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Class Participation in Grad School

In college, students are responsible for their own education. Most professors spend a considerable amount of time preparing lessons, activities, and assignments for classes, but the responsibility for embracing and learning the material lies on students. Students who take responsibility for their own education—who come to class on time and avoid absences, pay attention and participate in class, and complete assignments with integrity—are not only more likely to enjoy their classes but  may also be more likely to succeed in the classroom and in future academic endeavors. The following are ideas for taking responsibility for your own education.

Class Participation Tip #1: Come to Class and Arrive on Time

Arriving to class on time and avoiding absences are two easy things you can do to take responsibility for your own education. Clearly, the more you are in class, the less you will miss, and the more you will learn. Following are three central rules for attending class and arriving on time:

  1. Arrive a few minutes before the start of class. Be prepared (books and materials on the desk, ready to go) by the time the teacher starts class.
  2. Do not ask questions that are not pertinent to that day’s lecture or materials during class. Wait until the end of class, after class, or during your professor’s office hours to ask questions about unrelated material, upcoming assignments (unrelated to current material), missed work, or other personal needs.
  3. If you miss a class, check your syllabus to see what you may have missed and talk to classmates to get assignments, class notes, and other missed information. If the syllabus and your classmate don’t offer the information you need, visit your professor during his or her office hours. Do not use everyone’s class time to figure out what you missed or to catch up on missed materials. More importantly, do your best to avoid absences and to attend every single class. Teachers use class time to teach material to students. Typically, there is no amount of reading and “catching up” that can make up for the information that is taught to students during class. Assume all class sessions are important and there is never an ideal time to miss class.

Class Participation Tip #2: Pay Attention and Participate in Class

Contrary to popular belief, class time is not a time to sit back, relax, and allow your professors to fill your brain with fascinating material. Class time is a time for you, as a student, to actively listen to your teacher and classmates; engage with the teacher, your classmates, and the material; and squeeze the most you can out of the precious few moments you spend with an expert in the field—your teacher.

The following are suggestions for developing the skills to pay attention and participate in class:

  1. Put away your cellphone, computer, and any other electronic devices. If you must use your computer to take notes, turn off the wireless internet feature. Unless your class involves electronic or online work, those contraptions will only serve to distract you from the work at hand. Strive to stay focused on what your teacher and classmates are saying and refuse the temptation to communicate with the outside world during class
  2. Sit close to the front of the room, raise your hand often, and take notes. The more active you are, the more likely you will be to engage with the material. Avoid the temptation (and believe me, it will be strong on certain days) to sit back and “listen” without participating. The simple actions of raising your hand, moving your eyes from person to person as the teacher and your classmates talk, and exercising your voice will help keep your brain awake, alert, and interested.
  3. Actively listen to what your professor’s says. In many classes, you will be required to copy down notes and listen to your teacher. If this is the case in any of your classes, ask your teacher to make his or her notes available online. Then, in class, give the majority of your attention to your teacher. Take notes based on the lecture and then correlate those notes with printouts of the notes your teacher puts online and the notes you take while reading and completing your homework.
  4. Think critically in and out of class. Do so especially while participating in class and while doing your homework. Much graduate school curricula depends on critical thinking—use class time and homework assignments as opportunities for improving your ability to think critically, and then offer your thoughts to make class discourse more rich, meaningful, and vibrant.
  5. Be prepared for class. This will be discussed in more detail in the next section. For now, know the degree to which you engage with your homework correlates to the degree to which you can effectively participate in class. Do not waste your teachers’ and classmates’ time by coming to class poorly prepared.

Class Participation Tip #3: Complete Assignments with Integrity and Prepare for Each Class  

Teachers use in-class assignments, reading assignments, and homework to give students additional time to work with class material. Completing your assignments with rigor and integrity is one of the best (if not only) ways to comprehend class material and to be prepared for class. That means avoiding plagiarism in your papers and getting a tutor if needed.

