Key Tasks For Early In The College Term

The beginning of the term is always exciting.  You get to meet new people, see your friends again, and the high energy of starting new classes can all be thrilling. But never get so caught up in the excitement that you forget why you’re there: Completing classes and earning good grades. Some classes have a gradual warm up, taking a week or more to hit full stride, but there are others where Professors push you in to the work from literally day one. Some courses will actually assign pre-readings that must be done for the first lecture, and others will have homework due three or more times a week. Enjoy being back on campus, but the focus needs to be on the work to be done from the start.

Some key tasks and issues for early in the term that college students must think about.

Check Your Schedule At The Start Of The Term

Even if you previously registered for classes, never assume that everything is taken care of the moment you step on to campus. Up until classes start colleges consider their courses to be “dynamic,” meaning that they are subject to change. Course sections get closed or collapsed in to others if there weren’t enough students who signed up for them, and Professors leave so others may be teaching those sections now. Remember that horrible Professor you tried to avoid at all costs? You may now be in their class because your section was canceled. Other changes can be that discussion section times or days were be moved, class sizes increased, or classroom locations are now different. While you signed up for a class because it had only 30 people in it, it may now have 100, or that classroom that was close to your dorm may now be across campus. Always double check your schedule before its too late, you can make changes during the drop/add week, but if the class you want is full you’ll need to contact the Professor to have any hope of getting in.

Get Your Books Early

It’s a standard in college that courses will have some form of required readings, and most come in the form of a textbook. Certain classes might instead have multiple articles to read, while others like hands-on art classes may only have light readings. But in college, it’s almost impossible to take a course that has no reading at all. Every term students go through the rush to buy their books at the beginning of the semester since they need to get the reading started for their courses. Many students want to order their textbooks online, which can be fine in some cases, but not if they will arrive in three weeks. Some courses may have weekly quizzes on the readings, while others may just have dozens or even a couple hundred pages of reading for each week. If the shipment is delayed, you might end up being hundreds of pages behind which can affect your grades. Sometimes it’s just faster and easier to use the campus bookstore since Professors tell them in advance which texts to order. Falling behind on the reading is the perfect way to also put yourself behind in the weekly work, for studying the course material, and even in preparing for the first round of exams.

A few other points about getting books:

  • Electronic textbooks have become ubiquitous in college, but some students say they still feel that they learn best from having a tangible textbook in their hand. The choice between the two is up to you, whichever you feel that you can learn best from.

  • In addition to text books, some courses require subscriptions to third-party services that provide weekly homework, quizzes, or other supplemental materials. Make sure that you also purchase the license for these when you get your books, since they may be needed to do the weekly homework.

  • The classic dilemma for students is should they rent or buy their books? Some textbook rental sources forbid students from marking the books in any way, or limit it to a certain percentage of the total text. Since you’ll need to highlight key terms, definitions, and other important information the key question is this: Can I adequately do my job as a student with the book rental terms? If you feel not, then you should buy not rent your text books.

Prep Your Work Gear

College is work, and you’ll need the right gear to get it done. In addition to books you’ll need to have pens, pencils, notebooks, sheet paper, highlighters, or whatever you prefer that lets you take notes, study, and do well in the course work. Most students have a laptop computer that they use for school, and since even in-person courses have a lot of online work, a computer is practically required. If you don’t have a computer, you can find out where the computer labs are on campus, and typically the school library has computers available for student use.

Some common issues students need to consider for their work gear are:

  • Have a USB stick drive to back up important files. Imagine finally finishing that big paper then your laptop crashes, with your paper is stuck inside of it. If you back up to an external drive you can go to any computer to print it or email it to the Professor. Many students use Google docs for just this reason, as well as Google Drive as an external source to back up important files.

  • Have any problems with your computer fixed before the term starts. I can’t tell you how many students I worked with whose hard drive failed, WiFi card died, or who had software glitches right before an exam. Pack a LAN cable with you to campus in case you have spotty WiFi since many college courses will have online exams even if they do meet in person.

  • Make sure that you set up multiple web browsers on your computer. Some online classes, exams, or homework systems are optimized for certain browsers and will glitch with others. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Microsoft Edge are common. Even if you don’t actively use the others have them installed and ready just in case.

  • Make sure that you have a book bag, and that it’s big enough to carry all you need for a long day on campus. While we’d all love to think we can just do everything on only our phone, that’s impossible for college. You’ll need to carry your laptop, notebooks, text books, and potentially other things like a jacket, compact umbrella, and snacks to get you from home to class and back.

  • If you plan to use different apps for school, like Google calendar, make sure you can log in to them. Very often what sounds like a great plan gets side tracked because the student forgot their log in password.

Get A Planner, And Actually Use It

A lot of students start off the term with the best of intentions. They tell themselves “I’m going to do better this term” or “I’ll stay organized this time” then they quickly fall in to their old habits by the second week. Their planner, if they even have one to start with, winds up at the bottom of their book bag, under their bed, or otherwise disregarded. Whether it’s a paper-based planner, a simple calendar, or electronic system like Google Calendar, you’ll definitely need some way to track all of your assignments, exam dates, and other responsibilities as a student. What can be really convenient is if your Professors enter this information in to the calendar contained in the school’s Learning Management System (LMS), like Canvas or Blackboard. However, not all Professor do this, which can make things very confusing. Some Professors outright refuse to use these systems, or may even have their own website where they post course information or a syllabus that you can’t even download. You can make sure that you’re fully informed and not miss anything important by keeping your own planner and entering important dates from multiple sources if needed. There is no faster way to hurt your grade than to show up to class then realize that it is exam day and you didn’t know.

