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Academics

On the Right Foot: Tips for the New Semester

NC State students on campus
Students make their way across campus for the first day of classes at the start of the fall 2022 semester. Photo by Becky Kirkland.

Starting a new semester can be tough after a long, but needed break. It can be a little difficult getting back into the swing of things. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to manage your stress levels and enhance your college experience.

Set Realistic Goals

It’s common to want to set a lot of goals for yourself when starting something new, especially a new semester. Instead of setting results-oriented goals like making straight A’s or losing weight, Rhonda Sutton, director of college leadership programs and Extension assistant professor, suggests setting action-oriented goals

“You have to engage in a behavior in order to make A’s or lose weight,” says Sutton, who holds a Ph.D. in counselor education. “If I want to lose weight, I don’t wake up and say, ‘I’m going to lose weight.’ Am I going to decide to exercise three times a week? Am I going to watch my caloric intake? Am I going to drink more water? Those are the actions I can take to get me to that bigger vision of what I want.”

Sutton says you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself if you are wanting to make straight A’s. She suggests changing the goal to focusing on learning and comprehension, or improving on prior semester grades. 

“If you want to get good grades, you have to ask yourself, ‘What are my study habits? How many hours a day am I going to spend working on my classes? Am I going to get a planner and plan out when things are due?’ Just think about the actions that you can take to get to that goal,” says Sutton.

Experience vs. Grades

Speaking of grades, college isn’t just about the grades. There’s a lot to experience, inside and outside of the classroom, says Sutton. 

She suggests asking yourself these questions: How are you engaged and how are you connecting with others? How are you managing your time and getting involved? How are you getting what you came for?

“Grades are important, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. You have to be able to learn along the way and make some quality memories along the way, too,” says Sutton.

Annie Hardison-Moody, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences, provides some additional insight into why the learning experience is more important than grades. She stresses the importance of normalizing not being “perfect.”

“First, I want students to remember that while grades are important, they are in a competitive, well-regarded and rigorous program. The work is hard, and they might not make an A in every course – and that’s OK!”

You can read additional tips from Hardison-Moody in this blog post.

Handling Your Stress

We get it. Life is crazy busy from managing class assignments, doing extracurricular activities, spending time with friends and family, and working full or part-time. Finding balance is key, but the first step is recognizing what stress looks like. Sutton says there are warning signs to look for: not sleeping well, not eating well, feeling tense or being snappy with people.

“Figure out what works for you. Rest, eat healthy and exercise. Those are the three basic things to do on a consistent basis but also do what you can to not get overwhelmed,” says Sutton.

Planning ahead and pacing yourself throughout the semester are important. Having support is also important to your success, and support can be found through healthy relationships, trustworthy friends, caring professors and the various support services that the college and the university offer. 

Your mental health and well-being are the priority. There are programs and resources available to you should you need them, including the Ag and Sciences Wellness Program and telehealth therapy services through NC State’s Counseling Center. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences also has an “embedded” counselor, Luke Strawn, who works primarily with CALS students and College of Sciences students. Strawn welcomes students to either utilize his drop-in hours or to make an appointment. More information about him and the counseling services he offers can be found here.

Seek Support Early

This final tip might be the most important. If you need support or assistance, please seek it early and know that the faculty and staff are here to support you. Let a friend help you if you’re not sure where to start. The saying goes, “It takes a village.” It applies here, too. CALS wants all students to be successful and to be the best versions of themselves. 

Rhonda Sutton, Ph.D., directs the Leadership Office in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. Starting Feb. 1, she will serve as assistant dean for professional development with NC State’s Graduate School. Sutton earned a Master of Education and a Ph.D. in counselor education, both from NC State.