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Answers to Your College Questions

How to Start Your Second Semester at College on the Right Foot

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how to succeed in college: starting second semester off rightAs you prepare to start the new term, you may be a bit nervous. You may be basking in the glow of a great last semester, or you may be filled with resolutions to do things differently and better. After all, it is the New Year.

As you begin to receive your syllabi, there are a few things you can do to ensure this semester is the best one yet. Remember to save each syllabus, and use it to accomplish the following:

Access your reading materials and study them prior to your class sessions.

You may have learned the hard way that not getting your reading done ahead of time does not pay off well. So this time around, start off your semester by having the books you need. You can cut costs by renting textbooks, using ebooks, borrowing from the library, or buying secondhand.

After you’ve obtained your materials, establish a plan to keep up with your readings throughout the semester. Ideally your instructors will not simply recite your readings in class, but will comment on and discuss the texts that have been assigned. They will ask questions with the assumption that you have done the reading and—if class participation is required—call on you for your input. You don’t want to be called on and not have anything to add to the conversation. You must also keep in mind that exams will include references to the readings, in addition to the lectures and discussions.


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Fill your calendar or planner.

You must have at least one if not both to organize your time as you are getting ready for the semester. Time management is one of the toughest things that students face, and it is a key life skill.

Planning is not simply recording when you have a dinner date or a paper due. You must look ahead to see, for example, when you have deadlines for tasks that require work for long stretches of time, such as writing a paper or reading for an assignment. Then insert blocks of time into your schedule in which you will work on these tasks—preferably a couple weeks in advance. Set a goal for a first draft and put that on your calendar. Make a date to show the draft to your professor. You not only impress your teacher, but also keep yourself from procrastinating.

You have learned something about yourself and how much time it takes you to do certain assignments. Use that knowledge this semester.

Identify when and where you can find your professor.

You want to get to know your professors so they can be helpful to you. You may have already had some of them from a previous course—that is great! You already know them and they know you. If this is the case, build on that relationship.

Faculty members enjoy interacting with interested students and helping those who may be struggling to get better. Visit them during office hours. You’ll find that the students who do the best in class also have the best relationships with their professors.

Find out how grades are structured.

Your grades could be determined by a variety of elements. There may be quizzes, papers, exams, projects, or class participation. If class participation is 20 percent of the grade, then sitting silently in class will cost you a lot of points unnecessarily. See where you are going to have to apply the most effort to get the grades you want. If you know you will need help in these areas, schedule time at the tutoring or writing centers in advance. Sometimes they are first-come/first-served, so making an appointment will help you a great deal.

By doing all these things at the beginning of the semester, you can ensure good results in the end. Good luck!


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Dr. Marcia Y. Cantarella has held positions at Hunter College, Princeton University, New York University, and Metropolitan College of New York during her distinguished career as a dean and vice president of student affairs. Through her expertise in delivering student services and strategies, she has enhanced the academic experiences of and outcomes for generations of students. She is now president of Cantarella Consulting in New York City where she works with colleges and organizations on issues of higher education pipelines, access, diversity, and student access.


Cantarella is the author of I Can Finish College, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.

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