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HOW TO: Survive your first semester back to school

Updated on July 18, 2011

School is no longer out for summer

It is America's latest (but not quite greatest) catch phrase: "In this economy..." Fact is, many of you reading this have been hit and hit hard by said economy, and have been forced to make major decisions in your life because of it. If you have chosen to further your education by returning to school the following information can help guide you through the process.

There is a 4% chance this guy will be in at least one of your classes


Practice Makes Perfect

Your education can be a practice in patience. In our every day adult lives we may be used to doing things our own way and may even take a few shortcuts that we've learned along the way just to get things done quicker and on our time. With the education process you'll be standing in long lines, wasting gas while driving around looking for a parking spot remotely close to campus and huge amounts of time spent doing things you do not necessarily want to be doing.

I suggest you channel your inner Pat Morita ("patience insertnamehere-san") or learn breathing techniques to help you power through the many instances you are bound to encounter during the semester(s). School is a grind. Studying devours your time.

The student that arrives 15 minutes late to EVERY class will test every bit of patience you have. Remember, you are paying for your education. This is on your time, with your resources. Do not hesitate to voice concerns to your instructor if a student's tardiness or constant texting during lectures is distracting you.

Beg, Borrow and Steal

Grants and scholarships are attractive ways to pay for college because you do not need to repay the money. Loans will put you in huge debt, but are also a viable way to help pay for higher education. Already have loans and making payments every month? You can have the payments deferred while you are in school. The resources are out there, do not hesitate to look for them.

There are thousands (if not millions, depending on who you listen to) of scholarship dollars that go unclaimed every year. DO NOT LET POTENTIAL SCHOLARSHIP MONEY FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS. ITS FREE MONEY!

Play the numbers. Apply for as many scholarships as possible. Do not neglect smaller, local scholarships because they are often less competitive. A few hundred dollars here and there quickly adds up, and gives you credentials when applying for other scholarship applications. Scroll to the bottom of this page to see what options may be available to you.

A teacher of mine recently said to look at community college as an inexpensive way to get the same type of instruction that a 4-year college provides, at a fraction of the cost.  Professors at 4-year universities are there mainly to conduct research and write papers, generally handing off their classes to teacher's aids and undergraduates.  With class sizes that can reach in triple digits, why not take an equivalent course at a community college, with an instructor who is there to teach and no do research, and has time for more individual commitment to the students?

Buck the System

buy textbooks cheap, spend the money you save on food/gas/rent
buy textbooks cheap, spend the money you save on food/gas/rent

Head in the books

Why spend the full asking price on a textbook when you can get the same quality used copy at a local store or online for up to 60% less?

I'll wait.

Still thinking?

There is no logical answer for that question.  There are tons of resources for buying books on the cheap (see near the bottom of this page) and there is no reason to spend the outrageous amount the publisher is looking to gouge you for.  Many materials you can even find online now days for free (often useful for English courses).

And, at the end of the semester, sell your books back and use the money towards next semester's purchase.

Hard Work Pays Off

map your course to good grades
map your course to good grades

Map Your Course

Know what you want to do before you start the process of reapplying for school.  If you have credits from a previous stint in college, have your transcripts ready.  This will speed up the process greatly.  Looking to eventually transfer?  Get familiar with all the courses you will need for the program you are trying to get into.

Start off easy.  Have 32 remaining before you can transfer?  Take two classes to reacquaint yourself with the education process and see if its going to be something you will stick with.  Work, kids, marriage, responsibilities..... all can make it that much harder to succeed in school.  Take an art or cooking class that fills a general ed requirement, then load the last few semesters with the tougher stuff.

School = Less Unemployment?

- Ben Lafontaine
- Ben Lafontaine

Do NOT pay full price for textbooks

Your Opinion Matters

How many hours per day should you spend studying for a course that meets 3 hours once a week?

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