I loved school. I thrived in that environment, loved setting my own schedule, learning all the time, and challenging myself on a daily basis. I even ended up with a 4.0 in computer science (if you want to read about how I did it, there’s a blog post about that!)
Much of being successful during school comes down to what you do during the semester. Obviously, you have to show up to class and turn in your homework. But there are plenty of things that you can do ahead of time before life gets too busy to set yourself up for a successful and hopefully slightly less stressful semester.
1. Get on top of your calendar game early.
One of the first things that I did at the start of every semester was pull up my fresh, clean, ready-to-be-calendar-blocked Google calendar and schedule in all of my classes. Good time management is non-negotiable when it comes to having a successful semester. You have to know how much time you have and where it’s all going.
When you calendar block your classes, you can see how much time you have around them for homework, work, friends, and fitness. Calendar blocking saved my butt so many times throughout college, and I would not have gotten the grades I got without it. You have way more time than you think, but you have to plan it well to make the most of it. Put your classes on the calendar ASAP.
While you’re at it, if you have access to any other schedules or syllabi, add all of those things to the calendar as well. I know this sounds nerdy, but I used some of that syllabus-week free time to add every date and homework assignment from the syllabus to my calendar. And guess who never missed a deadline or turned work in late. Me. Guess who also never pulled an all-nighter to finish her work. Also me.
2. Stock up on (the right) ramen!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Taking proper care of your body is one of the best things that you can do for yourself when it comes to living your best life and going after your goals. When you take proper care of your body, you have more energy and can more easily stay focused on consistently producing high-quality work.
Eating a well-balanced diet is—at least in my experience—step number one in this whole take-care-of-yourself thing. If your diet is 80% deep-fried, you’re going to be tired all the time and no amount of sleep is going to make up for it.
Healthy eating is notoriously difficult during college. I know I struggled with it at times. You’re busy. You’re hungry. You’re short on time, may or may not have access to a kitchen of questionable cleanliness, and the homework is piling up.
This is where Vite Ramen* comes in. Vite Ramen is the first nutritionally complete instant ramen. And when I say nutritionally complete, I mean that yes, all of the nutrients that you need—protein, calcium, iron, etc.—they’re all in this ramen. Do you think that’s as cool as I do? Because I think that’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.
I found Vite in the spring of 2018 when I backed their Kickstarter, which unfortunately means that I couldn’t enjoy their delicious noods while I was still in school, but I do eat them on especially hectic days now, and they have made my life so much simpler. They’re just as fast, easy, and delicious as normal instant ramen, but I still have the energy to focus afterward.
Did you know that regular instant ramen is deep-fried? And remember what I said about deep-fried food? Vite Ramen is as easy to prepare as regular instant ramen, but it’s not deep-fried, has the nutrients you need, and won’t make you feel like crap so that you actually have both the time and energy to study for your exams.
One of the best things that you can do to set yourself up for success this semester is stock up on brain fuel in the form of Vite’s nutritionally complete instant ramen* so that you’ve got quick, easy, yummy food on hand whenever you need it. No more chips for dinner.
(Can you believe this is a thing? Every time I type the words “nutritionally complete instant ramen” my brain goes, “man, 2019 is a crazy time to live in.”)
3. Start going to bed a little earlier.
Whether you’ve managed to avoid the dreaded 8 a.m. classes or not, your semester will flow so much better and you’ll make better use of your time if you have a consistent sleep schedule that has you up before noon. Remember how I just said that it’s important to take care of your body? Sleep is a crucial part of that.
If you’ve been staying up until 4 a.m. all summer, start incrementally moving that time a little earlier each night. While you’re at it, get up a little earlier each day as well. Even if you don’t have any morning classes, mornings are prime time for getting your work done and out of the way. You’re less likely to get distracted in the morning, so even if you’d rather sleep until lunch, your grades might benefit from an earlier start time.
My favorite thing about waking up early on a college campus is that the world is all yours. Aside from the people dragging themselves home from their all-nighter in the library, it’s quiet, meaning you can snag your favorite study spot and work in relative silence for an hour or two. Some of my best work happened in those hours.
