How to Prepare for a New Semester & My Note-taking System!

A new semester can seem really intimidating and daunting. You are starting new classes with professors you may not be familiar with, you have a whole new schedule, and your assignments are different and probably more challenging than ever before.

Preparing yourself ahead of time can make the entire experience so much easier, and it definitely helps to set you off on the right foot!

I thought today I would share with you all how I prepare for a new semester, as I get ready for my junior year of college!

Also, this can apply to any age, but the tips may just have to be reworked a bit to suit your needs!

*Another note- obviously this semester is a bit different for most of us, as we are in the middle of a pandemic, but the way I prepare (whether it be for online or on campus classes) is the same!

Step 1: Buy your stationery and books

The first thing that I do to prepare is get all of the supplies I need! I feel like once I have all of my school supplies, I’m officially in the back to school season, and I can prepare myself mentally.

First and foremost, this includes a planner for me (basically the most important supply). I will have a more in-depth post about my planning system going up soon, but having a planner is integral to my organization for school. In addition, you want to get any notebooks, textbooks, pencils/pens, erasers, etc. that you need.

I like getting this all ahead of time because then I feel like the most options are available. I know a lot of people recommend waiting before buying your books in case your professor tells you that you don’t actually need it(which is a valid tip). However, I found that if I waited too long, I could not find used editions of the books I needed because they were already sold out. Most places that I buy used books from allow me to return them for a certain period of time, so I’m not worried about getting books I don’t need. Obviously, this is up to you and what you decide you want to do with buying your books! If you buy them as e-books, for example, you can wait on that!

Step 2: Create a weekly time table (schedule)

Every semester, I create a spread in my bullet journal (or on a piece of paper/your phone) with the days of the week written at the top and times going down the bottom. I write down what classes I have at what times, and add in any weekly events such as club meetings, jobs, etc. This way, I know how much free time I have, when the best days are to study, when I can hang out with friends, etc.

On this time table, I also like to block off time that is just for me. Meaning, I do not set any meetings, events, ANYTHING during that time. I use it to relax, stay at home, and catch up on anything that I want to.

Step 3: Write out all of your assignments & due dates

As soon as I get my syllabi for each class, I write out the assignments & their due dates in my planner. I know this seems tedious, but as the semester goes on and you get busier, you may forget about an assignment. If it’s already in your planner, there’s a greater chance you’ll remember about it!

Also, sometimes professors won’t remind you that an assignment is due, they just expect you to hand it in on the day of. This can be incredibly stressful, so just do it & write it all down! Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.

Step 4: Figure out a time management & studying plan

This is super important in my opinion! Figuring out when and how you are going to study can really save you a lot of time once classes start. In the time table I mentioned earlier, you can block out specific days/times that you want to study, and make sure that you actually follow it each week. Or, you can create a plan for each class depending on the subject matter and how much time you want to dedicate to it each week/day. Either way, having a set plan can really make your life easier.

Also, knowing what study method works best for you (i.e. flash cards, quizzes, study groups, etc.) is important. You don’t want to find out the day before a big exam that you can’t seem to learn something because you’re trying to use flash cards when that just doesn’t work for you. It ends up being a waste of your time!

Everyone studies in different ways, so learning this early on is crucial to success!

Step 5: Relax and Refresh

Finally, the week before I go back to school, I try not to overwhelm myself with too much. Obviously there is a lot to do to prepare, especially if you are moving for college.

However, the semester itself is going to get hectic and stressful already, so don’t try to cram in too many last minute things in this final week (or at least the few days leading up to the first day).

Instead, give yourself time to relax and unwind!

Also, it’s a good idea to fix your sleeping schedule (I know, it’s easier said than done), and do some self-care.


My Note-taking System:

It took me a long time to find a college note-taking system that works for me, if I’m going to be honest. I think I wrote a post last year where I went through a really long and complicated process. It was way too much work and it was not sustainable AT ALL.

I have definitely narrowed down the process and made it much simpler for myself, and I definitely think it’s what I’m going to use for the rest of my academic life.

