New Semester Checklist

By now, we’ve all made it back to Zoo Town after that near-eternal winter break, and we’ve finished the first two weeks of classes. We’ve (hopefully) gotten our schedules sorted out, and are buckling down to ensure we survive and thrive during the next thirteen weeks. According to Punxsutawney Phil, spring will be arriving early this year, and the Missoula weather as of late seems to agree. But before spring fever hits and wreaks havoc on your GPA, take some time to review this checklist and build up your academic immune system so that you can avoid the symptoms that fever brings with it.  

  1. Check: Your Limits. Having made it through the first two weeks of classes, you’ve passed the deadline to add a class without an override slip (a deadline that falls on the seventh instructional day every semester), but if you want to drop a class on Cyberbear without needing any paperwork, you still have until the 15th instructional day to do so (which falls on this Friday, February 15th). If you feel like a class is going to be too much this semester, feel free to drop it without any hassle. Conversely, maybe your semester is looking like it’s going to be a piece of cake and you want to bite off a bit more to chew. Consider joining a student organization, picking up a part-time job, or volunteering. You can find out about job opportunities through the UM Student Employment website, and discover ways to volunteer through the Office for Civic Engagement, located in the basement of the Davidson Honors College.
  1. Check: Your Schedule. You’ve heard from me before on the importance of time management, and it bears repeating that keeping all the craziness of college in order depends a lot on being able to schedule. If you’re having difficulties not scheduling appointments, meetings, or lunch dates in conflict with all your new classes, print a copy of your class schedule out via Academic Planner and keep it handy until you have it memorized. Additionally, it can be helpful to write out your all of your professors’ office hours and office locations for the semester, and post this list near your desk, or somewhere else you can see it easily and often. That way, if you have questions for a professor or need help on an assignment, you don’t have to go digging for a syllabus just to find out when and where you should stop by.
  1. Check: Your People. Every semester brings with it the opportunities to develop new friendships, but this can also mean not getting to spend time with people you were close to last semester. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but we all know that we only have so much time on our hands. Maintaining friendships that are important to us requires intention. Take some time to think about which relationships are meaningful to you, and then make time in your schedule to cultivate those relationships. Maybe it’s setting up a regular weekly coffee date with one or two people, or planning a couple movie nights each month with a group. You shouldn’t try to be close with everyone on your Facebook feed (probably impossible anyway), but make time for the people who are important to you.
  1. Check: Your Attitude. I have some news: Not every day of every class will be mind-blowingly fascinating, and not every assignment and exam will leave you soaring with confidence. This does not mean that you are having a bad semester, or that your time in class has no relevance to your long-term plans. On the contrary, this means that college bears significant resemblance to most career arenas; at some point in your life, you will probably have to sit through a meeting that bores you, and you will probably have to work on a project that you don’t think fully utilizes your talents. Welcome to life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to love the work you do, or that your life (this semester and beyond) has to be characterized by monotony. I’ll spare you a spiel on the importance of positive thinking, but try to keep in mind that you are on your way to joining the less-than-7% of the world population that has a college degree, that your professors actually do desire your success, and that you live in Missoula—I mean, those three factors alone ought to be enough to brighten even the darkest of February days.
  1. Check: The Bigger Picture. In keeping with #4, try to remember that this semester is one reasonably short chapter in the story of your life. Yes, you may take classes that change your perspective on everything, and you may meet people who help on your way to becoming whom you want to be. You may even “find yourself,” whatever that means—it often seems to me that when students say this, what they really mean is that they’ve decided on a major, which is admittedly an awesome step in the right direction. Just try to keep in mind that no single grade on an exam or in a class defines whom you are, and don’t lose sight of life-after-this-semester. Instead of just talking to professors and advisers about this semester’s classes, talk about what you might like to do with your degree, and explore options that you’ll want to have when you’re finished here. It’s never too early to start planning for life after college.

New semesters are full of new opportunities, new friendships, and new challenges—be excited. But also be careful not to overdo it, and when you start to question all that you are and all that you’re doing here, take a second to make sure it isn’t the week of midterms—such questions during that week are a common symptom of study procrastination, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Chances are good that you have what it takes to survive this semester and look fabulous doing it. Stay classy, ladies.