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Starting the New Semester Off Right

Here’s how you can set yourself up for success!

Ensure an awesome beginning to the spring semester with five tips, and free tools from Fastweb's student contributor.
Starting the New Semester Off Right
The end of a semester can mean a lot of things. It can provide relief that you are one step closer to earning your diploma, or it can be bittersweet because you are closer to the end of a treasured time in your life. No matter where you are in your academic career, here are my top five tips to starting the new semester off right.
  1. Take Time to Organize.
  2. My concentration is at its best when my study space is organized. I’ve noticed that when my desk is scattered with papers for multiple different classes, the efficiency of my studying is compromised. For instance, I sometimes sit down to take notes for my Government and Politics class but instead start thinking about how to solve kinematic equations for Physics. If you catch yourself doing this too, implementing some of the following organizational techniques may help. Over the course of a semester, students accumulate a lot of material, whether it be in the form of hard copy worksheets or digital documents in Google Drive. While some of this material is important and could help students review for finals and standardized exams later on, the vast majority of it probably serves no purpose once the semester is over. So, at the end of each semester, I have created a habit of recycling and getting rid of all the papers and documents I no longer need.

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    For the documents I decide to keep, I organize them according to class and unit. I have a massive four inch binder with tab dividers to store all my important tangible documents. The tabs help categorize the documents by class and make it easier to locate them later on. I also work a lot on my laptop, so having my Google Drive organized is key to staying sane. For the past four years of high school, I have created one folder for each academic year. Within these folders, I have a subfolder for each class I took that year. For some classes, I have additional subfolders for each unit the course covered. These folders (and subfolders) help me organize the hundreds of Google documents, slide shows, and spreadsheets that I work on every semester. While I live by these organizational techniques, they may not work for everyone. Some students can place all of their papers, textbooks, and material for all of their classes into one standard pile and call it a day. Some people are like me and prefer organizing things by category, like having a binder and Google Drive folder for each class they are taking in a semester.

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    A select few have mastered the art of color coding, and dedicate a different color for each of their academic and extracurricular commitments. Whatever your level of crazy is, taking the time to get yourself organized before a new semester is a great idea.
  3. Join New Clubs!
  4. I have noticed recruiting upperclassmen into clubs at school is a lot harder than convincing freshmen and sophomores to join. I think this stems from students thinking that they are too far into their high school careers to experiment and try something new.

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    But to be clear, no matter what stage you are in in your academic career, it is never too late to join new clubs. If you really love your science and math classes, consider joining a STEM related club to further explore your interests. If, on the other hand, you enjoy all of your classes the same amount or one particular interest does not stick out, joining a new club may help you hone your passions and find new interests. For instance, my passion for policy reform developed primarily through competing in Congressional Debate. No class at my school offered the opportunity to explore current issues as profoundly as debate did. While my history classes sometimes came close when discussing the kind of policy that was previously executed by past presidents, they were still no match to the excitement that debate provided. All in all, no matter how much of high school you have completed, extracurriculars are a great way to explore your interests when your classes don’t allow for much flexibility to explore.
  5. Know Your Resources.
  6. When I am stressed out, I have a tendency to block everything out due to an unrealistic expectation to tackle every task by myself. But over the years, I have learned to ask for help when I need it. On subjects you struggle with, try to collaborate with friends and classmates as much as you can, even on things like homework assignments that don’t directly contribute to your overall class grade. Remember that collaboration is NOT about coping off of your classmates. Instead, it is about learning the material together and bouncing ideas off each other. Your teachers are another great resource! Teachers appreciate the students who show up for extra help after school or schedule one-on-one meetings to talk about course material. Keep in mind that teachers are people who are so passionate about a subject that they decided to dedicate their entire career to exploring it further; in most cases, they will be overjoyed to talk about the subject with you. Aside from your classmates and teachers, you can also consider reaching out to a committed tutor. You can schedule a meeting with your tutor as frequently as you wish, whether it be once every two weeks or every other day. Meeting with a tutor on a regular basis will keep the topics you learned in class fresh in your mind and will give you an opportunity to get your questions answered as soon as they come up. As long as you are willing to put in the time and effort to succeed, nothing can stop you!
  7. Experiment With Study Strategies.
  8. The beginning of a semester is a great time to experiment with new time management and study skills. If you struggle with studying efficiently, consider implementing some of the following: • Split up large tasks into smaller modules. I procrastinate most when I feel overwhelmed. It’s as if my to-do list is so long that I have no hopes of ever completing it. If you feel the same way, write individual to-do lists each day that break down the tasks on your overarching list of goals. This will make things more manageable and will give you a clear schedule that you can stick to. The same thing applies for large projects that you work on throughout a semester. While the whole thing may be daunting at first, once you break the project down into smaller chunks, and set your own deadlines for each part, it will be much easier to get started and avoid procrastinating. • If you plan on studying the entire day, try to switch locations every once in a while. I tend to be more easily distracted if I sit in the same place for too long. So, I like to switch my study spot within the house every hour or two. If I am working on my laptop, I sometimes sit on the living room couch and listen to music to block out some of the noise. If I need a quieter place to focus and take notes, I’ll go back to the desk in my room. If I have been working for a long time, I’ll allow myself to sit in bed and finish up my final assignments for the day. • Use the Pomodoro Technique! When using this technique, you repeat the cycle of working for twenty-five minutes and then taking a five-minute break. This will help you maximize your focus since you are not forcing yourself to study for hours and hours without a break. Try it out! • Use organizational tools like Todoist and Trello to organize your tasks and deadlines. We have far too much going on with classes, extracurricular activities, and social events to remember things without first writing them down. While I sometimes prefer writing my tasks and events down on paper, when my schedule is more likely to change, it is useful to use online tools like Todoist and Trello since it is easier to edit. Though both platforms have premium versions, the free versions work great too!
  9. Update Your Fastweb Profile.
  10. Last but not the least, at the end of each semester, make sure to update your Fastweb profile with any new GPAs and activities. Having an updated Fastweb profile will help you find scholarships that are aligned with your strengths and interests! The more accurate your Fastweb profile is, the easier and more straightforward it will be to find scholarships. You will thank yourself later!

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