The following is a list of ways to complete your assignments with integrity and to prepare for class:

  1. Read and comprehend the class syllabus. Make sure you have a clear idea of what is expected of you during the semester. Write down important dates (assignment due dates, etc.) on a calendar and plan your work accordingly.
  2. Set aside a realistic amount of time for completing assignments and do not procrastinate. You will likely be incredibly busy during school—therefore, it is very important to get a head start on all of your assignments and to follow a realistic plan for getting them done. As soon as you receive an assignment, schedule your work.
  3. Take notes while reading for class. Look for answers to the “big five” while reading: who, what, where, when, and how, and take notes of answers for each. In addition, do some critical thinking of the readings prior to class. Then, while in class, strive to learn something new from your classmates and to offer interesting insights you derived from doing your homework. This also gives you a good chance to come up with questions you can ask your professor during class.
  4. Complete all of your assignments, even if you don’t understand them. Homework is designed to teach you something—simply by working with it, even if you don’t fully understand it, you will learn something.
  5. If you don’t understand your assignments, or feel as though you are falling behind, ask for assistance. This means meeting with a tutor or your professor outside of class and reviewing course materials. Regardless of which graduate degree you decide to puruse, you are not expected to already know everything. Rather, you are expected to take responsibility for learning. If you’re lost, confused, and falling behind, ask for help immediately.
  6. Work with a tutor on difficult assignments or materials with which you struggle. If you continue to struggle, consider meeting with your college or university’s disabilities center to see if you have an undiagnosed learning disability. Learning disabilities, whether slight, moderate, or severe, can have a huge impact on students’ education and can often times be easily dealt with if diagnosed correctly. Attending graduate school with a disability, while more challenging, is still possible.

The Commonality Between James Bond and a Grad Student

Grad students and Agent 007 might just be another two contradicting concepts. But wait; let’s see what they really have in common. Let me start with 5 of the things I can think about as of the moment:
1. Both are knowledgeable on lots of things. We all know that James Bond’s character seems like a Mr. Know-It-All. He knows something about geography, politics, government, culture, and even food and literature. A grad student, as my former professor once said “must know something about everything and a lot about one thing”. I bet that’s a challenge for every grad student, to comprehend every topic that concerns his craft. However, there should be one field he/she should be an expert of.
2. Both have an arsenal of gadgets/tools. Blame it on Dr. Q. Double “O” 7 has submersible cars, mini blowtorches, miniature cameras, state-of-the-art communication systems, whatever you can think of. A grad student on the other hand has all the necessary tools for analysis. Statistical and mathematical tools, software tools, and other analytical tools needed for decision making and problem solving in their field of expertise.
3. Both knows how to improvise and innovate. We can just admire how our favorite spy agent can get out of every dangerous situation. Give all the credit to his resourcefulness and quick thinking. A grad student knows well how to improvise too. In the field of research, they are known to introduce tools or methods in their own field which were taken from other fields. A business analytical tool perhaps can be used in the field of environment or a social research tool is used in the field of engineering. These are just examples of how a grad student innovates and improvises in order to further his/her field of knowledge.
4. Both work even on vacation. If we see James Bond in a beach, or swimming pool, or a bar in a hotel, we all know he’s not on vacation, he’s on a mission. A grad student might also be seen in a resort or a hotel but inside that traveling bag you’ll see some lecture notes, or books, or a laptop with all the study materials in its hard disk. We all know what he’ll be doing whenever he finds the time.
5. Both sometimes don’t follow convention. Our special agent doesn’t care if his methods are acceptable or not as long as he gets good results in the end. Grad students are in the same way unconventional in such a way that they try to find new and fresh ideas in order to improve our understanding of the real world.
I hope it gives us the idea that a grad student’s life is as full of adventure as Agent 007 does. However, I do not claim that they are comparable in any way.

10 Best Tips for Success in Online College Classes

10 Best Tips For Success in Online College Classes

So, you’ve decided to take an online course. Maybe you’ve decided to take all of your classes online. There are certainly many great reasons for doing this. If your chosen school is to far away for you to attend in person, or your schedule requires more flexibility than on campus courses offer, online classes are a great alternative.

Unfortunately, many students begin taking online courses only to realize that it takes more time and effort than they expected. If you want to get the most out of your online, learning experience, check out the ten tips below.

  1. Start With a Solid Game Plan

Being prepared and knowing what to expect is key. When you receive your syllabus read it thoroughly. Mark important dates on your calendar. Pay special attention to any group meetings, test dates, supplies that you will need to pick up, and other important information.

Once you have that information, you can create a bit of a master schedule for the term. You can also set reminders for upcoming due dates, and plan extra study time when big projects will be hot and heavy.

  1. Don’t Miss Group Chats

Depending on the nature of the course you are taking, you might be required to participate in group chats, live discussions, or online lectures. Don’t underestimate the importance of these, and don’t skip them.

