyone is in the same boat, and people are eager to make new acquaintances. Go to student activity fairs and other events, and when you meet people, take down their information using your phone address book or a contact manger like FullContact or Contacts+. Include a note or two about where you met the person and what you spoke about in case you need them later on. This is great practice for future professional networking!
- Don't take on too much. Time is like money--there's a limited amount and when it's spent, good luck finding more. Sign on for one extracurricular to start, and then ramp up or down as needed. When you start losing sleep, that's life's way of saying you're either mismanaging your time, or you've overextended yourself.
- Get into a routine. It may sound boring, but the easiest way to incorporate recurring responsibilities is to assign each a specific day and time. Make it a rule to call your parents every Wednesday night or vacuum every Sunday when you wake up at 2:00 PM. After a few weeks, you'll naturally autopilot your way to a rhythm, and others will know that you're typically busy at those times.
- Read up. Your college is going to give you a copy of the student handbook. Read it. A book of policies and procedures may not seem the ideal way to start to your vibrant collegiate experience, but the information therein may save your academic keester. How long do you have to appeal a course grade? How many weeks in can you drop a course without taking a grade of F? Who do you go to if there's a conflict with a professor? Colleges often have different procedures for each one of these, and knowing who to go to can save you time and money.