VCU student Anber Abab studying last fall inside James Branch Cabell Library.
VCU student Anber Abab studying last fall inside James Branch Cabell Library. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Nine tips for students to kick off the new semester

Academic success and starting the school year on a positive note start with being prepared and organized

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By taking some time at the beginning of the semester to get organized, Virginia Commonwealth University students will be prepared to tackle challenges that come their way. Preparation provides the ability to be flexible when needed. Being prepared and able to adapt to change are necessary skills for college and beyond.

Katherine Drumm, Ph.D., director of strategic initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Michal Coffey, director of the Campus Learning Center, both part of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success, provide some suggestions to help get the semester started on a positive note.

The many resources at VCU connect faculty and professional staff with students to help them reach their goals, whether it’s making the dean's list, getting a 4.0 GPA, getting into a professional school or earning a scholarship.

Coffey said a strong component of academic success is to be consistent while developing study strategies, which include taking advantage of Campus Learning Center resources including academic coachingtutoring and Supplemental Instruction sessions where fellow students may want to create study groups, as well as using online tools such as Navigate.

“If you've got great time management, then you're making time to eat, sleep and see your friends,” Coffey said. “You're also making time for class attendance and daily study — with an hour a day per class recommended for reviewing notes, working on homework or getting started on a long-term assignment. Your time management is at the heart of what makes you a successful student and a healthy person.”

As the semester begins, here are nine tips from Drumm and Coffey:

1. Frequent the Keep Learning website.

The site is a tool that walks students through steps needed to successfully complete the semester. If you feel like you don't know what you’re supposed to be doing to be successful in the classroom, Keep Learning is a great place to start. 

2. Get clued in to your class modality. 

Make sure you understand what classes you’re registered for. For undergraduate courses this fall, approximately 33% are being taught face-to-face and 20% are in a hybrid or blended format with some face-to-face contact. The Campus Learning Center has online tips for success in the various formats. Keep Learning helps direct students to have a better understanding of what those modalities are.

3. Pay attention to your VCU email 

Faculty will start reaching out to students with details about classes and the course syllabus. Students should make sure that they understand what the expectations are for their courses. When taking multiple classes, get a better understanding about the time commitments needed to be successful. 

4. Get to know your academic adviser.

Advisers are available now to have longer conversations about aspirations, goals, challenges and questions. As the school year progresses, time becomes less available and limited to shorter meetings.

“It can be intimidating to first-year students, but the value of the advising relationship is about helping to identify what you want to get out of the college experience and then helping you come up with the path to achieve that experience,” said Drumm, who suggests that students think of their adviser as an older sibling who’s been through VCU and can offer advice. 

“If you stumble, your adviser can coach you through the conversation that you're going to have to have with your faculty member about returning to class, making up the missed work or missing assignments,” Drumm said. “Your adviser can help get you connected to tutors who can help you catch up with material. It's never too late to take steps back on the right course.”

5. Make a master schedule.

Take every class syllabus and make one central master calendar for the semester. Use a paper planner, Google calendar or your favorite online tools to get organized. Add club meetings and personal obligations as well. Talk to family members, roommates or employers about your schedule so they understand your school commitments and responsibilities. Discuss adjustments or accommodations you might need to make for success.

“Making a master calendar helps you identify blocks of time that you can allocate toward studying and working on projects,” Drumm said. “You will very easily see the holes in your schedule where you can devote some time to working on longer-term projects or your homework. It gives you the flexibility to make changes and anticipate periods of time when you're going to have lots of assignments, exams and due dates.”

6. Be proactive.

When reviewing your schedule, if you have concerns about the modality of courses, or if you're enrolled in an in-person course but might be absent for a day because of an obligation, email faculty to let them know ahead of time. Now's the time to ask the faculty member if they think you can be successful, or if you think you may need to switch classes to make sure you can attend and complete all of the assignments as expected. 

7. Be bookish.

If you haven’t already, start buying books for classes. You can find the book list in eServices or enter the course information on the VCU Barnes and Noble website, which links directly to the VCU bookstore, to see your required book list. Renting books for lecture classes can save money. If you buy the books, at the end of the semester you can always sell them back. 

8. Get savvy on money matters. 

If you have questions about financial aid, use Navigate to make an appointment with your financial counselor. If you add or drop classes, it changes the total number of credits that you're registered for, which could affect financial aid. Check out The Money Spot, which offers peer-to-peer financial counseling and day-to-day semester budgeting for students to come up with short-term, as well as long-term, investing plans.

9. Schedule a Campus Learning Center workshop.

Make early connections at the Campus Learning Center and the Writing Center to build a support network at the start of the semester, even before you think you need it. The study strategies class focuses on growth mindset for students’ goals.