Because of the nature of online learning, it’s very difficult to catch up after you have missed out on important discussions. You might also find that instructors are much less likely to excuse missing a class that doesn’t require that you leave your home.

  1. Schedule Enough Time

Many students make the mistake of underestimating the amount of time they will need to dedicate to each online class that they take. This is largely because there is a bit of a perception that online courses are easier than their on campus counterparts.

The truth is, you will need to put in just as much time, and in some cases more. Here are a few suggestions for calculating the amount of study time you should plan on for an online course.

  1. Use Technology And Online Resources to Help You Succeed

Here is some good news! There are a huge number of websites, apps, and other tech based solutions that you can use to ensure you complete your online courses successfully. Here are just a few that many students use:

  • Evernote: For taking and organizing notes, sharing with others, and organizing projects.
  • Google Docs: A free alternative for MS Office and other that is accessible anywhere.
  • Review: review of the most popular services by customers
  • Khan Academy: Online learning to help you master a variety of subjects
  • StudyBlue Flashcards: Enhance your studying by creating sets of flashcards
  1. Find a Comfortable Place to Work

Before classes begin, try to identify a couple of places where you can comfortably work. Your environment should be physically comfortable and well lit. You’ll also want to make sure that you can feel comfortable participating fully in your class.

For example, the coffee shop down the street might be perfect for working on homework and doing research. However, it might not be the best place to take a class that involves video conferencing.

  1. Remember That Office Hours Are For You as Well

Keep your instructor’s contact information on hand, and jot down their office hours. If you have questions, or simply want to introduce yourself, call or send an email. The fact that you may not ever meet your instructor in person does not mean that they aren’t willing to help you outside of class.

  1. Get Help When You Need It

Another one of the dangers of taking online classes is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you can catch up when you fall behind, or that you will eventually understand a topic that is difficult for you. When that happens, you might need more help than you can get on campus.

Hiring a tutor is always an option. You could even consider joining or creating a study group. If things get too difficult, you may find that it is your writing assignments that are holding you back. Fortunately, there are services that help you polish up your writing with editing, proofreading, and other help. If you use this option, do your research.

  1. Take Some Time to Get Familiar With The Tools And Websites You’ll be Using

Before you can begin your class, you may be required to take some of the following steps:

  • Create an Online Account
  • Download Materials
  • Install Software or an App
  • Learn to Navigate a New Website

Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the night before or the morning your new class begins to do all of this. Make sure that you get this done ahead of time so that you can identify any issues. If you wait until the last minute, university tech support may not be able to help you in time to get started on your first day.

  1. Consider Taking a Mix of Online And on Campus Courses

If you are able to, it can be a good idea to take both online and on campus classes. The online courses can help you to maximize your credit hours while allowing you to save gas or enjoy the other benefits of learning online.

On the other hand, if you mix in one or two campus based classes, you will be able to socialize with other students, get face time with your instructors, and enjoy some of the experiences you can only have by being on campus.

  1. Get Rid of Tempting Distractions

If you continually flip over to social media or play games when you should be focusing on your class, your grade will probably suffer. This is especially true if you are taking a class in real time. You’ll want to find a way to avoid these distractions.

One method is to download software that simply blocks access to apps or websites that could be distracting for you. All you have to do is indicate what you want to avoid and when.

Another option you have is to have one device that is ‘dedicated’ strictly for school, work, and household and personal management related tasks. If you have your games, social media apps, and other ‘fun’ things stored on an alternate device, you won’t have to worry about temptation.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the path to getting the most out of your online classes includes planning, self discipline, time management, and using all of the resources that are available to you. Hopefully the ten tips listed above will help you reach your goals.

5 Ways to Get Your First Internship in College

Internships are important

In this day and age, internships are not only encouraged, but they’ve also become a necessity. Working as an intern (most of the time without pay) will allow young students such as yourself the chance to dip their toes into the workplace and experiment with different careers. This can not only help you gain some much-needed working experience but will also aid you in making connections that will help you in the long run.

If you’re interested in getting your first internship offer while you’re in college, here are a few easy tips and tricks.

