5 Ways to Stay Sharp for Fall Semester

After slaving over endless tests, papers and projects, it’s good to reward yourself with beach trips and binge watching Orange Is the New Black or re-watching Gossip Girl (for the 10th time). But take the laziness level too far and you’ll be walking into class in September looking more like Crazy Eyes and less like the sophisticated, intelligent collegiette you really are. If you’re looking to sharpen your mind this summer and make sure that you enter class ready to learn, check out HC’s tips to keep your noggin in tip-top shape over the summer.

1. Cuddle up with a book


It’s easy to forget that you have time to read for pleasure. Gone are the days of reading that organic chem textbook that left you longing for your bed while you were pulling an all-nighter. You now have the time to pick up any book that piques your interest and read it at your leisure. Unleash your inner bookworm!

“With so much more downtime in the summer, it's the perfect opportunity to lose yourself in several books, and reading is an awesome way to expand your vocabulary, boost your creativity and keep your mind thinking,” says Sarah Desiderio, a junior at Penn State majoring in journalism. “Watching Netflix is essentially mindless, so reading allows your brain to actually be put to use and learn about different things. Plus, it’s super relaxing and the perfect laying-out pastime.”

Reading for pleasure can improve writing ability, text comprehension, grammar, vocabulary and confidence in reading abilities. Who wouldn’t want to read a good story while gaining all these classroom advantages?

Turn your backyard into your library and read in a pool float or a beach chair on the grass (check out waterproof cases like Lifeproof to protect your iPad from the treacherous pool water). It’s a million times better than your late-night study sessions slumped over a desk, and it’ll help you look relaxed and tan by the time you head back to campus (always remember the sunscreen, ladies!).

For some more fun, see which hot books are being adapted into movies next year so you can read an awesome book and have plans with your girlfriends to see the film when school rolls around. A good story and guaranteed girls’ night out plans? Sounds good to us! Just like you rushed to read The Fault in Our Stars, you need to read Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, The Girl on The Train and The Light Between Oceans, to be ready for all the new film adaptions on the horizon.

2. Learn a new language


If you have an itch to travel and you’re realizing that a lot of what you learned in your high-school language class has slipped away, pick up your phone and learn something new. Free apps can walk you through the basics of common languages and help you regain some of what you may have lost since high school.

“I love languages, so I love trying out new languages over the summer,” says Brooke Robbins, a sophomore at Columbia University. “It's a useful life skill and keeps my mind sharp.”

Duolingo is a free app that can be downloaded for iOS and Android that lets you play games as it gives you what it defines as a “college-quality” language education. You can improve your existing skills or learn new languages (Duolingo offers Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese for English speakers). “It makes language-learning a type of game, and is actually pretty effective!” Brooke says.

Whether you’re picking up some new phrases for fun or for a dream vacay down the road, learning a new language is the perfect way to keep your mind active and walk into class in the fall already having learned something new.

3. Play mind games


No, we’re not telling you to mess around with your boyfriend’s head. Playing fun word games is a great way to exercise your mind and have some friendly competition with your friends and family at the same time.

“My family is big on word games, like BOGGLE, which we play a lot when I'm home over the summer,” says Shira Kipnees, a senior at Franklin & Marshall College. “Since we're all very word-oriented people, it can be fun and it definitely teaches me a lot of new words and helps keep my brain sharp. Oftentimes we may institute certain rules (e.g., words must be four letters or more), which can make it more challenging.”

More old-school activities, like crossword puzzles and Sudoku, can be stimulating for the mind and are great time-fillers if you’re on the go commuting to a summer internship or on a summer road trip.

“I do a lot of free crossword puzzles (or get the crossword puzzles that are known to be hard, like from The New York Times) and see how much I can solve,” Shira says. “I'll also do them with my parents so that we can fill in what the others don't know and also keep our minds sharp. It's easier to do the puzzles when I'm home during the summer because they are great to do when you're commuting each day to work.”

Katie Piscopio, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, agrees. “I like to do a lot of Sudoku during the summer,” she says. “I usually buy a puzzle book from the bookstore and do it every night before bed. It's supposed to be beneficial for memory and the brain, and I just find it fun to do!”

Games like Boggle and crossword puzzles are proven to help keep your mind at the top of its game. Games can boost your vocabulary, your memory and your problem-solving skills. With that said, get playing!

4. Get back to the basics


Remember in elementary school when you got little rewards for being a good listener, memorizing an important fact or using your reading comprehension skills? You may be an old collegiette now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a refresher on those skills!

Brush up on your long-lost lessons with apps like Elevate, which are designed to help you regain the most basic skills needed in the classroom. Elevate is free from the App Store and Google Play and calls itself a “personal brain trainer” that lets you picks the skills you want to work on and gives you a personalized program to get better. Lumosity works similarly. You can use it on a desktop or for free from the App Store and Google Play and get started on scientifically designed games that challenge you on skills you select. These apps put the “fun” in fundamentals, as they’re both game-based!

5. Unplug for the day


On top of using cool apps to reenergize your brain, Claudia Dimuro, a senior at New York University, recommends doing something outlandish to most college women – unplugging from technology.

Sometimes you need “technology-free time where you abstain from using your phone or computer in order to build up your focus elsewhere,” Claudia says.

Taking a break from the constant onslaught of screens and social media, even just for a day, can help you unwind and have some much needed “me time” before the chaos of the semester starts up again.


Summer is the time for relaxing and Netflix bingeing, but don’t forget that class will start before you know it. Make the adjustment back into the classroom easier on yourself and start prepping your mind now for your return into the collegiette swing of things.