Five Tips for Starting Strong In a New School

School Building. what to do during the first week to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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

26 thoughts on “Five Tips for Starting Strong In a New School”

    1. I liked having the guest blogger because we do tend to forget what it is like to start a new school. It can feel very intimidating, and often we step back and lose what might be the most efficient first few days. It is a long way off, but each year seems to go by more quickly. I always felt just when I got things “figured out”.. they changed!

    1. Yes, excellent point. Especially if the new school has multiple buildings or complicated passageways. It can be surprisingly easy to get lost, and GPS can’t always help!

    1. Yes, having a private tour is a wonderful option if you can get one. So much is going on when you start school that it is nice to have figured out how to get from A to B before the crunch is on!

  1. I’m guessing that’s your daughter, Seana! She looks just like you! I love the tip about meeting and getting to know your professors outside of the classroom. They really do want to get to know their students and many times they’re so much more relaxed and relatable when they’re not lecturing.

    1. Yes, she is. I don’t think she looks like me, but others say she does! Melanie wanted to share her thoughts as she saw many students make choices in the first couple of weeks that had rough consequences later. Little Bennet is small, but it is a thought for later. Getting to know teachers before there is an issue often makes it easier if anything arises!

    1. Yes, in a way, it applies to anyone entering a new situation… scope it out, create relationships with superiors, and set healthy priorities. It is so tempting to just “chill” in that first week, but when used right, it can really be a time when you get ahead.

  2. When I read the title, I had a flashback to my first week (possibly day) of university. It was local, so I was living at home, but it was still a big change.

    I met someone who wasn’t a student there, but had accompanied her friend for the day. As I was telling her about myself, she asked me why I was there when I had been accepted by a more prestigious school (I had good answers to that question) but then went on to tell me that my chosen school was for people (like her friend) who couldn’t do any better. Devastated, I went home and cried my eyes out. Of course, I realized she was wrong but I still remember it clearly decades later.

    So I might add something to the list about being confident and emotionally prepared in case people say things that are unkind or upsetting.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…How to Use Instagram to Promote Your BusinessMy Profile

    1. I’m so sorry that you had that negative experience right at the beginning of your college career. Excellent advice to be confident and emotionally prepared. We all make our choices (regarding school, career, etc.) for a variety of reasons, the details of which most people are not aware. Simply preparing your mind in advance for the possibility of running across a critic could make all the difference in the way we react.

  3. What an awesome post with excellent suggestions for getting settled in and organized at the beginning of the school year! I can see that amazing connection both in looks and thought that you and Melanie share.

    I thought the advice about scoping things out in advance was interesting…like placing yourself in the universe. While I haven’t started school in a long time, I do a similar thing when I travel…especially for conferences. I like to check out where things are in the hotel, the expo, the sessions, the eating places, pool, and unpack and set-up my temporary organizing systems etc… before things start. When I don’t, I always feel like I’m trying to catch up and never feel settled.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v11My Profile

    1. Thanks for your sweet words, Linda. Melanie is much closer to all of those “back to school” issues than I am, so I was thrilled she agreed to write for me. I totally agree about scoping the scene. You can take your time and be invisible, and that always gives you a leg up with the “crunch” sets in. I know she was glad she had figured out the health services before the first time she got sick!

  4. It’s been so long for me, but I relive it a bit with the kids. Scarlet had summer camp last week and it rained so they went to the local middle school for pickup. I got lost in the school! Lost! Total anxiety nightmares from long ago.
    I think getting settled and organized is important and it certainly helped me with my college transitions. I’m the queen of checklists.
    Tamara recently posted…Chef Boyardee on Rollback at Walmart!My Profile

    1. I don’t think I ever figured out how to get around my girls’ high school — it was 5 different buildings with weird hallways and crosswalks. The school needed guides to help the parents out on Parent Night! I’m with you on checklists… I’d much rather get ahead than feel like I’m scrambling and feeling panicky.

  5. Love this blog and your new blogger! I especially appreciate the first tip of getting to know your surroundings. When we know how to get around, it lowers anxiety for many reasons. You are starting to feel comfortable in your new environment. It’s the first step in all transitions is accommodating a new location.

    New boundaries are a great way to set up new routines too. I like to think of my day in quadrants, or work sessions. if possible get classes that are all in the morning, so you get up and get going. Think of the afternoon as a work session for homework with a time block of 2- 5. The evening “work session” is fun time between 5 – 8. Then there is a final work session from 8-10 to wrap up a few homework loose ends and get organized for the next day. These work sessions make life better.

    1. I like to think of my day in “chunks” as well. In college, each semester might be different, but getting a feel for your overall schedule and planning in time in the library to get work done can be helpful. I loved having my classes in blocks, and then having significant pieces of time to just park and study. That was easier than the semesters when I had classes with small, unusable periods of time in between.

  6. I suggest looking for Facebook groups for the grade level and area the student is in. When my son started kindergarten we established a class group so parents could stay in touch, get to know each other, and help their children when they haven’t written down their homework assignments for the day.

    1. That’s a great idea, Jamie. When the children are entering elementary school, the parents also need to “settle in” and learn the ropes. I continue to be amazed at the ways FB has opened new options!

  7. Great tips, Melanie. I’m a big believer in meeting your professors. I’ve told my two “babies” in college that over and over again. Pinning now.

    1. Thank for the pin! Establishing a relationship with your superiors – in school or in work – can be very helpful whenever unexpected issues arise.

  8. I will note that as a former student and professor that meeting your professors during office hours is a very good idea. Perhaps not the first week, but at some point during the first few weeks is a good, especially in courses relevant to your major/field of study. I had so many of my students and assistants who were seniors trying to apply for grad school, internships, and jobs but none of them knew their professors and were only able to garner weak letters of reference. Senior year is too late to start getting to know faculty!
    Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats recently posted…Ceylon Tea Trails in Sri Lanka: Luxury, Tea, and Colonial AmbianceMy Profile

    1. Having a relationship with a couple of professors in your area of study helps in so many ways. They not only provide references and letters, but they usually have great wisdom about courses to consider, internships to pursue, and even resources to investigate. Thanks for affirmation from a professional point of view!

  9. Great tips! Researching before going to a new school helped me a great deal! Stress will always be present when in a new school. Helping yourself ease that stress of change will keep you healthy in the most stressful situation.

    1. The more you can research and talk to people who have been to the school, the better. I agree that starting at a new school will definitely be stressful, so whatever we can to “lighten the load” is worth it!

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