Tips and strategies

  1. Get to work on your cover letter and resume. This is the first thing a company will see about you, so it’s an important part of the selection process. A good cover letter and a cleverly designed resume can give you a leg up and put you in the “to interview” pile.
  2. Create a blog or website. If you want to go the extra mile, you can create your online portfolio (depending on your career of choice it may be a necessity). This will let potential employers get to know you and your work better. In turn, you can use analytics tools like leadfeeder to keep an eye on which companies are interested in you.
  3. Do your research. If there’s one particular company you’re hoping to land an internship in, it’s wise to do your research. Get to know as much of the company as possible (including their products/services) so that when it comes the time to be interviewed you will certainly peak their interest and stand out from your competitors thanks to the knowledge and passion you show them.
  4. Get advice from people who know the game. Make an effort to talk to professors, parents, other students, and anyone you can think of who can give you insight and help you prepare for the interviewing process. First impressions are important, especially during an interview process, so arming yourself with knowledge will help you be more confident when you’re at that stage.
    They can also help you get your foot in the door if they know someone who may be looking for an intern for the summer.
  5. Apply everywhere. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Much like college applications, it’s advisable to have plenty of options when it comes to internships, even if you already have a place in mind you want to go to. Spread your resume and cover letter far and wide to better your odds. Be proactive, search for listings on company websites, and don’t be afraid to explore choices outside of your chosen career. There is no better time for experimenting.

Conclusion

When it comes to landing an internship, there are several things to keep in mind, from your cover letter and resume to doing your research and even acing your interview. I know it may sound daunting to go through that process, but really, it’s not that hard. As long as you put in the work and make an effort, you’ll be landing your first intern position before you know it.

Life Hacks for Going Back to School After Winter Break

Winter break … it was fun while it lasted. Whether you were ready to escape your family and head back to college or you never wanted your vacation to end, all college students must face the fact that class is back in session.

So how can you make the transition a little bit easier? With some valuable life hacks paving your way!

Time to go back to college when…

Sleeping in, home cooking and hanging with the family—all are the positives that come with winter break. When the luster of all that starts to fade, you know it is time to pack up and head back to the dorms. Kate Zasowski compiled a quick life hacks list of “15 Signs You’re Ready To Go Back To College After Winter Break” in her buzzfeed.com post on January 18, 2014, to help you be sure when you’ve worn out your welcome with mom and dad. Here are the top five:

  • You start to feel weird in the shower if you aren’t wearing flip-flops.
  • “Some nights your dreams take place in your school’s library,” Zasowski wrote.
  • Sleeping in no longer seems as awesome as it did that first morning.
  • You called one of your parents “professor” at dinner.
  • Boredom has driven you to visit your old high school.

What to bring back from winter break

Life hacks 101—be smart and plan ahead. If you did this, you probably brought some things home from school at winter break that you no longer needed. But college students should also prepare for the rest of winter and their spring semester by knowing what to bring backto college. “The Top 10 Things to Bring Back With You From Winter Break” posted on hercampus.com by Heather Rinder on January 11, 2014, gave some recommendations:

  • Gifts and gift cards. Did you get some cool gifts for Christmas? Don’t forget to pack them to take back with you. Same with any gift cards you received. If you don’t have them, you can’t use them.
  • Winter weather gear. Maybe your college is located on the equator, but if not, you will probably need some clothes for colder temperatures.
  • Spring break attire. If you don’t plan on visiting home again before spring break, be sure to bring along some warm weather outfits, too—if you think you will be heading somewhere sunny.
  • Food from home. Your grandma’s homemade cookies never get old, do they? So stock up on your fave goodies for those days when you are missing home.

How to get back on track

Last, but certainly not least, once you have established you are ready to go back to college and have packed the essentials, college students need to know some life hacks for how to get readjusted to classes and college life in general. Think back to what you did at the start of fall semester, or follow Kaitlyn Taylor’s suggestions in “How To Get Back On Track After Winter Break” for collegehelper.com:

  • Eat right. Sticking with or renewing your efforts to consume a well-balanced diet, light on the junk food, heavy on the fruits and veggies, will help you stay healthy and focused in class.
  • Keep moving. Sure it may be cold outside, but make sure you keep up your exercise routine. It will help you combat stress.
  • Establish a routine. “It may be difficult to adjust to a new class schedule, but try your best to keep your body balanced by waking up, eating, and exercising around the same time every day,” Taylor wrote.
  • Have some goals. Think about what you would like to accomplish this semester. Maybe bumping up your GPA? Joining a campus group? Cutting back to one coffee a day?
  • Check the socializing. You’ve missed all your friends, but know when you have caught up enough, and don’t let yourself get behind in class because of too much socializing.

