5 Helpful Steps to Prepare for A New Academic Year or Semester

student preparing well for a new semester

I have taken a gap longer than usual in putting out a new post for The Vigilant Mind. With the winter break, a busy semester closing, and tons of replanning to do, a post was difficult. But I’m back, with a new year, a new semester, and new plans.

I still have more to think, and more to plan, but I thought it might be wise to share some of these plans with you that I’m confident about, that can help you as well.

These 5 excellent tips are about preparing for a new semester or year at school or university. Continue reading to find out how I set the ball rolling with good momentum, and how you can too!

Assess Your Responsibilities Thoroughly

As a student, you will have many things to do. From academics, to extracurricular aspirations, to student jobs and internships, and obviously, managing your social and family life, and taking care of yourself. Some students have different priorities and workload. Yet, we all have the same number of hours in a day. This is a reality we cannot outrun. Hence, it is important to account for it and make sure you are not taking up too many things that you do not have enough time for, or worse, that make you compromise on your health and mental health unreasonably.

Identify your goals and aspirations and prioritize accordingly. If you have to say “no” to things or even discontinue some activities to do justice to other things that you have or accommodate for new interests, don’t feel afraid to do so. It is a good habit to develop, and I’ve learned this the hard way.

Having a general idea of what you can expect in your semester or year ahead will help you pick and choose from options and give due time to different things. It will also help in the next few steps of this article that will ultimately help you create productivity, good health, and balance.

Dive Deeper… Map Your TImeline or Calendar

Assessing your responsibilities is only step one. It is far from what will actually help you create a successful semester/year. You know how sometimes when you think of all the responsibilities you have and all the tasks you need to get done, you feel panic, stress, and feel as though you don’t have enough time for anything? That’s a feeling you may have likely encountered in the previous step, or can generally relate to.

It’s important to know that that feeling is often a psychological exaggeration. Sometimes, it’s a sign that you need to take up less than you can handle. But even then, a great deal of the gap between what you need to get done and what you can get done can be bridged by dissecting those thoughts. Do you plan to multitask and finish all of them at once? Do you need to? The answer to both questions is probably a no (I’m concerned if you said ‘yes’), so let’s get realistic.

  1. Create a calendar of due dates or estimated due dates
  2. Feel free to use a list or any other means to list your dates and tasks, but make sure you are listing them.
Notion calendar academic planning
My Notion Calendar Snippet

Three good reasons to list your tasks/dissect the big thought(s): (1) you can focus on them one by one instead of stressing yourself out by thinking of all at once. (2) You can prioritize by importance and urgency and get things done more calmly. (3) Research suggests that people who write down their goals are far more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. So why not extend this to short-term goals (tasks!), too?

Reflect and Think

It’s okay to just go with the flow when you know what you’re doing. But, always? Only dead fish always go with the flow. An important foundation to set before starting a new semester/year is to think about what you want in that semester, why, and how you are going to achieve it.

It may sound cliche, or boring, but it is an important antidote to the crisis of demotivation that may hit anytime or multiple times. What better way to get back to work and stay focused than to remember your aspirations and fear what happens if you don’t stay focused? It’s even better when you attach these purposes and your goals to who you are as a person, your values, and your missions in life (btw, these missions can be short term, they don’t have to be elaborate 10 year plans. You can have a goal that is to “be focused and find my passion better” for 1 year instead of “landing a big job in a big company in some role in t years).

It’s easier and more sustainable to stay committed and perform well when your motivations connect to reasons that are personal to you and definitive of you instead of external locus of control such as “making xyz happy” or “society wants this” or anything that doesn’t connect deeply with you.

Having the Right Attitudes and Perceptions

Don’t create limitations for yourself: have a growth mindset.

I lost track of how many times I use this metaphor in writing or verbally, but, it applies so well–a seed won’t grow into that strong tree you pictured if you don’t give it the right care. Part of your growth involves you giving yourself an environment that is conducive of that growth. A big part of that environment comprises of your attitudes towards what you have to do, yourself, your abilities, your mindset, your openness to feedback, willingness to change, acceptance of and resilience to failures, and the way you perceive things.

