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Back to College 101: Be a College Connoisseur!

Well, it’s that time of year again.

Though it feels like we just duct taped that last box full of sorority decor and bed spreads to hold in storage for the summer, we now find ourselves zipping up those overpacked suitcases and stocking up on Keurig coffee pods for the semester. If you’re anything like me, right now you’re already worrying about your classes for the term and attempting to squeeze just one more commitment into your planner. Fret not, my fellow perfectionists, because I am here to share with you some of my favorite back-to-college organizational and mental tips to prepare for a flawless dive into a great semester together.

First, let’s talk supplies. In high school, I was a huge proponent of having a million and one notebooks, as well as folders, a binder, and some years even an accordion-style organizer at home. While this works for some, I’ve found that the “more the merrier” style isn’t necessarily true in college. Instead, my current backpack consists of just one 5-subject notebook with inserted tabs/folders to keep my syllabi and loose papers in, one folder for binder paper, my planner, and my laptop. Throw some colored pens, highlighters, and a couple pencils in the front pouch and you’ve got a complete, concise, and easy-on-the-back sack. Of course certain classes may require specific materials, but the point is that often, less is more. You already have enough to mentally manage, so keeping your notes and ideas in just one place really helps keep your notes, thoughts, and plans in order. I also keep just one binder back in my room in case I have loose papers that I want to organize and keep out of my backpack, but in actuality I rarely need it. This notebook is the one I just purchased for this semester; give the one-notebook trend a try!

So, it’s finally the first day of class and the syllabi are piling up; you’re overwhelmed with varying grading scales, books to buy, project deadlines, and exam dates. Don’t let your brain boggle yet people, because with a little preparation, you too can quickly be ready to tackle those syllabus-scaries. I don’t know about you, but “syllabus week” is a loose term for me; every semester, I find that my classes jump headfirst into lecture and reading assignments by about the second meeting. So, take advantage of those first few days! My advice for you is to utilize that syllabus throughout the semester to truly stay on top of dates and ease yourself mentally by knowing that you’re not forgetting anything. This will also help you know what you will be learning in class each time you meet, and what your workload will look like for that week. I’m not the type of gal who likes a surprise quiz or book report that I forgot was coming up, so by reviewing the class calendar each week and highlighting the days as they go by on each syllabus, I can easily stay on top of what we’re learning and manage my time efficiently. After the first day(s), go through each of your syllabi class by class, and write down important dates and deadlines into your planner and highlight them on your syllabus. You will feel so much more organized and prepared, and it removes a great deal of stress knowing what’s coming up and which weeks will be busier than others.

That brings me to my favorite point- USE A PLANNER! I’m serious people, it makes all the difference. I am a huge proponent of Erin Condren planners; they’re personalized, bright, easy to use, and come with adorable stickers. I write just about everything down from to-do lists to homework and deadlines, and even reminders to call home! I also use different pen colors to differentiate different topics; for example, I write school-related tasks in blue, sorority events in pink, and general thoughts or life-tasks (such as laundry or shopping lists) in purple. My favorite part of using my planner is sprucing it up with fun washi tape and stickers- it gives me a little smile each day flipping open to my monthly-themed decals!

P.S. Check out Erin Condren products here, I promise you won’t be disappointed:

Let’s not forget about our credit cards’ favorite time of the year- book buying! Look, usually you just have to bite the bullet (and it’s okay to shed a tear or two while you’re at it). However, I strongly advise you to utilize other sources other than the bookstore to compare prices and divide and conquer your book buying/renting. This year, I ordered two of my books used from Amazon Prime, and chances are I’ll be able to sell these back to the bookstore or an outside source and get some cash back for them. My other books I did purchase from the bookstore, but I compared the rental vs. buying prices! If the prices are very similar, I recommend just buying them and then selling them back to get at least some of that cash back. Oftentimes I just rent because it’s usually significantly cheaper, and with buying, there is no guarantee on how much money you’ll actually get back for them. Again, this is probably mine and my bank account’s least favorite part of the semester, but hey, we’re all in this book struggle together!!

Now, in college it is absolutely CRUCIAL to figure out your ideal note-taking method. The biggest obstacle that I’ve experienced here is the technological vs. hand-written debate; while there really is no right or wrong way to take notes, I strongly advise using a method that maximizes your efficiency. What does this look like? Well, for me it’s actually different from class to class, and that’s totally okay. At the beginning of the semester, figure out how your professor will be lecturing, and ask if you’re unsure of their technology policy! My favorite method is downloading the lecture PowerPoints before class, then reading through them and typing up questions and notes directly onto the slides that I can ask later. During the lecture, taking notes directly onto the slide makes life SO much easier and your study time more efficient. For example:
1. Your professor’s notes are already in front of you! No more frantically jotting down what’s already written on the slide and figuring out what you should and shouldn’t write down. Now, you can just take notes on what your professor SAYS
2. When you’re studying later, having notes on each slide will trigger what your professor talked about during that slide
3. You maximize your learning by actually LISTENING instead of READING during class! I promise this will make learning in class way more enjoyable as well!

Of course, not every class or professor uploads their slides, but it’s always a great idea to communicate with your professor on how you learn best and asking for tips on how to best succeed in their class. All in all, speak up for yourself! It can only help to create a mutually beneficial relationship for both you and your professor.

Well friends, let’s make it a great semester! The more you view your education as an amazing blessing and privilege, the more you’ll appreciate learning and thus maximize your motivation and effort. As a result, you will see yourself grow mentally and academically through positive reflections in your attitude and even grades. Always, always, always remind yourself of your successes thus far and your aspirations for the future when your mind starts to get sucked into the whirlwind of books and papers. You’ve done this before and you can do it again, this time with a fresh mindset and perspective on the great opportunities your education can bring you! Well, I know I’m ready for a fresh start and great semester, who’s with me!?
Amy C
Enthusiastic A&P & Spanish Tutor
Texas Christian University
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