How to be a Better Reader

How to be a Better Reader

Take a trip to your local elementary school, and you’ll likely see one subject touted more than the rest on bulletin boards, classroom doors and motivational posters: reading. Reading is crucial to the scholastic success of grade schoolers, and even more so to college students.

Obviously, you know how to read. But do you read well? Here are some things to consider to improve your reading skill, comprehension and speed.

1. Do you really need to read it?
If you’re reading for a class, consider whether you really need to read each of the assigned texts. Some professors will call readings (and textbooks) “required” when the material will be completely covered in class or irrelevant to your performance in class.

This is not to say that all required reading is optional, or that optional reading isn’t edifying. In order to do your best at anything, you have to prioritize. Understanding which readings to focus on and which to skim or pass over can help you to learn better.

2. Mind your setting
Noise levels, visual distractions, friends, other people in general and even lighting can affect how much attention you are able to focus on reading. Everybody studies differently, and you know best what works for you. Try to match the difficulty, importance and retention of your text to the setting you intend to read it in.

3. Choose the right reading format
Today you can get most texts in multiple formats. The format you choose should be based on personal preference as well as what you have to do with the material.

For example, some people dislike reading ebooks because they remember material better if it is on a physical page. Other times, ebooks trump paper copies because they can be picked up anytime—in line, on the subway or during otherwise wasted time.

If you prefer the low-tech option so you can underline, highlight and write in the margins, keep that in mind when buying your textbooks at the beginning of the year. On the flip side, if you’re going to use your textbook for research papers or essays, it might be worth it to have the digital version so you can copy and paste quotes into your assignments.

4. Read actively
A mistake that people often make when reading less-than-invigorating material is being too passive. This causes lower comprehension and recall of material later.

If you’re reading something that is important (see step 1), make an effort to actively engage the material. For a textbook, this might be as simple as mentally answering the reflective questions throughout the chapter. For a literary work, analyzing things like plot, setting and character development as you go will help you discuss the work later. Whatever you’re reading, make sure you understand it as you go instead of realizing that you’re confused after plowing through a hundred pages.

5. Read often
Social media makes it easy to be well-read in your field. Take a few minutes to follow some reputable sources on Twitter, Facebook or even Pinterest and read the articles that catch your eye. This is great fodder for class discussions and papers, but also helps familiarize you with terminology and give you practice assessing the usefulness of different research.

The ability to read well is taken for granted at the college level. If your skills aren’t up to par or you’re looking to be a more efficient student, try these tips.

New Year’s Resolution: Eliminate, Enhance, Explore

It’s my first day back at my writing desk since my Holiday Hiatus, and I’m thinking a lot about what I want from 2019: what I want to achieve, how I want to work better and smarter, and what I need to do in order to be successful personally and professionally. I’m sure many of you are beginning 2019 with similar resolve: I salute you.

I’m a real sucker for resolutions. I make them every New Year, of course, but I also make them at the beginning of each semester. Resolutions give me a sense of purpose; they help me feel like I have some control over this crazy life, like I still have the power to shape who I am amidst the cult of grad school. And there’s something cathartic in saying it out loud: THIS is what I want, or THIS is what I needAnd I’m going to make it happen. *Cue Wonder Woman theme song.*

But it seems that New Year’s resolutions may be falling the way of bygone New Year’s traditions, such as pork-over-poultry“First-Footing,” or, my childhood favorite, banging pots and pans until my eardrums felt fit to burst. Resolutions, most commonly about physical or emotional change, are hard to keep. A study from the University of Scranton suggests that only 8% of Americans are actually successful in keeping their resolutions. Failed resolutions often leave us feeling poorly about ourselves; what began as a quest for self-improvement transforms into (yet another) site of guilt.

There are many tactics for developing successful resolutions, such as setting SMART Goals, asking for varying degrees of accountability, or hacking the psychology of habit-forming. These tactics are all useful, each in their own right; I’ve tried them all over the years. But the one caveat, on which I will insist, is that would-be-resolvers avoid guilt. We’re grad students; we’ve got enough guilt. To that end, I offer to you three suggestions for creating New Year’s Resolutions.

