By Elizabeth Cunningham

It’s natural to be a little anxious about the change of pace from summer to school -- but if you take advantage of the beginning-of-the-school-year energy and lighter workload to get a jump on the year, you’ll feel ultra-prepared. From your social life to academics to settling into your new dorm or apartment, here’s how to get your place in order, social life on track and brain in gear from the moment you set foot on campus:

1. Get Settled

Dorm rooms and campus apartments are designed to be utilitarian, so getting organized and personalizing your space are key to feeling like you have a home.

- First things first

Unpacking can be overwhelming, to say the least, but Vassar College senior Katie Hoople has this advice: “I always make my bed first. It’s really nice to have an oasis of calm in the middle of all the chaos.” There really is something about tidy bedding that makes the whole room seem more polished.

- Pull it together

When it comes to dorm rooms and apartments with limited space, there isn’t enough praise in the world for closet organizers, available at most discount stores. If you’re driving to campus, you can even pack your clothes right into the organizers and just hang them when you arrive.

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Spiff up your space Late summer and early fall are prime time for yard sales -- and are right in the college student’s price range. Plus, distinctive accessories will give your space a unique “decorator” touch. “Last fall, I found this awesome bedside table at a yard sale,” says University of Colorado junior Samantha Rosenberg. “It was shaped like an elephant and only cost me 50 cents!”

2. Be Social

Whether you’re a freshman searching Internet groups for friendly faces or an upperclassman whose friends have been scattered all summer, make some plans to socialize.

- Get involved

Most campuses have activity fairs early in the year to drum up interest in extracurricular groups. “Extracurriculars are one of the easiest ways to find people you have something in common with, so you’re almost guaranteed to make some new friends when you join a group -- and you can’t have too many friends,” says Hoople. Don’t be afraid to over-commit yourself at the beginning then drop activities as you figure out your schedule and priorities.

- Get out

No doubt, there’ll be some crazy campus parties at night -- especially before classes start. But when it comes to catching up with good friends (or making connections with friends-to-be), it’s way nicer to be in a calm atmosphere where you actually can hold a conversation. Check out options close to campus -- look for things like ice skating, apple picking or bowling.

- Stay in

Another great way to reconnect with your college friends is to have a night in. Says Roanoke College senior Madison Elliott: “Try a game night! Board games are great because you can talk the whole time. I try to stay away from TV activity when I’m meeting or catching up with friends because we talk through the whole thing.”

- Cook something up

Hoople suggests getting reacquainted over some home cookin’: “My friends love to cook together, whether it’s a three-course meal or just a batch of cookies. If you have access to a kitchen, making food can be a great way to bond.”

3. Get Smart

It’s time to buckle down and get back into the habit of classes and homework. Natalie Friedman, visiting assistant professor of English and associate director of the Learning, Teaching and Research Center at Vassar College, has some advice for getting back into the academic swing of things:

- Take it easy

“Professors know students need to get their heads in gear,” says Friedman, “so the beginning of the semester is a bit slower and lighter than the middle or end. Take it slow and easy, but don't let things pile up. If you feel overwhelmed, try to do little assignments first. But don't put them off, or you’ll never get to them.”

- Mind thy syllabus

“It's both a schedule and contract with your professor,” says Friedman. “She tells you what and when she expects from you; you agree to complete the reading and writing assignments and to be a good citizen in class. Don’t lose your syllabus -- put it somewhere safe.” If it's electronic, Friedman recommends keeping a version of it on your desktop or on a management program such as Microsoft Office.

- Buy your books

“Don't leave this errand for later,” advises Friedman. “Don't promise yourself you’ll browse Amazon or other places for cheaper versions of the texts when you have time. You’ll never have more time than you do at the beginning of the semester. Do that task now.”

- Ask for help

“If you find you’re really struggling with the transition, check out your campus resources. Many campuses have support services such as a writing center, notetaking service and even peer tutoring. Sometimes, all you need is someone else to be accountable to -- try the buddy system with a friend, and be honest with each other about deadlines and the work you’re getting done.”

Available on Amazon.com:

Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College

 

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