Whether your college student is beginning the first day of her first class in college or just beginning a new semester, she needs to be ready to succeed right from the start. One of the beautiful things about the college system is that students get a brand new start at least twice a year in a semester system (even more if the school has a trimester or quarterly system). Students begin a new semester with new courses and new instructors. A fresh start for everyone.
So your student has a fresh start and new classes. She needs to show up and begin, right? Well, maybe. There’s a difference between students who just show up the first day (and we know just showing up for class is important) and those who show up just a little more prepared and ready to succeed right out of the gate.
What can your student do to make sure she’s one of those students with that beginning edge? Here are a few suggestions that can make the difference.
- Have the textbook. Colleges are now required to make information about textbooks available to students. Your student might wait until the semester begins and then go to the bookstore, stand in line and pay full price, but it would be even better (and probably cheaper) to have the book well ahead of time. Online services such as Chegg.com not only sell textbooks (usually for much less than the college bookstore) but also rent books. Chegg offers instant access to an online version while the book ships and allows students to return books within 21 days if they end up dropping the course. Students can highlight rental books just as they might with books they own, and then they return the book (for free) when the semester is over.
- Review the textbook. Having the textbook ahead of time means your student can avoid the possibility of the bookstore running out and/or save money. But a second reason to have the book ahead of time is to take some time to look it over. Perhaps your student will want to get started on some of the early readings, but even if she doesn’t want to go that far, just taking time to look at the table of contents, the introduction, and skimming a few of the graphics will give her a head start in understanding the overall subject matter. She’ll be better prepared to hear what the professor has to say about the course on the first day – or maybe even stand out by asking a question or two.
- Review the course description. The description of the course is usually available in the college course catalog (usually on the college website). Encourage your student to review the description of the course. Just as reviewing the textbook helps, reviewing the description of the course will give her a head start in understanding the overall subject matter and intent of the class.
- Find out about the professor. One student’s idea of an ideal professor may be another student’s nightmare, but knowing a little about the professor before the course begins will help your student be ready to learn from him. She can ask other students what they know. Does this professor lecture a lot? Is it crucial to have read the material before class? How important is class participation? How available is the professor outside of class? The more your student knows what to expect, the more she will be able to work well with her instructor.
- Get any supplies needed. For many classes simply having the textbook and a good notebook for class notes is all that is necessary. But for other classes students may need special supplies – art supplies, special software, lab materials. Having these materials ahead of time will save your student the rush at the beginning of the semester and also allow her to get comfortable with them. If software is required, for instance, taking time to get comfortable with it before the semester begins will mean less time worrying about that once classes are in progress.
- Have a good planner. Perhaps your student is already an expert at time management. But if there’s room for improvement, the beginning of a new class is the perfect opportunity to work on this skill. Whether your student chooses to use her phone to organize or a paper planner, having the tool set up and ready to use is important. Many classes begin with assignments right on the first day – or even before classes begin. Make sure your student has a plan and a tool for keeping track of all assignments and deadlines.
- Check e-mail and Blackboard (or other web service). Many professors will reach out to students prior to the beginning of the semester. Some just want to say hello and make a connection, but some professors ask students to do a reading or complete some task for the first class. Your student needs to check contact and be ready. Some instructors use the college web platform heavily and being comfortable with that service before classes begin will mean that your student won’t struggle with the technology.
- Be sure to know where the class meets. It’s a good idea to check online for the class location as the semester approaches. Some classes are moved from original locations. Your student needs to know the location – and be sure to know how to get there. If the campus is large, or your student is less familiar with it, actually going to the room ahead of time may be a good idea. Your student doesn’t want to arrive late, or arrive flustered because she couldn’t find the room on the first day.
- Remember that this is a clean slate. The beginning of a new course is a clean slate for your student. This means that she has a new opportunity to set the tone of her studies and do well. If last semester didn’t go as well as she hoped, this is an opportunity to make some changes to improve. If her studies are going well, your student can capitalize on what is working and make this the best term yet.
A little effort spent ahead of the beginning of the new term will help your student make the most of a fresh beginning – and stand out from Day One.
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