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New Year’s Resolutions for College Students

16 strategies for success in and out of the classroom.

Hello I'm Nik/Unsplash
Source: Hello I'm Nik/Unsplash

It’s winter break and the cusp of a new year, and as a college professor I’m thinking about the new semester starting in a few weeks. I’ve been teaching for nearly three decades, and I still feel some fresh energy approaching a new academic year in the fall and a new semester for the spring. In August, we’re surrounded by a sense of back-to-school time that carries with it a more blank-slate feeling, the promise of an entirely new beginning, as well as the nervous anticipation of full-on transitions. Fast forward a few months, and the approach of the second semester typically has less of that hype, and less of the anxiety of getting settled, yet it presents us with new excitement and a different set of challenges. From my experience working with college students, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Reflect on what went well and what didn’t last semester, both academically and socially. Strategize as to how you can do more of what helped things go smoothly and successfully.
  2. Commit to trying new things and taking risks. See if you can try something new every week. This could be a sport, a place to explore on or around campus or in the surrounding town, food, a healthy habit, etc.
  3. Get to know a professor. This can make all the difference in how connected you feel to your intellectual work and the campus more generally, and this person might become someone with whom you stay in touch for years to come.
  4. Approach and talk with someone you’ve never met. This needn’t be with any romantic intent, but rather just a way to extend yourself a bit and perhaps make a new friend.
  5. Consider ways you might meet new people, especially if you spent the fall a bit too over-reliant on your roommates as your social circle. This might be through classes, clubs, Greek life, student organizations, intramurals, teams, etc.
  6. Consider volunteering in the community. This can be meaningful and fun, and it can provide a way to meet new people. When I was in graduate school, I volunteered at a domestic violence agency where I really wanted to work, and it turned out that volunteering for just a few months led to a part-time paid position that lasted for years and led to multiple other professional opportunities that continue for me to this day.
  7. Play a game with yourself and turn off your phone and put it away, or ask a trusted friend to hide it from you for an hour or two. See how much you can get done in that time. Or even try relaxing without scrolling.
  8. Commit to using a calendar. I can’t begin to tell you how many students of mine reveal to me in office hours that they don’t use a calendar. It’s the first thing I ask about when students show that they’re having trouble with deadlines and project management. I always tell students to review all deadlines in all their syllabi and enter those in their calendar along with the date for when to begin the work. I show them how I do this using my own calendar. I also suggest that they enter in the other stuff of life, and then they can gain a clearer picture of which weeks they can expect to be fuller or freer and flexible and then plan accordingly. They can see where they have blocks of time to work and play, and it can create a more spacious feeling.
  9. Carefully read the entire syllabus for each class to know what’s expected of you, and ask questions if there is something you don’t understand.
  10. If you did poorly in a course and are re-taking it, make an appointment with your professor to discuss how you can begin again, have a fresh start, and best improve this time around. I’ve had students who never do this and even when I reach out do not respond. Unsurprisingly, they fail again. Students who take the initiative as I described often turn things around. Just last semester, a student took my class again and earned a B when the first time she had failed. I was thrilled for her, and she was rightfully proud of herself for the new strategies she implemented that made such a huge difference.
  11. Consider keeping a journal. You need not have to feel obligated to do this daily but it can help with expressing your feelings and thoughts. It can also be a place to express gratitude or track your goals.
  12. Seek help right away when you find yourself slipping. This is true with academics and seeing your professor and a tutor, and it’s true with your emotional life and seeing a counselor if you need a professional sounding board and resources.
  13. Think about how you want to design your summer. Will the summer involve an unpaid or paid internship, a part-time or full-time job, travel, staying at college, going home, or living somewhere else entirely? How might you engage in activities now that help you secure some plans for a dream summer? Perhaps you will want to consider writing a solid resume, networking, making appointments for informational interviews, attending career fairs, etc. You might take advantage of what the office of career services at your college has to offer and meet one of their counselors to discuss your hopes and dreams.
  14. Think about how, when encountering a problem, you might first rely on yourself and your own inner resources before contacting your parents. See what you’re able to handle on your own first. I think the same thing about class questions; it is always apparent to me who has tried to find answers on their own first and who is just emailing me because of a knee-jerk response and asking questions about things that are clearly spelled out in multiple places. It can feel really good, and can build your confidence, to at least try it on your own first.
  15. Evaluate your friendships and any other intimate relationships. Are the people with whom you’re interacting fulfilling for you and giving your life meaning, or are they sabotaging you in any way? Consider how to strengthen the relationships that feed you, and let go of the ones that don’t serve you and your well-being.
  16. Commit to self-care. Is there a healthy habit you’re curious about and imagine you’d benefit from doing regularly? Perhaps it’s meditation, yoga, reading, writing, painting, taking a walk or run, getting better sleep, learning to cook, etc. Maybe you will remember something you loved to do as a child and since abandoned. You might consider ways to return to that activity you enjoyed.
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