“Back to school” can sometimes feel like the most dreaded phrase in the English language, especially after an extended break during summer or the holidays. As we get into college we’re more inclined to enjoy our studies, sure, but enjoying school doesn’t necessarily make the transition back after a break less stressful. Some students handle it a lot better than others, but even those students will occasionally find themselves feeling a bit under water. It happens to all of us eventually, and many of us regularly. So we decided to pull together a list of tips that are super attainable for any and all students to help with ramping back up after a break. These tips work equally well after a couple weeks off for winter break or if you’re returning from a half-decade hiatus. Try them all or pick and choose the ones that will help you most.
The best advice for managing your sleep schedule as a student is obvious: Don’t sign up for any classes before noon. Boom, easy. Of course, that’s not always possible. Over the course of a college career everyone runs into that dreaded major requirement that’s available only on Mondays at 8:30am. So when that inevitably comes up, it’s a good idea to prepare a bit. One of the best ways to ensure you don’t run into the metaphorical brick wall that is your alarm clock on your first day is to start gradually getting your sleep schedule back on track ahead of time. This can be as simple as incrementally shifting your bedtime so that you’re getting to sleep earlier and getting up earlier, with the idea that a gradual change will lessen the blow of that first day back.
Additionally, in general it’s a good idea to phase out habits that keep you awake as the evening wears on. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has an excellent list of secrets for a better night of sleep. These are tips you’ve seen a lot and maybe even tried, so we won’t dwell too much on them here. But you’ll find that on almost every list of sleep tips from reputable sources, some common themes emerge, like maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding screens near bedtime, and not eating too soon before trying to sleep. Easy for them to say, but you’ve got this.
One of the biggest stressors when it’s time to get back to school is getting the rest of your life in order so you can focus on school work. Don’t wait until the first week of classes to set yourself up to succeed. Plan out your schedule as much as possible, as soon as possible. It’s often very eye-opening to sit down with a calendar and take a look at how things will play out over the course of an upcoming semester, not just with classes but with work, social and family obligations, and ensuring you carve out time to decompress when you can. On a related note, this is also an excellent time to let your job know what your new class schedule looks like. Scrambling to update your work availability during your first week back to class can be majorly stressful during an already potentially frantic time.
Another underrated way to help ease your transition back into school is to organize and clean up your personal working space before you’re called upon to really use it. A clean and clutter-free home office now, means less to worry about when you’re in the thick of it later. Unless, of course, you’re saving that as a task to handle while you procrastinate writing that first paper of the semester, which we totally understand.
Your brain is like a vehicle that needs to be fully warmed up to run optimally, and a couple weeks off from typical school work can leave you in a state of rustiness when it comes to that ever-important critical thinking. Put another way, if you haven’t been reading, writing, or critically analyzing for a few weeks, the parts of your brain responsible for those things can start to feel sluggish or otherwise less than optimal.
To stay sharp so that you can seamlessly transition back into academic life, ideally you’d have kept one toe in that water during your break, maybe reading and/or writing for fun. Some of you go-getters might even pick up recommended additional reading from your field of study. Nice work, if so. For those who are more like us and need to get back into the groove of studying, it’s an excellent idea to set some dedicated reading, writing, and thinking time leading up to your first day of classes. It doesn’t have to be anything wild, just a little warm-up for your brain before the heavy stuff begins. One real tip from a former student along these lines is to go back and read a couple of your best papers from previous classes. It sounds a little cheesy, but it’s an excellent way to shift gears back into academic thinking, and it will remind you of how much you accomplished leading up to this moment, which can be an excellent motivator for the upcoming semester.
When your time off is winding down, often the last thing you want to do during the last few free days is start thinking about your workload for the upcoming semester. But you might want to reconsider when it comes to going over the syllabus for each of your classes. Getting a handle on the full scope of each class well before you set foot in the classroom is a great idea for many reasons.
For starters, you’ll ensure the class will cover exactly what you hoped to get out of it when you originally signed up. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a true hassle to find out on the first day of class that you signed up for something that isn’t exactly what you thought it was going to be. Giving the syllabus a once-over will let you know what types of books and supplies you may need (which is its own thing, see below). You’ll also get a general sense of the overall workload of each individual class, but more importantly, you’ll have a way better idea of the overall combined workload you’re taking on and can adjust accordingly. Having a bead on that before you even figure out where all your classes are located (which you should definitely also do well in advance) is an excellent way to avoid sticker shock when you actually start classes.
Another one of those nagging tasks that always seem to inconvenience you in the early days of the semester is collecting all the necessary books and other readings, as well as any additional specialized supplies that your classes call for, but now that you’ve taken an early look at your syllabi, you already know what you need. So why wait? Acquiring the books and tools you need for each class in advance will mean you won’t be bothered to do it once the real work starts. Another great reason to get a jump on this is that books and supplies can sell out, leaving those who didn’t get them in time scrambling at the last minute. With all the other stressors in the first week of class, the last thing you need is to be battling the procrastinators at the student store and you can instead get focused and ready to get to work. And hey, if you get your books early and find yourself with some free time, there’s another potential benefit …
Look, we realize this is very pie in the sky, which is why we consider it a bonus tip. But if you get your workspace organized, familiarize yourself with your syllabi, and gather the books and other materials you’ll need for the semester, you may find you have time to get a jump on a couple readings and start thinking about that first paper. The true bonus here is that your reading assignments can be a great catalyst for falling asleep a little earlier than usual to help you get your sleep cycle back on track. Plus, there’s really no better way to get your brain ready for a great semester. Future you will be thankful for the ambitious move, and current you will be more prepared for the upcoming semester than ever.