Five Tips for Starting Strong In a New School

 School Building

Do you know someone who is headed off to a new school? This week I am delighted to welcome guest blogger Melanie Turner, a college sophomore, who provides insight on what to do during the first week to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

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Beginning a new school can be daunting. New classes, different instructors, and unfamiliar campuses leave us feeling overwhelmed. However, students have an opportunity during the first week of school to minimize these challenges. Below I identify five basic steps to start off the school year right.


  1. Scope out the scene ahead of time.

Whether you are beginning middle school, heading off to boarding school,  or entering college, it is helpful to explore any unfamiliar space prior to embarking on your first day of classes. Walk through your schedule when you are not pressed for time, whether that means familiarizing yourself with a single building, or venturing across an entire campus. As you go, look for the following:

Libraries: Find help desks, peruse bookshelves, ask for passwords (wifi, online databases, etc.), and seek assistance with print/copy machines. Is there an online form to reserve study space? If the library offers free tutoring, are there applications you must complete in order to participate?

Health Services: Scoping out the nurse’s office or student health center when you feel healthy will save you the extra effort when you feel sick.

Restrooms: You will be grateful to know how to find the restrooms when you are regretting the coffee you drank before your morning classes!

Offices: These may include main offices, counselor/psychological services, department headquarters, or other administrative locations.

Food Services/Cafeterias: Whether this is a vending machine or a dining hall, it is helpful to know where to grab a bite to eat.

Study Spots: During the last month of my first year at college, I discovered a computer lab on the bottom floor of a building that turned out to be a productive study area. I wish I had known about it earlier!

Gyms: How does the locker system work? What are the hours of operation?

Music Practice Rooms: Make sure you know who to ask for the key, or how to reserve a room!

This self-guided tour may seem unnecessary, but when life gets chaotic, you will be thankful you know how to find what you need.


  1. Develop systems right away.

You may feel tempted to delay setting up binders, folders, notebooks, files, and other organizational systems until after classes begin. Perhaps you want to know which supplies the teacher suggests before labeling file tabs and binder covers with permanent ink. While these are good intentions, they can have serious consequences. The first week of school yields an enormous influx of paper: syllabi, class expectations, new assignments, rubrics, etc. In the hustle and bustle, it is tempting to stick this paperwork in the inside pocket of a binder, but this leaves you organizationally behind by the end of your first day.

Instead, establish a system prior to starting class so that things do not get out of hand. Decide whether you prefer binders, folders, notebooks, or composition books, and come with a plan for where to keep handouts. If you decide that you want to rework your system later on, if will be easier to do so with papers already in some established order.


  1. Meet your teachers/professors.

The first time you meet with your instructor outside of class should not be when you disagree about a grade or have an issue with the class. Instead, attend office hours during the first week. Introduce yourself, ask a question about the syllabus, or inquire about a particular aspect of a homework assignment. Better yet, follow up on an intriguing class discussion, or ask your professor about his/her area of expertise. Taking advantage of the access you have to your educators will make the classroom experience more enriching, and doing this early on opens communication in case you ever need to discuss a more pressing concern.


  1. Establish healthy boundaries.

I have found that the sleep schedule I set during the first week of school shapes the rest of my year. An unhealthy pattern developed during the first week of school will only get worse as classes become more challenging and extracurricular activities more demanding. Amidst catching up with friends, trying new activities, and broadening one’s horizons, use the first week to decide what you need to do to take care of your body. With how much sleep do you function best? How much time would you like to dedicate to exercise each week? Establishing these boundaries early will help later on when things get hectic.


  1. Work ahead.

If you find yourself with extra time on your hands, use the opportunity to work ahead! Generally, the first few weeks of school are not the most academically strenuous. Rather than falling behind, be proactive. Studying diligently in the first week may prevent stress down the road. If a long-term assignment is introduced, remember that there may be many other tests and quizzes taking place around the time that project is due. You will be grateful for anything you do now to alleviate a future burden!

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The shift from summer mode to school mode can be daunting, especially when you are starting off in a new school. Rather than hanging on to the lazy days of sunshine and sleeping in, make the most of the transition. An exciting year lies ahead!

Do you have any tips for settling into a new school?


Melanie Turner is a second year student at the University of Virginia

Melanie Turner