First off, I ditched my 5 subject notebooks. Honestly, it felt like such a waste of paper. In some classes, yes, I was taking a lot of notes and the pages were going to good use. However, in some classes, I only had to take notes maybe once or twice a month. This is what college is like in a nutshell. So the majority of that classes section was empty, and after the semester was over, I had so much leftover paper that wasn’t ever going to be used. It was so so wasteful. Plus, I usually take 6 classes a semester (and in the Spring I’m going to be taking 7), so 5 subjects just isn’t enough either.

Instead, I now use one composition book for all of my classes. Yep. Just one.

I only use this compostion book for lecture notes, by the way! Which means this is where I write my messy notes during class, while the professor is speaking (or lecturing), and I don’t worry about making the notes neat or pretty.

On the first page of the notebook, I create a key with all of my classes, and I designate one color pen/highlighter to it.

When I take notes for that class, I start on a blank page and write the class name and lesson/unit at the top. This way, I can easily flip through my notes and look for one certain color that pertains to that class. This may seem a bit chaotic, but it works really well for me.

Then, after each class, I review my notes by rewriting them. I type my notes, and I don’t use any fancy processing system- just plain and simple Word! I tried using OneNote in the past to make my notes look nice and neat, but it doesn’t really allow you to print out your notes properly, and I found myself copying and pasting all of the information to a Word document instead. So, now I just stick to Word.

When I type up my notes, I always start with the lesson number or unit name at the top, and I rewrite the professor’s ideas into my own words. I also make sure I keep the important stuff that may be on tests, and lose anything that I don’t really need to know. Basically, I just make sense of the quick, messy notes I took during class and make them more readable in a typed format- almost like I’m creating a study guide. Then, when I have a test coming up, I can print out these notes, highlight them, write on them, etc.

I try to do all of my rewriting the same day as the lecture if I can, but no more than 4 days later. Otherwise, some of the things I write down might not make sense cause I’ll forget what they mean.

That’s it for my notes! I really don’t do anything fancy as far as color coding or anything else goes, aside from separating my classes by color.

I hope this post was useful (and that it made sense) for you! If you have any questions about anything I talked about, please feel free to ask!

What are some back to school essentials for you?

A Look Back on My First Semester of College // Blogmas Day 17

Tomorrow is my last final for my first semester of college, and then I will be going home for the winter season! I can not wait for a break, finals KILLED ME.

But, today I want to reflect on how my first semester went, and how I feel about where I am right now :)

So, the first week was sort of rough for me. I actually wrote a post about my first week and how unhappy I was. I think the change was just bigger than I expected it to be, combined with the heat and not having air conditioning, and getting a little sick towards the end made me feel really cranky and out of place. I missed home and the familiarity of seeing my friends everyday. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, and I just wanted to move onto the part where I have close friends.

Luckily, things have definitely looked up for me! I joined a few clubs on campus, got to know some amazing people, and I enjoyed all of my classes.

I definitely learned so much this semester- not just school wise, but also about myself.

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Some highs from the past few months:

  • Living on my own and having independence
  • Read my poetry out loud for an audience for the first time ever
  • Got straight As on my midterms!
  • (I think) I got straight As on my finals (grade aren’t out yet)
  • Made a ton of new friends
  • Had enough time to participate in NaNo this year (unsuccessfully, but still)
  • Went to a book signing
  • Made so many new online connections

The last two weeks have been finals, so I’ve been working really hard, and it’s been stressful.

But, I am super pleased with how my first semester of college went, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me in the future :)

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How to Stay Organized in School

*This post contains a promotion for the Lightspeed Planner, but all opinions are my own.

I am HUGE on organization. I keep all of my stuff in order, and I work really hard to create systems for myself to keep my papers together.

In college, you don’t get a lot of space to keep all of your papers/textbooks for school (if you dorm), and you don’t have anyone around to tell you to keep your things neat.

I have a few tips here to help you stay organized for the rest of the semester (and hopefully the rest of your school career), which I hope you find helpful.

Use a Planner

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Using a planner is truly vital- especially in college. If you don’t write down all of your assignments, you’re going to lose track of what you have to do. Planners are so beneficial, and you can schedule out time for all of your activities. They are a great visual to utilize, and I would be so lost without mine.

Professors (almost always) give you a syllabi with all of the assignments for the semester listed on them with the due dates, so you can go ahead and mark the calendar right away. This way you won’t forget about something, especially if the Professor doesn’t talk about it in class.