Notes on keeping a planner:

  • If you want to use an app such as Google Calendar, test it out first. Some apps require that several pieces of information be added just to make a single entry, and students often find this to be a cumbersome turn-off for using that method. Sometimes a good old fashioned paper planner works better than a high-tech solution, but it’s whatever you feel works best for you that you should use.

  • The key to getting the most benefit from a planner is consistency. You must look at your planner every day, or even multiple times a day. As you do, open up the page for each class in your student account, then match it up to the dates you have. It’s not unusual at all for Professors to change dates, so double check at the start of each week what events are taking place.

  • As you check the weekly events like homework or quizzes that are due, make a to-do list for yourself. This should include what is coming up for the current week, and also look ahead to make sure that you don’t have an exam coming next week. If you do, you’ll need to add studying for it to the current week since that will be only one of many different things you have to work on.

  • As you check events, note the due dates and times of homework, quizzes, and other assignments. Some Professors make them due by midnight on that day, but others will make them at odd times like at 8am that morning. If this is the case, it’s best to assume that the assignment is due the day before, unless you feel like being up at 5am to do that work. Add the time that the assignment is due next to the due dates in your planner, and also to your to-do list for the tasks you need to complete.

Double Check The Administrative Side

During the excitement of the early term, the last things most students are thinking about is the administrative details of their being on a student campus. But these can bring surprise problems if not double checked, and believe me, many of the students I’ve worked with faced these issues. A class they assumed they had the prerequisite for they didn’t, now can’t take what they registered for. Or they need to meet with their Advisor at the last minute because something came up. Never assume that everything is fine because you registered months ago, classes and your schedule are never finalized until the semester gets past drop-add week.

Things to check on include:

  • If you’re a freshman and earned AP credits, make sure that you were actually given credit for the subjects at your school. Some colleges will give you credit if you simply passed the AP class, while others require a certain score on the AP tests to get credit. This also has implications for your present class schedule. For example, if you didn’t get AP credit for English Composition I because your AP test score was too low, you need to now sign up for that class. This introductory English class is often a prerequisite for other classes, even general ones like Introduction To Philosophy, General Psychology, and more.

  • Make sure that your tuition has been paid. This can usually be found in your student account, but you may need to contact the appropriate campus office to double check. This can be called Student Financial Services, Student Accounts, or even the Bursar (which is a Latin term that simply means “keeper of the purse”). If your tuition is not paid, you may be dropped from all the courses that you enrolled in, and you will not be automatically added back in to them. You’ll have to create a schedule from scratch using what classes are open.

  • Some colleges require that students submit immunization records, and I’ve seen students be prevented from attending classes because of this issue. A common occurrence is that parents assume that they can simply request them from their child’s Pediatrician, but only then do they realize that this doctor has moved, retired, or otherwise cannot be found almost 20 years later. They then have to scramble to find out where they can get these records, and dealing with their state’s public health department can be very slow and can cause delays in the school receiving them.

  • If you plan to receive academic accommodations, the college equivalent of a high school Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, the request must be made weeks before the term started. However, what students don’t realize is that a college typically wants to meet with them in person before they are issued, and there is usually paperwork to sign. Check to make sure that you can actually use your accommodations on day one of classes in order to benefit from them early on.

Check For A Hold On Your Student Account

One of the biggest shocks a student can have is when they log in to their student account after a long break, then they suddenly realize that there has been a “hold” placed on their account. Their account may be otherwise frozen, or they can’t see their classes they enrolled in. They are immediately stuck, especially at the start of a term, since they can’t begin the work for the classes which is a sure way to fall behind. A hold can be placed on a student’s account for a broad variety of reasons, ranging from the need to meet with an Advisor to unpaid library fines. Students should check at the start of the term that there isn’t a hold placed on their account, and if there is, it means that they need to take some kind of action.

Common reasons for a hold on a student account:

  • Some schools will put an automatic hold on an account for certain types of students, such as freshmen or those who recently declared a major. This is essentially an “advising hold” which means that you need to speak with your Advisor. Some schools make it mandatory for freshmen to register through an Advisor, even if they’re heading in to their second term. Other colleges make this mandatory for every term, so each semester or quarter you may need to meet with your Advisor to schedule classes.
  • For students who have recently changed majors, or for students who are upperclassmen in a major, you may need to meet with your Advisor to discuss classes. If you don’t, they will often place a hold on your account until you do. Sometimes a phone call will satisfy the Advisor, but it’s not uncommon for Juniors or Seniors in majors like Engineering, Computer Science, or Mathematics to receive a hold until they meet with their Advisor.

  • If you’ve been in trouble in some way on campus, you may find a hold on your account until you fulfill the requirements the school has set for you. This can be for simple things like parking tickets or library fees, but it can also be for more serious issues. One student I worked with had to make and turn in a poster after being cited for drinking in a dormitory, and another who didn’t check his account all summer discovered the week before classes started he had a hold. As part of the terms of a citation he had to do community service, so he had to scramble to find a place to do 30 hours the weekend before he headed back just so he could attend classes.

What to do if there’s a hold on your account:

  • Read the reasons stated in your student account. They will usually tell you who you have to contact, or the actions you must take. Be assured that you are not the only one in that situation, so you might be in line to speak with them, so don’t wait to act.

  • Make acting on this your top priority since you likely can’t attend classes until you fix the situation. At worst, you may be dropped from those classes and cannot attend for that current term, which means you’ll have to pack up and head home if you’re in a dorm. Holds are serious “code red” emergencies for students, so they require priority action.

  • Contact your school the moment you find out that you have a hold on your account. Your Advisor is a good place to start, but they may not be able to solve it alone. You may have to contact the campus police about outstanding fines, the library about unpaid fees, or another person in charge of a specific office all depending on the nature of the hold.