The wait is almost over. In just seven days, your first semester of college will begin. Before you sit down in that first class, here are fifteen must-dos to guarantee you the best possible semester:
1. Figure out where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Your college experience will be off to a bad start if you discover on the first day that there are no spaces left in Lot 32 or that the bus doesn’t stop at where you thought it did. Always have a Plan A and a Plan B in regards to transportation. And while you’re at it, figure out where your classes are going to meet. You wouldn’t want to show up at 411 Old Main, only to find the class is at 411 New Main.
2. Figure out where you’re going to eat. Are you going to be taking lunch to classes, hitting up the dining hall, or going back to your dorm or apartment to eat? And what about Sunday nights, when (for who knows what reason) the food service in the dorms is closed? Hey, you can’t do this college thing without proper nourishment.
3. Plan an exercise routine. Colleges invest gazillions of dollars in world-class exercise facilities. Go over to one of them, pick up a barbell, and imagine yourself doing this three times a week. (At least you’ll have a sound body in which to preserve your, we hope, sound mind.)
4. Get some proper beverage equipment. Almost every lecture or discussion section will go better with a piping hot caffeinated drink. So hoof on over to the local superstore or coffee bistro and buy the biggest spill-proof stainless steel thermos you can find. Even if the lectures are not so hot, at least you’ll be awake and not spilling coffee on the legs of your pants (or worse). (Non-coffee-drinkers should consider
tea, vitamin water, or whatever your favorite non-caffeinated beverage is.)
5. Buy the tomes. Get the list of required textbooks from either your college bookstore or online course page. Then check out prices at both brick-and-mortar bookstores and online sites (including marketplace and book-renting sites).
5-Star Tip: For all book modalities (print, e-, and rentals), check out the aggregators (sometimes called meta-sites): These are websites that compare the prices of many other bookselling websites. Two we especially like are cheapesttextbooks.com and bigwords.com (others include bestpricebooks.com, campusbooks.com, textbooks.com, and, for rentals, textbookrentals.com).
Best-Kept Secret: Many “classic” books are available for free on the web, thanks to Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org. See if your book is one of them.
6. Start calendaring. Get a good electronic or print calendar and start entering your time commitments right away: when your classes meet, when you plan to study, what the assignments are, and when they’re due. Some e-calendars we like are Google Calendar, iStudiez, AirSet, 30 Boxes, and iCal (for Mac). Of course, if you have an iPad or iPhone, do your calendaring there.
7. Get some apps. If you’re one of the 100 million or so people worldwide who owns an iPhone, you’ll want to get some apps especially tailored to college. Some we like include:
• iStudiez Pro (organizing your schedule)
• Pocket Lists (to-do lists)
• Evernote (note taking)
• Wikipanion (Wikipedia)
• Mental Case and Flashcards++ (flashcards)
• Chegg (study help)
• Graphing Calculator (just like the
handheld model, and includes screenshots)
• The Chemical Touch (periodic table)
• Instapaper (stores web pages)
• iTranslator (translations for your language courses)
• Dictionary.com (lots of words you don’t know)
• Blackboard Learn (hooks up with your school’s course management and grade reporting system)
• My GPA Calculator (includes “what if” scenarios so you can fantasize about getting an A in that killer statistics course)
8. Get the word. You’ll need a password to access the university portal (which is where you’ll find course web pages, library e-resources, your enrollment status and grades, and online registration in semesters to come). Get it now if you can; if not, take the time to think of a secure password. Also take advantage of your free university e-mail account: Professors will be happier getting papers from firstname.lastname@example.org than from email@example.com.
9. Visit the books—including the electronic ones. Make your way over to the library and see where the books and journals are shelved. And while you’re at it, look at the electronic resources at your library’s home page. See how the databases and e-resources are organized (many college web portals have very useful “top 10 lists”) and imagine yourself actually using them. With any luck, you will.
10. Scout out the services. When you have some extra time, take a self-guided campus tour and check out the various “offices:” advising center; writing center; math and computer labs; tutoring center; and centers for nontraditional students, first-generation students, international students, single parents, and veterans. Hey, who knows, you might actually want to use one someday!
11. Find yourself a cave. You won’t want to spend much time during the semester trying, then retrying, all kinds of study places. Figure out where you think you’ll study best, then christen this place as your study spot. Maybe it’s a lounge in your dorm, a secluded corner of the library, or even your own desk.
12. Rein in the folks. Set some limits on your parents, especially if your dad—or mom—is the type who’ll be texting you the two hours a day that he or she isn’t calling you.
13. Meet the prof. For the really bold, there’s the visit to the professor’s office to find out a little more about the course and distinguish yourself from the nameless masses. Don’t be put off, though, if the professor is too busy to visit with you (he or she might be rushing to polish up the syllabus or figure out what to say in the first week of lectures).
14. Go clubbing. While you still have some free time, it’s nice to see what kinds of student clubs and teams your college has to offer. And even if you don’t want to join in on the fun, the look-see will give you a better feel for what’s going on at the school and what the students are like.
15. Take a breath. Fifteen weeks—or one semester—is a long haul. Don’t get wound up too quickly. There’ll be plenty of time for panic once the semester sets in!
By Dr. Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, coauthors of The Secrets of College Success: Over 800 Tips, Techniques, and Strategies Revealed, 2nd Edition • www.professorsguide.com.