The school year is about to begin, and it’s easy to fill up days with fun back-to-school activities: meeting new friends or catching up with old ones, making trips to the campus bookstore, or scouring Amazon for used copies of the textbooks you may or may not actually read. The beginning of a semester may seem like a rare opportunity to relax and enjoy the campus environment before classes get busy and studying becomes your way of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s an unimportant period. In fact, there are a number of things you should do right away that will make the rest of your semester (and your college experience) significantly better.
1. Move In Early
Or as early as possible – and unpack promptly. You don’t want to start classes with all of your clothes still in boxes. There are a number of reasons to give yourself some time before classes start. If you’re a freshman, you can take the opportunity to make some new friends and explore the campus. You don’t want to be late to your first class because you couldn’t find the right building. If you’re moving into an apartment for the first time, you can take a couple days to learn how to make some fast meals so you don’t have to eat power bars every time you get busy.
2. Start Going to the Gym
You might imagine that you’ll check it out when things have settled down, but chances are things won’t really settle down. Classes will only get busier and busier as the term progresses, so get in the habit of exercising regularly right away.
3. Go See Your Advisor
There is probably a very small window during which you can rearrange your class schedule without falling too far behind. Go see your academic advisor right away to make sure that you’re in all the classes you need to be in and that everything is on track. Go even if you went at the end of last spring and everything was fine – advisors can make mistakes, and when it comes to your academic career, it can’t hurt to double check.
4. Introduce Yourself To Your Professors
Do this right after the first lecture of every class. Chances are there will be a line of students who want to meet the professor, but unless you have a class immediately after, you should probably join in. Even if your professors might not remember your name right away, they’ll recognize you when you participate in class, and they’ll make more of an effort to remember you if they know you’re making an effort as well.
5. Go To Office Hours
At many universities, no one ever goes to office hours, so it’s a great way to make yourself stand out. If you have a particularly interesting professor and you think his or her office hours will be especially busy, go anyway. You might be surprised. Your professors are also the people you’re probably going to ask for recommendation letters, and you’ll end up much more highly recommended if they actually know who you are.
6. Read the Entire Syllabus
Do this, and then mark down every test and essay due date on your calendar. If you do this for every class, you’ll be able to see what the whole semester will look like, and you can prepare for busy weeks and schedule extracurriculars accordingly.
7. If You’re a Freshman, Join Campus Organizations
If there’s something you want to do, join as early as you can. Don’t wait until next year to join an organization, because campus groups only belong on resumes if you were in a leadership position, and that typically happens with time. If you’re already a senior, apply to these groups in the early fall so you’re more likely to seem actually interested, as opposed to seeming like a spring semester senior just looking to build his resume.
8. If You’re A Junior or Senior, Commit!
If you’re a freshman, explore as much as you can. You still have plenty of time to change your major, so join a bunch of groups and ask the people you meet about what they’re studying – even if you think you know what you want to do. If you’re in your last couple years of college, however, it’s probably time to commit. Rising up within a few campus groups will mean more than being a participant in many, and doing well in your major – having a good GPA, getting to know professors – will be more useful than doing the bare minimum and taking a bunch of easy-A electives.