If you’re still skeptical about this waking up early thing (it took me a few years before I admitted that I like mornings) try implementing morning and nighttime routines. Your morning routine will help you get up and get moving in the morning, even when you don’t want to, and a good evening routine will help you feel tired when it’s time to sleep.
4. Clean out and organize the folders on your laptop/Google Drive.
Digital clutter may not seem like a big deal, but getting it under control now before things get too busy will make your life a little easier when the stress of school is piling up. The last thing that you want is to have to desperately check through all of those files named things like “fffffffff.doc” and “psych_paper_final_final_forrealfinal_actualfinal.doc” that you’ve saved on your desktop when it’s 11:59 p.m. and your homework is due at midnight.
If your Documents folder is looking pretty messy right now, I recommend taking everything and sticking it into one folder for now. The chances that you’ll need that Bio 102 paper from Spring 2018 are pretty slim, and if you really do need it, you can search for it. Until then, all of your old stuff will be fine hanging out in one folder. Before the start of a new semester is a great time to do this.
Then, my preferred folder organization system is simple. Create a folder for the new semester. Label it “Fall 2019” or whatever the new semester is. Inside, create subfolders for each class you’re taking. That’s it. That’s the system.
As you get into the semester and find you have a large project to tackle or a lot of typed notes to save, create subfolders as necessary, but often, it takes just a few folders to go from chaos to clutter-free. It may not seem like much, but you’ll be so glad you did it when you’re searching for that article that you know you saved and it’s actually in the folder where it’s supposed to be.
5. Create a personal uniform.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks of Steve Jobs when someone says “personal uniform,” but there are some great reasons to wear the same (or nearly the same) thing every day. It makes it easier to pack your life into a dorm room, makes decluttering your clothes a lot simpler, saves time when it comes to getting dressed and doing laundry, and as long as you choose well, makes you feel confident about your appearance every day.
Depending on your school, the way that people dress for class can vary widely. I went to a salmon-shorts-and-boat-shoes type of school, but there are plenty of places where sweatpants are the norm. Figure out where you fall on the spectrum, and choose a basic outfit that suits your life and makes you feel like you could conquer the world—or at least that physics exam.
Personal uniforms don’t need to be nearly as boring (or dorky) as a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers. If you’re skeptical or looking for inspiration, I have a whole post about my personal uniform and how you can go about creating your own. Being able to dress myself in seconds every day while still looking put-together definitely made school a little bit easier.
6. Install an extension to block time-wasting websites.
As I said earlier, good time management is the key to success in school. To manage your time well, you have to make sure you aren’t wasting time on websites that have specifically been designed to be time-wasters.
Right now, while you’re still feeling ambitious and ready to have the best semester you can have, find a way to block those websites that you know you end up on when you’re supposed to be doing homework. (Reddit, anyone?) It’s a tiny step to take, but it can make a huge difference in your grades and study habits.
While you’re at it, do the same for your phone. There are plenty of ways to limit phone usage through apps. Find one that suits your style and set it up now so you’re ready to go when classes start.
7. Team up with friends.
Humans are social creatures. We’re influenced greatly by the actions of the people around us. We pick up our friends’ habits purely from spending so much time around them, sometimes without even realizing it.
Some of my best semesters were ones where I spent a lot of time around people who were getting good grades and working hard toward their goals. My love of self-improvement started during the year when my roommate was the girl who would go on to be our valedictorian.
Find creative ways to spend more time with people who you view as successful. Take time now to set up a recurring lunch date with someone you admire. You can encourage each other, learn from each other, and take a break from the stress of the day.
If you’re up to it, you could compete with a friend to see who can get better grades, but be aware that this is a bit of an undertaking, and you have to be okay with competition and willing to push yourself. I did this for a chemistry class one semester, and though my friend and I ended up receiving the exact same grade (down to the point) it was one of the best grades I have ever gotten. And the tie was probably for the best.
If you thrive when given accountability, team up with an accountability buddy before the semester starts. Set up an agreement to check in on each other, study together, and generally make sure that everything is headed in the right direction.
Teamwork is a powerful tool, but with how busy college life can get, it can be difficult to make time for others once the semester has started. By making a plan ahead of time, you give yourself a much better shot at finding time to make it work.
Did you find this post helpful? Share it with someone you know who is headed back to school!