How to Make the First Semester Not Terrible

Moving isn’t the only thing you need to worry about – in fact, it’s the quickest and easiest part of your first week, more or less (if you’re moving at all). The most important thing to keep in mind when prepping for the semester is getting ready for classes. You need to buy textbooks and supplies, figure out what your schedule looks like, find your classrooms, and learn your professors’ names.

Supplies

Just like last time, we’ll start with shopping. The first thing you need to do is make a list of what you think you’ll need. I recommend a pack of pencils, a few good pens, notebooks, and a backpack. If you’re taking a language or science class, consider getting notecards (but there are also apps like Quizlet that reduce your need for stacks of notecards, so consider your options before jumping to buy a pack of 200).

You might also want to get folders or binders, depending on your preferred organization method. I use folders, since most of my classes don’t usually require me printing or keeping too many paper copies of assignments. If you read on paper better, though, definitely invest in some binders so you can print off PDF readings for class.

Once you’ve figured out what you need, keep an eye out for back-to-school sales so you can get your items cheap. Right before the semester starts, you can get notebooks for just ten cents, among other insanely cheap supplies. Buy enough for both semesters, too, so you don’t have to invest when everything is much more expensive. Assume you need supplies for ten classes to start, then go from there. Take advantage of these sales for clothes, shoes (you’ll need a comfortable pair for walking across campus), backpacks, electronics, and whatever else is on your list.

Textbooks

Textbooks are a fickle thing. They can be immensely expensive and a major money risk if you end up changing around your schedule. Luckily, there’s a method to minimize the stress of figuring out how to work out the best cost.

This stuff is incredibly important to work through, so it’ll actually go into its own post. Please give it a read before you get your books!

Scheduling

You can change your schedule during the start of the semester if your classes don’t work out or if you want to get into something that was full. The best time to squeeze into a different class is after the first day; many people, after seeing the syllabus, will decide to leave the class! You can add a class up until the end of the first week of classes and drop one up until the end of the third week. Check out the Schedule of Courses to see every class in one place across multiple semesters.

Also, take a look at how many credits you have this semester. Fifteen (five 3-credit courses) is an average workload, twelve (four 3-credit courses) is full time but much easier, and eighteen (six 3-credit courses) is usually quite a handful. I only did twelve credits my first semester, which really helped with transitioning into campus life.

I would highly recommend starting slow like that to best ease yourself into college and avoid potentially damaging your GPA from overworking yourself. Don’t take too many 12-credit semesters, though, or you could fall behind and need an extra semester before you graduate. I’ll go over credits and requirements in more detail later.

There are a couple mistakes all freshmen make their first semester regarding scheduling, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid them. Most of the time they aren’t devastating, so if you find yourself making them, don’t fret; you have plenty of semesters to try again.

But the biggest thing I absolutely must warn you about is this: Don’t treat your college schedule like high school. You build your own schedule, so make sure you realistically consider every part of it. You don’t have to start every day with an 8 AM class, especially if you aren’t a morning person. You don’t have to take three or four consecutive classes every day. You don’t need to take all of your general education requirements in your first year. You don’t need to go to class every single weekday.

Okay, let’s break this down bit by bit. In college, bedtime doesn’t exist. You sleep when you want to, and for some that means at 4 AM every night. For the love of everything on this planet, please don’t take an 8 AM if you know you’ll be that person. Especially if it’s a class you know you won’t be really interested in going to. It’s so easy to just sleep in when all you have in the morning is Finite Math and you want more than 4 hours of sleep to run on for the rest of the day. Suddenly you’ve slept through that whole semester and you have to retake math, which sucks big time. Save yourself. Don’t schedule classes before 11 AM if you’re a night owl. You, your friends, and your professors will love you more for it.

Pace your Gen Eds over the course of your semesters. If you’re more of a Humanities than a STEM person, don’t take your sciences and maths at the same time. If you don’t like writing, don’t take three Writing Intensive courses at once to get them out of the way. If you hate public speaking, don’t take classes focused specifically on that. Love yourself.

And hey, you really, really don’t need to go to class Monday through Friday. Maybe that’s your jam and you like only doing two or three classes every day. But maybe you want longer weekends or fewer high-stress school days. Maybe you want more time in the week to get stuff done or get a job, and you just can’t plan around five-day class weeks. Well, take a look at your classes. You’ve got Monday-Wednesday-Friday (MWF), Tuesday-Thursday (TR), or sometimes 3-hour-long, once-a-week classes. There’s other variations smattered in there (4-day language courses, one-credit courses, etc.), but these are your biggest scheduling hurdles to jump over. My first semester consisted of four classes, all of them on a TR schedule. I was living the dream. Everyone’s ideal schedule is different; don’t hesitate to play around with what you’re working with until you’ve found yours.

Classrooms

You get the chance to be on campus well before you start classes, so take the time to wander around. Make a list of your classrooms and buildings, bring a map with you (marked up, if needed), and take a walk. The class buildings should be unlocked, so feel free to go in and take a look around. Try to find your classrooms. I guarantee if you can get to them once, you won’t feel so much stress and pressure when getting to them a second time, when it really matters.

If you have one class right after another in a separate building, time your movement speed as you go from one to the other to see if you can actually make it. If you can’t, notify your second class’ professor that you might be a minute or two late every day as you make your way across campus.

Here’s a helpful hint: It takes me 6 minutes to walk from Monroe to Combs, 8 minutes from the UC to Jepson, and 8-10 minutes from the HCC to Combs. Those are the farthest I have had to travel between classes, so you can see how doable each walk is according to the campus map. My stride isn’t very long, but I am a fast walker.  Finally, if you need accommodations for getting around, get in touch with Disability Services. You will get an escort between classes, but be sure to tell your professors you use this service just in case; golf carts can only do so much in bad weather, so you might be late every now and then.

Also check out dining areas and figure out when they’re open. The dining options on campus have been up in the air recently, so I can’t give you a comprehensive list of times or places, but I’ll be sure to direct you to what you need to know once the information is available.

Professors

Finally, make sure you know who your professors are. Learn their names and maybe a little about them. UMW has a biography database for its professors, so you can read up on what kind of work and research they do. This especially helps with your FSEM class, since those professors are from all kinds of departments. Here’s Dr. McClurken’s page.

(Quick sidenote: Assume your professors are “Dr. Lastname” unless they specifically give you an alternate title to call them. Almost all professors have doctorate degrees at UMW, so it’s the safest route to go.)

You can also look them up on RateMyProfessor, a free website that allows students review their classes and professors. Take the ratings with a grain of salt, though; sometimes professors are tough but incredibly passionate about teaching, sometimes they are well loved but a little too quirky for some learning preferences.

Along those same lines, ask other upperclassmen about professors. Students are always willing to share their classroom experiences, especially when it helps others who are considering classes. You have complete control over your schedule, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of it to best shape your college experience. All college students are gossips and busybodies; even if they haven’t taken a class, they might know something about it anyway.

 

Make sure you’re prepared for the semester by knowing what you need. I’m sure you already covered a lot of this information during orientation, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate some of it. Again, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me a message if you have any questions or comments! My first and only job as a Peer Mentor is being helpful to you.

Good luck, and I can’t wait to see you!