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The Top 5 Back-to-School Tips for College Success

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Back to school tips for college studentsThe summer has just flown by, and school will be back in session before you know it. You may think that what you do in the beginning of the term isn’t that important, but nothing could be further from the truth! A lot of your future success this year will be determined by how you handle the first few weeks of school. Here are five ways to guarantee that this is the start of an A+ semester:

1. Choose your courses carefully.

Some colleges have what’s known as a “shopping period,” in which students can add and drop courses to their hearts’ content. If you have this opportunity, being a smart shopper can set you up for success. In the first week of school, try sitting in on a number of classes that you’re interested in and qualified for. Getting a sense of the workload and the professor’s teaching style for each class will help you make an informed decision when it comes time to finalize your schedule. By choosing the courses that are best for you, you’ll maximize your GPA at the end of the term.

2. Treasure your syllabi.

When you get the syllabi for your classes, don’t just toss them into your backpack and never look at them again. Treat them as your guide to getting an A. As soon as you get them, make a master schedule with all the deadlines and assignments you’ll have for the rest of the term. You can do this by using a regular calendar or day planner, or a more high-tech tool such as Google Calendar or iStudiez Pro—whatever you’re most comfortable with. See when your crunch times are and set alerts for when you have to start key projects. You should also reread your syllabi often, as they may contain the teachers’ expectations, guidelines for writing papers, clues about exams, and other tips that will come in handy throughout the semester.

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3. Start studying as soon as possible.

Lots of students view the beginning of the semester as an opportunity for slacking off. There isn’t much homework yet, the first test seems far away, and they’re still in a post-summer haze. But this is actually the perfect time to get a leg up on your studies. Keep up with all your assignments and, if possible, read ahead. The more you get done now, the easier it’ll be to keep your head above water when the work starts pouring in.

4. Make connections from day one.

The first day of class can be pretty nerve-wracking, but it’s also the best time to forge new relationships. Everyone is in the same boat, and students haven’t yet pigeonholed themselves into groups or cliques. It’s easy to make friends in the beginning of the year: just lean over and introduce yourself; the other person will probably be happy you’ve broken the ice. Having people you can depend on in class is important for a number of reasons. When you’re absent, you can get class assignments and notes that you missed. You can study for tests together—explaining a concept to somebody else is one of the best ways to learn. And of course, having a friend in the seat next to you makes going to class much more enjoyable!

5. Establish healthy habits.

This is the perfect time to develop smart strategies for sleep, diet, and exercise. If you forge these habits now, before you get distracted by tests and assignments, you’ll be more likely to stick with them in the long run. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night, and keep a regular bedtime even on the weekends. Set up a schedule for exercising at least three times a week. And get in the habit of eating well, not skipping meals, and packing healthy snacks to eat on campus. Remember: your brain can’t function at full capacity unless you treat your body right!

The path to your degree will have its ups and downs.

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Stefanie Weisman became the valedictorian of Stuyvesant High School in 1999 and went on to study history at Columbia University. She was awarded the Albert Asher Green Prize for having the highest GPA in her class. After working for several years in corporate America, she got her M.A. in the history of art and archaeology. She was a Craig Hugh Smyth fellow at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. Around this time, Weisman developed an interest in technology and returned to Columbia to get a B.S. in computer science.

Weisman is the author of The Secrets of Top Students.