1.    Eliminate.

Start with getting rid of the clutter. If you’re like me, the commitments pile up faster than you can blink. You serve on committees, you guest lecture in a class, you offer to proofread a paper—all on top of taking classes, writing your dissertation, teaching, and attempting to maintain some semblance of healthy relationships with friends and family. Even when I want to try something new, or change my behavior, I find that I have no time left to do it. So before you try something new, scale down. Make room to breathe. Enjoy the space.

My “Eliminate” Resolution: I resolve to stop working at 8 pm each night, and to take Sundays off.

2.    Enhance.

What are you really good at? Resolve to keep doing it, but better. When are you at your best? Don’t set impossible goals for yourself, but recognize the areas in your life in which you’re already succeeding. Figure out how you can enhance those areas of your life. Are you great at writing in short increments? Try developing a daily writing routine. Are you already disciplined about writing daily? Consider adding 500 words to your daily count, or investing in a new software program to improve that experience. Are you at your best when you get a full 8-hour sleep? Try going to bed earlier, or drinking less caffeine in order to sleep better. Make a skill into a habit. The principle is the same: play to your strengths.

My “Enhance” Resolution: I am at my best, my sharpest, my happiest, when I allow myself to be creative. I’m going to play the piano, I’m going to sing, I’m going to write poetry; I resolve to create space for imagination and artistry in my life.

3.    Explore.

Try something new. Take a risk. Give yourself the freedom. This doesn’t need to be a big goal; you don’t need to master a new language, or learn to play an instrument, or travel the world. Exploration does not require commitment. To explore is to seek, to investigate, to try.

The most common resolutions are to lose weight, to save more/spend less, and to get organized. Each of these things is final: you do or don’t lose weight, you are or aren’t organized, you do or you don’t save. I think this is a guilt-inciting mistake. Instead of setting an all-or-nothing goal, resolve to give something a try. If it works for you, then you can choose to incorporate it into your life.

Last year, I resolved to “move around the classroom” more frequently. I thought that this would help me connect with my students, provide a more engaging educational environment, and help me curb frustrating technology use.

I tried it. It was weird.

I felt uncomfortable, students felt uncomfortable, and I quickly returned to my position at the front of the classroom. I don’t feel bad about opting out of this resolution: I gave it a shot, it didn’t work for me, I moved on. Ultimately, I consider this a success in the spirit of the resolution, if not the letter: I learned something about myself as a teacher, and trying, at least, set me on the path to improvement.

How to Survive Christmas on a Student Budget

How To Make the Most of Your Holiday Break

One of the best parts about being a full-time college student is probably the awesome extended breaks we get over the winter and in the summer. There are some downsides to those long breaks, though—boredom, feeling unproductive, or ending up strapped for cash right when you want to do some holiday shopping. Fortunately, those breaks are usually long enough to fit in a decent amount of work and productivity, or even a nice trip.

When I was an undergrad, the only jobs I held were work study, which lasted only through the academic semester. I usually spent my winter break holed up in my parents’ house, watching endless movie marathons and counting the days until I was back with my friends at school. By my senior year, I was tired of spending those long winter breaks doing a whole lot of nothing, so I decided to look for short term jobs to fill my time.

However you plan to spend your holiday break, whether it be at home or away, there are plenty of opportunities to make the most of your time off from classes, without paper and project deadlines looming over you.

Get a seasonal job.
Whether it’s retail, food service, tutoring, or childcare, there are plenty of jobs that are looking to hire people for the holiday season. Kids are off school and need looking after while parents are at work. Retail shops are looking for some extra hands to help out during the shopping season. Most chain restaurants and retail stores have moved online with their applications, so fill out a bunch in one sitting to save yourself a trip to the mall. Websites like Care.com can help you find parents looking for childcare and/or tutoring, and it can also match you with people who need their pets and houses cared for while they travel for the holidays.

Do the things you didn’t have time for during the semester.
Personally, I tend to amass a huge amount of novels that I want to read during the semester, and they end up in a stack on my shelf, waiting to be read. So, I use my breaks to try and get through as many of those unread books as I can. Sometimes, when I was feeling extra studious, I’d grab the books for my classes the next semester a little early and thumb through them to get familiar with the content before class started. Now, my go-to is to binge watch a season or two of something I’ve had on my Netflix list for weeks. I spend more time with my dogs at the park, and work on writing I’ve put on the backburner all semester. If there’s something you like to do but can never find time for during the semester, your break is the time to do it!