Perceive your professors, teachers, and courses either positively or neutrally.

When I mention perceptions, I mostly refer to the way you see other things that can affect your goals. For example, your teachers or professors. It’s a common practice for students to get feedback on professors beforehand and find which ones are ‘easy’, ‘hard’, ‘strict’, ‘fun’, ‘impossible’ and what not. However, things like these are not as rigid, and exist on a spectrum that can differ for different people. But, if you walk into a class with preconceived notions, you will mold and perceive your experience in line with those notions even though the objective truth may be nothing like that.

I had such an experience in one of my courses last semester. Many students told me that it and the professor were too hard and hell-ish. Constructive feedback and advice is one thing, but arbitrary scares are another. Admittedly, I had been at fault looking for those as well. But through the semester, I snapped out of it, and it was for good. The course felt extremely challenging. It was, but it wasn’t as extreme as I had made myself think it was because of those notions. I know this because as the semester passed, I dealt with these thoughts and convinced myself to treat the course and myself calmly. Focus on tasks, have fun, engage in discussions, and do what you got to do and everything will work out as long as you are grounded and get rid of these preconceived notions. Sure, the course was still harder than my other courses, but by doing this, I reduced the time and stress I spent on this course while also coming to appreciate it more and score higher in it. Coupled with a learning and growth mindset, it was an enjoyable A grade.

I’m not even making this up, nor is my story an outlier, there have been several studies conducted on students’ perceptions of professors and courses based on things they hear and actual realities, and results are not in favor of those notions.

Be ready to ask for help

In my experience, I also had cases where I felt like I need reassurance, revision, and help. I reached out to professors and others who could help me regarding whatever it was as and when it was needed. This is another vital mindset to have in the start. Be ready to ask for help, it’s absolutely worth it and may be very much needed!

Set Up YOur Space… Have Your Materials Ready… Organize!

I purchased close to 10 decently sized books this winter as I was away for vacation. When I came back home, I had to find space to keep them properly, in a way that looked aesthetic but was also functional. I also had to clean up my space to prepare for the semester ahead. It was the perfect time to declutter some stuff, rearrange, and have my set up back up and ready for work (that’s where I am writing this article from, btw!).

I know I don’t have the best wire management, but it works out just fine

Setting up your space is a good motivator as well, and keeps you focused in that space. Making sure you have the right stationary and materials for note-taking, maintaining any to-do lists, planners, journals, and examination materials is also an essential task, too.

Setting up your space virtually also helps. By that, I mean, declutter your desktop and set up next semester folders and stay organized in that regard too so you can find the right stuff and know where to save things (and then be able to find it later instead of scrambling your folders for asdjhfjsd.pdf that you saved in the middle of nowhere).

My motivating student desktop
My desktop

Summary Checklist on How to Prepare for a Successful year or Semester!

  1. Identify your responsibilities and priorities
  2. Breakdown your tasks and use calendars
  3. Set goals and reasons for motivation from within
  4. Have the right attitudes and mindsets
  5. Destroy negative preconceived notions about professors and courses
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and extra resources
  7. Organize your physical space
  8. Organize your devices, folders, and documents
  9. Keep the ball rolling!

I hope these tips on how to get the ball rolling helped you. But remember, friction slows down and eventually stops that ball if we don’t have a way to keep adding force. Consider reading my other posts that offer sound advice on how you can keep that ball rolling! Here’s a list of my favorites:

  1. Beating the Illusion of Competence in Learning And Learning Efficiently
  2. Pointers You Need To Start Following When Preparing For and Taking A Test
  3. Saying ‘No’ Doesn’t Make You a Bad Person
  4. Master Your Life – Taking Ownership 101

Do you have any additional tips in preparing for the coming semester? Feel free to share and I’d love to hear you as well. And don’t forget to stay vigilant and stay updated with new posts!

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