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How to Stay on Top of Your Classes (and Life) in the First Weeks of College

There are major differences between high school and college schedules. As your course load grows and changes, so should your ways of keeping up with it!

When it comes to the first few weeks of college, you’re probably going to have a lot of things going through your mind, not the least of which is how to keep track of everything on your new busy college schedule. New friends, new student events (both required and not), finding time to keep up with everyone back home, not to mention the whole reason you’re in college: your classes and getting an education. Unfortunately, there are some major differences between your schedule in high school vs. college. As your course load grows and changes, so should your ways of keeping up with it. Here are my top tips for staying on top of everything!

Get to know your syllabi

In nearly every class you take in college, your professors will give you a piece of paper (or several) at the beginning of the semester with things like textbook information, their office hours, and an outline of what you'll be doing every day in their class. This is their syllabus, and you should hold on to it! Unlike high school, where in some classes it was anyone’s guess what you were doing that day, most college professors let you know what you’re doing every day—which means you are responsible for being prepared. This makes your syllabi all the more important, so be sure to keep all of them in one place or keep the syllabus with your notes for that class—wherever you know you will always be able to find it!

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Get Organized in College

Read (no, seriously—do the reading)

Yes, you do actually have to read what’s assigned to you in college. Unlike high school, you can’t coast by on Sparknotes or Wikipedia alone to get you through. Even if a professor never discusses what you read outside of class, they may very well put it on a test later, and when you sit down to take that test, you’ll wish you’d read what was in the syllabus—trust me.

Take advantage of your professors’ office hours

One of the recurring pieces of advice you might hear from older students when you get to college is to use your professors' office hours. Take this advice! Especially if you're in a larger class, this allows you to get to know your professor and their teaching style a little better—plus, your professor can then connect your face with a name on the roster. Professors have office hours specifically so that students can come in and ask questions about the coursework, the next test, or maybe even what other classes to take if you've found their class enjoyable. It may seem intimidating to sit down with a professor at first, but it’s important to remember that your professors are people too, so don't be shy! 

Related: 6 Simple Ways to Impress Your College Professors

Schedule your time wisely

One of the things that many new college students look forward to the most is not having to go to class for seven hours a day. However, while most college students spend an average of 12–18 hours in the classroom each week, the schoolwork definitely doesn’t stop there. The good news is that because you’re not in class for extended periods, you can get most of your homework done during the time that you would have been in class in high school. The bad news? It requires a lot more self-discipline to sit down and do homework when you live down the hall, or at the very least across campus, from your friends and lots of fun things to do. However, if you block out this time to do homework, you'll have plenty of free time once you finish. Keep in mind that the most important thing here is not that you necessarily work on schoolwork or are in class from 8:00 am–3:00 pm every day (which works for many people simply because that’s what they’re used to), but that you block out sufficient time to sit down and work, regardless of when that is, rather than going to class for several hours and spending the rest of your day socializing and watching Netflix.

Keep a calendar

When you start college, chances are your schedule is going to be a lot different than it was in high school. Most high school students go to school during the morning and early afternoon, go to club meetings or sports practices after class, go home, do homework, maybe go to a job in the evenings, and do the same thing again the next day. In college, things usually aren’t as structured. You may have class for a couple hours, then have some time off to do homework, work at a part-time job, or do nothing at all. This drastic change is why it becomes so important in college to keep track of everything you do—and to actually write things down. Whether you use the calendar on your phone, buy a fancy planner, or keep a calendar on your desk, keeping track of classes, clubs, meetings, and social engagements is much easier if everything is in one place.

Related: Inside an Average Day in the Life of a College Student

Navigating the first few weeks of college can be overwhelming, especially as you adjust to a new, busy schedule. As you transition from high school to college, it's crucial to adopt new strategies for academic success. Prioritize reading assigned materials, get familiar with syllabi to stay organized, and schedule your time wisely to balance academics and social activities. Don't hesitate to take advantage of professors' office hours, as building connections with them can be beneficial. Finally, keeping a calendar to track classes, club meetings, and social engagements will help you stay on top of everything and make the most of your college experience. Embrace these five tips, and you'll be well-prepared to excel in your college journey.

Nervous about starting college or going back to campus? We can help! Get excited with our article on How to Be Awesome at College: A Student's Cheat Sheet.

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About Emily Rogan

Emily Rogan is a student at Morehead State University, where she's studying Communications and Theater. When she's not in school, she is an actor, musician, singer, and writer.


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