Study abroad.
Some schools offer short study abroad sessions over winter break that last about 2-3 weeks, but still count for 1-3 credit hours. If you have wanted to study abroad but aren’t sure you could dedicate an entire semester to it, the shorter winter term trips might be your best option. Studying abroad is a great idea for college students to see other countries, as there are a good amount of scholarships and funding geared specifically towards helping fund these trips. You probably won’t have those kinds of funding opportunities once you’re out in the world, so take advantage of them while you can.

Take a short road trip.
If leaving the country—or even the state—seems a little too ambitious for winter break, consider taking a shorter trip around where you live. Find a destination that’s a few hours away and plan a day or two to spend there. If you’re tight on cash, make it a day trip rather than staying overnight. Or, if you’ve got some wiggle room in your budget, use a website like Booking.com or even AirBnB to find someplace cool to crash for a night or two. Take a friend or go solo—whatever will make it the most fun and relaxing.

Get yourself organized.

Take the time to go through old clothes and belongings to find things to donate. Winter break usually meant moving home, at least temporarily, and when spring rolled around, I often felt weighed down with way too much junk. Donating the things I don’t use or need anymore helped lift off some of that weight. Get rid of old handwritten notes you don’t need, or scan them into your computer and ditch the paper copies in the recycling. Toss out broken or damaged school supplies. Compile loose documents into one place and recycle ones you don’t need. Go digital with scans and photos.

Get a head start on scholarship applications.
At my undergrad university, the deadline for fall scholarships was usually sometime in February. So, if your school runs on a similar timeline, use your winter break to get ahead on any essays or applications you’ll need when the due dates come around. You might also look ahead to summer break and start looking for summer internships, or at least start taking those first few steps towards preparing your applications if you plan to apply.

Do some self-care.
Regardless of how you plan to spend your break, it’s important to use it to rest and recharge before the start of the new semester. Sleep in a little, and get some extra rest. Watch a movie, have some hot chocolate, and enjoy a good book. You want to feel your best when you get back to class in January, so try to give your brain and body a chance to catch back up with you.

Winter break has always been one of my favorite parts of the year. I’ve just finished a difficult fall semester, and I finally have a chance to relax and be proud of what accomplishments I made through the fall months. I hope all of you get the chance to do that, too!

7 Tips for Surviving Finals

It’s that time of the year again: the dreaded finals time.

I don’t know about y’all, but I am ready to turn in my final term paper, sit on the couch, and veg out for a long winter break. But before any of us can do that, we should prep and work on our finals. Hopefully, it’s no surprise that there are a few studies out there that offer some helpful tips on prepping for the end of the semester, and I thought I’d share my favorite seven from a few different sources.

  1. Create a master to-do list and a schedule for the remaining days in the semester. Break it down by due dates and exam dates and make sure you give yourself enough time to be comfortable, but still get everything done within a manageable schedule.
  2. Triage your study time. Do you think you should spend equal amounts of time preparing for each course? You don’t — proportion your study time; make sure you spend more time on the course where you feel less confident.
  3. Decide if it’s going to be a grand tour or lots of local attractions. Does your professor want a cumulative term paper/final, or are they looking for specific portions of the class? Figure out the answer and respond accordingly with a continuation of the triage method.
  4. Develop summary sheets for each class. Figure out what happened on the important class days and organize or rewrite your notes to help formulate study guides or paper outlines.
  5. Writing and study groups can be helpful if they make sense. My cohort and I have a paper writing group for one of our classes. Though we are all working on different projects, the camaraderie and shared experience are helpful for the writing process.
  6. Pace yourself! I know when finals crunch time comes around, we often turn to marathon study sessions and writing periods, thinking that’s the best way to crank out as much work as possible in as little time as possible; however, this is actually not the most effective strategy. Make the most of the time you have by pacing yourself: focus for shorter periods of time. Take breaks and walk around.
  7. Manage your anxiety. By listening to calming music, stretching or breathing deeply, you can avoid stress and release negative thoughts. Sometimes we avoid anxiety by avoiding the things that are making us anxious (e.g., studying for an exam or writing a paper), which can lead to procrastination and even more anxiety. Listening to music and intentional breathing and stretching can help you manage your energy in a constructive way. I love creating playlists or listening to the same song on repeat the whole time I’m writing. My entire master’s thesis was written to “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed.

I hope you have found some of these tips interesting and/or helpful, and I wish us all luck during this end-of-the-term marathon. Remember the goal is in view