If you’ve been in any store lately, you know it’s just around the corner: back-to-school time! You can’t escape the school sales, kids stocking up on clothing and school supplies, and that oh-so-familiar smell of new notebooks, paper, and the memory of the thrill of choosing just the right backpack and lunch box. (No? Just us?) Going back to school for graduate school can be a little different than school days of the past; it’s a new endeavor, one that can be nerve-wracking and feel pressure-filled, especially if you’ve been out of school for a bit or are returning as a non-traditional student. Being nervous is completely normal. That’s why we’ve put together a list of ways you can beat the back-to-school nerves. (Check out our post from last year here, too!)
Make connections. If this is your first year in the program, most schools and programs put together a Facebook group or other social media “hangout” space for each cohort so that they can get to know each other ahead of time and build a community. Don’t be shy – now’s the time to strike up conversations and get to know each other. If you’re returning to your program, reach out to those you connected with and have a cup of coffee or lunch before school starts. Sometimes this can reignite excitement for the school year and quell some nerves.
Be a kid again. Remember how much you loved picking out a new pencil case, backpack, or lunch box? Even today, everyone loves buying a new package of pens or sticky tabs or fun school supplies. Why not treat yourself to a new notebook, pencil case, or planner? Have some fun with it! Pick something that will bring a smile to your face when you see it.
Be prepared. This was on our list last year, and it’s still true. In fact, this could be the most important tip on the list. If you’re going back to an in-person program, why not go over to campus a day or two ahead of time and make sure you know your surroundings? Check out where your department’s building is, walk around and find your classrooms, and generally get to know the lay of the land, so to speak. Find the library, ask around to see where grad student hangouts are, and get to know where the coffee shops are on campus. This can go a long way in calming first-day jitters. For those of you entering an online program, find out exactly when all the registration dates are, make sure you know how to navigate whatever platform the classes are on, and make sure your internet connection is up-to-speed and you have whatever you need for interactive classrooms. Double check your syllabi and verify any reading you may have to do prior to the first day of class. Make sure you’re registered for the correct classes, your school email works, and you have all the necessary student ID cards in place. Knowing that all of this is done can help eliminate small, but nerve-wracking, surprises that inevitably tend to pop up on the first day of school.
Plan ahead. This goes along with the “be prepared” advice, above, but in the crush and excitement of heading back-to-school this step can get lost. Make a plan and communicate with others. If you have other obligations in addition to school, including a job or family, you need to make a plan as to how you’re going to balance these obligations. Talk with your supervisor at work about any changes in work hours, plans for on-campus residencies, if applicable, and how things may change, if at all. Be honest with yourself about your study and work time, and use your planner or digital calendar to organize your time and obligations. At home, talk with family members about what you might need from them in order to succeed at school. Does this mean quiet, uninterrupted time at night to do homework? Does it mean arranging childcare during the week? Anticipating future potential issues can save you time and trouble later on.
Distract yourself. If you’ve already prepared for anything that may come up but are still nervous, try some distraction for a little bit. Watch a new show on Netflix, try a new recipe, read a book, revise your resume (we can help!), take a walk, or meet a friend for lunch. Even better, watch a funny movie about school – Kindergarten Cop or Billy Madison are always at the top of our list.
Take care of yourself. During times of stress, we tend to get less sleep and eat in less healthy ways. Remember to try and get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and get some fresh air. Check out our post on apps for stress reduction here, our post on getting enough sleep here, and some info on aromatherapy here. When we’re stressed, our immune system isn’t running up to par, and we’re more likely to get sick – which is the last thing you need for your first day back!
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