Woo-Hoo. We’re Back!
Your classes this fall will be more like maybe what you were expecting, but somethings may feel different. For many students in Georgia, and around the world, a return to full in-person instruction and events is very welcome and exciting. But the return to campus and normal operations may be more difficult than you think, and, of course, things are still a little different. So, what should you expect?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the University System of Georgia has worked closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Governor’s Office and Task Force to carry out its primary mission of educating students in a healthy and safe manner.
Our campuses have directly administered thousands of vaccine doses and are continuing to work to vaccinate their communities. We strongly encourage faculty, staff, students and visitors to get vaccinated and will continue to do so. While the vaccines are safe and effective, it is an individual decision to receive one and will not be required to be a part of our campuses.
Following updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University System of Georgia allows fully vaccinated individuals to enagage in on-campus classes and other activities without wearing a mask. Unvaccinated individuals are strongly encouraged to continue wearing a face covering while inside campus facilities, and everyone is welcome to do so.
Back in person, back online
The Pandemic made everyone a bit more comfortable with online courses and the digitial tools that support your learning. Even though you’ll be back in the classroom, your classes may reflect much of what we’ve learned over the past 18 months about how to help you learn.
To do this, most of your classes may feel much like they have in the past, but many of them will involve more technology and provide resources, content, and engagement online as well as in person.
Whether you are an incoming freshman, in your final semester, or somewhere in between, the first few weeks back on campus may be a challenge. The skills you honed to build your success may be a bit rusty - skills like note-taking, time management, asking questions, working in groups, and getting help. The good news is that there are now more ways to get support than ever before - in person, online, off hours. The other thing to keep in mind is that you’re not alone in this - everyone can sometimes feel a bit uncertain.
Here are some tips to help you keep learning…
Get on it
Find your faculty champion(s)
Reach out to your faculty early in the semester to build a relationship and help your instructors get to know you. Take advantage of office hours when you can to ask questions you maybe don’t feel like raising in class, to dig deeper, or to find out more. Matter of fact, you can even reach out by email before the semester starts to start building a relationship and get a better understanding of the courses you’re registered for.
Raise your hand
In class and in discussions, offer your input and ideas and ask your questions. If you’ve spent a lot of the past year learning online, doing this in person may be a bit of an adjustment, but doing so helps build your learning and can help your classmates. Some of us take a bit longer to process our questions, however, and if that is you, keep a running list in a notebook and ask them later. It’s OK to say, “Can we back up a bit? I have a question about something…” Truth is, that may help everyone get clear on a concept.
Lend an ear
Take in (and take part in) the discussion around you in class and listen to contributions and opinions of everyone in the class. As with asking questions, listening in an in-person class may take some getting used to if you’ve been mostly online lately. It may also be a good time to brush up on your note-taking strategies to help you collect what you hear in class and apply it later.
Learn the lingo
Colleges can often seem like they have a language all their own. Bursars. Registrars. Prerequisites. And what is with all of the acronyms? Getting to know the language is as much a part of settling into college as finding your classes and learning the material. Some resources may be available to you on your campus (Our current favorite is from Georgia Gwinnet College), but if not, don’t be shy about asking questions (and maybe keeping a list). (Incidentally, the term “bursar,” which is the term for the head of a college’s financial office, comes from the Medieval Latin word for “purse bearer”).
Brush up on your study skills
There are lots of ways to study and lots of resources available to you on campus to help. What got you this far is great, but college students often find that they need to adopt new strategies as well to maximize their success. Your campus has people ready and able to point you in some new directions, and your faculty can help.
Make a schedule
Once you’ve got your class schedule, create a routine for yourself that includes your classes, time for study, work, friends and family, and sleep (more on that later). It can help to set a schedule with goals and milestones to help you see your progress. Reflect on the amount of time you generally spend on your academic work, including class time, review, library research, homework, and extra time for major assignments. Remember to schedule some cushion in your schedule for the unexpected.
Once you’ve got that schedule, you may still need some help managing your time and tasks. There are plenty of digital tools that can help you keep on top of your work and stay organized. Find the tool that works for you and get in the habit of using it every day.
Read the syllabus
Sure, it may not be the most exciting thing you’ve read, but the syllabus for your class is your first stop for information on your class. Reading it all the way through can help you to know what to expect, how to contact your instructor, due dates, late assignments and make up policies and more. Oh, and on that schedule you just built? Put your assignments and due dates on it so you can stay on top of them.
Manage the Learning
Whether you are learning in a hybrid-style course, online or fully face to face, more of your classwork will be done inside the learning management system – often called “the LMS” or by some local term (BlazeView; iCollege, etc). Depending on the class, you will find announcements, the syllabus, assignments, discussion posts, and more in one space. This is great, but it means you need to know how to get around the LMS. It may be that you’re a pro already, but if not, your campus has resources to help you get things done.
Your LMS has some handy tools to keep you organized, including a way to forward alerts and messages to a place you’ll see them, and settings to help you know when an assignment is coming up. Explore these and more tools with guides from your campus.