Also, with a planner, you can evenly spread your time out between school, work, friends, and other obligations. You can make sure you have an even balance of everything, and see how much time you spend on each activity.

Planners are just life changing.

Buy a File Folder/Accordion Folder

I can not explain to you how useful having an accordion folder has been for me. I write so many essays and take so many exams. Eventually I don’t need them anymore for the current class, but they may be useful again for either the final exam, or a future class. I don’t want to get rid of all of the notes I have, so I put them all in accordion folders and separate them by class.

My plan right now is to have a new one for each semester, so that way I can easily find anything I’m looking for. You really don’t know when those notes will come in handy again. Obviously, there are many things I throw out and don’t keep, but I like to keep the big assignments or important works that I might be thankful for at a later time.

Pack Your Bag Ahead of Time

The night before every weekday, I pack my backpack. This is extremely important to me, because I tend to get very stressed out in the mornings, especially when I give myself some extra time to sleep in. If I put the things I need in my bag in the morning, I tend to forget things or bring things I don’t need.

Doing it the night before just helps to eliminate some stress!

Make To-Do Lists

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I have been using the Lightspeed Planner for my daily to-do lists, and I am LOVING it. It makes everything so simple and helps you to prioritize your important tasks. It contains around 280 undated pages that are all the same:

  • Must Do
  • Should Do
  • Could Do

It helps you to identify your three main objectives for the day, and will ensure you stay on track. I think overwhelming yourself with too many tasks makes everything very overwhelming and stressful. By just focusing on 3 things a day (you can always write multiple things in each box if you really need), you can fully dedicate yourself to those three things.

At the bottom, there is also a notes section, as well as a progress tracker. You can decide how productive you were for the day, which is really motivating for me.

Overall, using to-do lists really inspires you, and checking off every box on the list is a very great feeling.

Set Time to Clean

Dedicate a specific day/time to cleaning. The days go by so quickly, and sometimes it feels as though you just cleaned your room yesterday, but really it’s been almost two weeks. You really don’t realize how fast it goes by.

I usually dedicate Thursdays to cleaning because it tends to be my lightest day of workload. I have enough time in between my two classes to Swiffer my floor, dust my furniture, organize my files, and clean out my fridge. After class, I usually do my laundry, and then I have the rest of the day to do whatever else I want/need to do.

If I didn’t specifically set this time, I probably wouldn’t dust my room very often, and it would get messy very quickly.

chat with me

Please let me know if you try out any of these tips, or if you use them already! Comment some of your organization tips, too. I can always use some more suggestions.

Also, be sure to check out the Lightspeed Planner! I highly recommend it :)

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A Reflection on My First Week of College

Before you read this, I just have one thing to say!

I originally had no intent to ever post this. I wrote what I was feeling because I felt like I had no one to talk to and I really needed to let this all out.

I am now in my fifth week of school, and I feel a whole lot better. I’m getting used to it, making great friends, and doing well in all of my classes. I might even be starting to love it! There really is an adjustment period, so if you are feeling the same way as I was, just give it time.

And for everyone who is not in college yet and is reading this, don’t worry. It’s not as bad as I made it seem. I tend to exaggerate things (a lot), and I feel completely different about school now.

Ok, on with this little open letter!

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I hate it.

I was anticipating this for months. Living on campus, being surrounded by friends, going out all the time, having freedom and more time to do whatever I like.

Instead, I feel stressed. Anxious. Lonely. Different.

I always relied on my ability to handle change and adapt to any and all circumstances. This is a change that I was excited for- I literally counted down the days. But I feel so lost. Like I’m missing a part of myself and don’t know how to get it back. Everyone around me seems to be doing so well. People have already made the friendships that they’re going to keep for life.

I feel like I’m so behind and having a hard time adjusting while everyone else has it so smooth sailing.

For the first time in my life, I miss home. I miss my room. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I even miss high school. That is a sentence I never thought would come out of my mouth.

I have always seen people older than me post about their experiences online and they all look like they are having the time of their life. That is the experience I wanted. I want to love this school so much that I’ll miss it when I’m home for breaks. But I can’t see that happening.

I know it takes time. Everyone tells me that. But it just doesn’t feel like it will change.

I’m trying to stay positive, but it can be really hard sometimes. Here’s to hoping next week gets better.

Xo, Jess