Sign Me Up!
You’ve probably heard that college is a great place to try new things, and that is absolutely true. Your campus has all kinds of clubs and groups to help you discover new things, continue established interests and support you in your studies. Want to learn to dance? There’s a club for that. Play an instrument? Sure, we’ve got an orchestra. What about rafting and camping? Yep, there’s a club for that. Most of these opportunities are coordinated through the student activities office on your campus, and are supported through the fees you pay, so think of it as a part of your full package. And if you don’t see your interest represented, you can typically start a new club easily enough.
Working on campus
Many students work during their time at college, and if that is you, consider taking a job on campus. Campus jobs are more willing to work around your class schedule, keep you close to campus resources, and offer a great opportunity to build your professional and leadership skills along the way. Many campus jobs can put you at the heart of the action and help you connect with your peers and find helpful mentors for building your career.
Special lectures, readings, concerts, sporting events, celebrations. Your campus has these and more. In the aftermath of the Pandemic, many of us have been feeling a bit starved for getting together with old friends and making new ones. Campus sponsored events, and just hanging out on campus, offer opportunities to meet and make friends.
Build your team
Academic success supports
College courses should be a challenge for everyone, and that is a good thing. Struggling alone, however, is not necessary. Your institution provides a number of academic supports, including tutoring across a range of topics, writing labs, and peer groups. Also, take advantage of your instructor’s office hours. And even better, many of these things are available both on campus and online, so you can access them where, and often when, you need them.
Another great way to support your studies and get connected at the same time is to start a study group. Studying with others can help bring new perspectives and processes to the problem, keep you on time and task, and make classwork easier. It is also a great way to find new friends on campus. You can often reserve spaces on campus where you can get your work done and be productive as well.
Your academic advisor is your personal navigator to college and is there to help you make choices about your major and classes, sort out your schedule, and even find resources and opportunities on campus. There are a lot of resources and services available to you, and your advisor can also help you sort through them to connect you with what you need to succeed. Get to know your advisor early in the semester and keep in touch throughout the term, even if things are going great.
Mental Health resources
The stress of classes, new social environments, separation from the familiar and routine, and general uncertainty and doubt can make college a time when many people struggle and face mental health challenges. While this has always been true, the Pandemic has only increased the acute need and awareness of mental health on campus. Whether its homesickness, depression, anxiety, or social problems, your campus gives you access to professionals who are there to support you with a wide range of services. Many institutions provide opportunities to reach out in person, by phone, or online, as well as a tremendous array of wellness opportunities to support the development and maintenance of healthy habits for physical and mental well-being.
Connecting your coursework and college experience to your career goals is important, even if you’re not entirely sure what those career goals are yet. So whether you’re 100% certain of where you want to be or just exploring your options, stop by the career services office on your campus and get to know what they offer. You’ll find it’s more than just resume help. Your career services office can help you identify a field that is right for you (and help you know if you are on the right track to get there), find experiences to get you ready for your next steps, practice your interviewing and networking skills and connect you to employers.
Sure, the library has books (including, by the way, copies on reserve of many of the required textbooks you are going to need for your classes), but it has so much more. Library faculty are one of the hidden gems on campus, able to support you in your research, guide you through the thorny details of finding sources, navigating research databases, and also making sure you cite everything properly. Your library may also have technology for loan, provide space for studying in groups and by yourself, workshops on being successful, and support on technology and learning tools.
One of the upsides to the Pandemic has been an increased flexibility in financial aid. Stay in touch with the financial Aid office throughout the year so that you are aware of important deadlines, understand what is needed from you, and are alerted to opportunities for scholarships and grants. Also critical, as your family’s financial situation changes, you may be eligible for more support, or to appeal financial aid decisions.
Take Care of Yourself
Everything is going to be great; but nothing is going to be perfect
College is a time of tremendous change for everyone. Be realistic about your expectations and hopes, and understand that just as the amazing experiences you are going to have are a part of what you are in college for, there will be disappointments and challenges along the way. All of this (and so much more) are part of the process, and that’s OK. Challenges and setbacks can provide opportunities to learn a bit more about ourselves, and we can use them to improve, expand our options, and learn.
Get some Sleep! Get Active!
It can be really tempting to squeeze a little more time out of the day by sleeping a little less, but maintaining good sleep habits are essential to your physical health, mental health, and learning. The same is true of staying active. For some students, college life makes it hard to keep either in the frame, with work, school, social life and studying all piling on. Get into the habit early, and if you have to skip or scrimp on either sleep or activity, be sure to allow for time to make it up. Having trouble getting to sleep? Talking to someone at the counseling center may help with that too.
Don’t struggle alone
School is hard, and it is easy to think that everyone has it under control but you. Find the resources and supports that work for you – social groups, clubs, dorm mates, friends from home, people at work, on campus, or in the community. The more you reach out, the more you learn that everyone has their moments of challenge and doubt, and many people only made it through by finding someone to lean on. And don’t be shy about being a resource for others – your campus may offer training resources to help you be a support for struggling students.