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10 Things You Can Do Right Now To Start The New Semester Off Right

Well, it looks like we don’t need John Cusack to repopulate the earth for us after all.

2012 is almost at a close. Lots of stuff happened, but no apocalypse came. Whether the year was great or terrible for you, it’s just about over. So now’s the time to look toward the year ahead!

I’m writing this post at the close of 2012, but the advice here applies to the start of every new semester – whether it’s during summer, fall, or spring. Regardless, it’s a fresh start.

How do you plan on making next semester kick even more ass than this one did? I’ve got quite a few plans of my own, and I’m sure you do as well. Today I want to give you just a few suggestions of how to start the next semester off the right way. I’m sure there are plenty of other bloggers doing posts just like this one (for the new year), but this is what I’m thinking personally!

1. Start Paying Off Your Loans Now

If you’re like the average student (me included), you’ve probably got several thousand dollars in student loans sitting around, just waiting for you to graduate.

Well, why not start putting a dent in that loan pile right now?

When the Fall 2012 semester started, I made the decision to start paying off my loans while I was still in school. In fact, I made it my goal to pay off all of my loans before they come due (which will be December 2013). So far, I’ve been able to pay off over $4,500! I’m going to keep going every month until it’s gone, and you can even track my progress in the “Professional Goals” section of my Impossible List.

Now, you might be saying something like:

“I can’t pay off those loans now! There’s like $56,000 dollars there, and I make almost no money! YOUR ADVICE MAKES ME WANT TO POOP ON A CHICKEN”

First off, think about the rights of the chicken. Secondly, don’t think of your debt load as a towering $56,000 monster that you can’t take on until you’re working at Google.

Instead, think of it as a bucket of sand. There may be a lot of sand there, and you may have a small shovel right now, but that doesn’t mean you can start scooping some out so there’s less of it to take care of later.

“Think of your student debt as a bucket of sand: no matter the size, you can start scooping away now.” Tweet This

If you’re not absolutely loaded down with classes, try taking a part-time job to earn some extra money. Even a 10-hour/week job at low pay can net you around $300 a month. If your expenses are already covered, you can use that whole sum to work at paying off your loans. Or, you can use some of it to have fun – go to movies, actually join your friends when they’re going out to eat – and use what’s left over to pay off loans. Every little bit helps.

You’ll thank yourself when you graduate!

2. Take Care of Textbook Duties Early

There’s nothing worse than showing up to the first week of a class that turns out to absolutely require the textbook – and not have it yet.

That’s why you should take steps now to get your textbook duties taken care of now – before you have to show up to class. Here’s a list of things you should do now to prepare:

  • Use whatever tools your university offers to figure out what textbooks are required for each of your classes next semester.
  • For each class that requires a textbook, you can email the professor to find out if the textbook is actually going to be used and determine whether or not you can buy an old edition and still be fine. This can save you a lot of money in the long run.
  • When you know what textbooks you actually need, buy them. Even if you’re not close to your campus bookstore, affordable textbooks are available at a lot of websites. In fact, you can probably find used editions for a lot less money.

One last tip – check to see if there are Kindle editions of any textbooks you need. Kindle textbooks don’t actually work on the regular Kindle devices (so you won’t need one) – but they will work on the free Kindle apps for Mac and PC. This lets you get a textbook that’s most likely cheaper and has the added benefit of not adding weight to your backpack. Most Kindle textbooks are even rentable, which means they’ll just expire at the end of the semester (and be even cheaper).

If you do want a Kindle device for reading your textbooks, the Kindle Fire HD does support them – as does the iPad. You just can’t use the regular e-ink devices.

3. Create Your Own Impossible List

New Year’s resolutions are great and all, but what about the big picture? What are the crazy, amazing things you want to do with your life? Do you know? If you do – are you committed to them?

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to create your own Impossible List. This is like a bucket list, but is filled with things you will I actively work towards doing. It’s not just a list of things you wish to do.

Define some goals for your life that you can start working on now. Unlike a bucket list, your Impossible List will evolve, grow, and become part of your life story. It’s not just a list of things to check off. It’s something to grow with.

If you’d an example, you can check out my own Impossible List. You can also read more about the concept straight from the dude who inspired me to make my own – Joel Runyon.

When you’re ready, create your own! You can even put it on your personal website if you have one (if you don’t, you can learn how to make one right here).

4. Join a New Club or Sport

If you’ve been in college for a while now, your life may have slipped into a sort of routine at this point. Wake up, eat (maybe), go to class, go to work, come home, study, chill with friends. It’s familiar. It’s not too hard, and you’re working towards your goals. That’s fine.

But it’s not exciting anymore, is it? All the wonder and excitement you experienced as a freshman has all but passed – at least, that’s how it was for me. Things kind of just slipped into a routine that I didn’t feel like breaking out of.

Well, for the new year, I say to break out of it. Try something new, just like you did when you were a freshman. Try joining a new club or trying a new sport. You can get your friends involved too if you want – they probably need a change as well. Instead of just coming home every day and grabbing your Xbox controller, try getting out and doing something.

Right after this last semester ended, my girlfriend and I decided to try out ice skating. I thought I would suck, but I’m actually not bad! We’re planning on joining the club for it next semester, and it’s going to be a lot more fun than just sitting around every night.

Ice Skating

There are probably 100 different things your campus offers that you could try out – just jump into one and see how it is! While you’re sitting at home on break, you can take some time to browse your school’s website for available clubs and events – there’s most likely a listing.

5. Start Building (Or Keep Working On) Your Personal Brand

If you haven’t started thinking about where you want to be after you graduate – and how you’re going to market yourself to get there – right now is the time to start.

Not sure what a personal brand is? That’s alright – most students aren’t. And that’s exactly why you should learn what one is and start building your own now – you’ll get an unimaginable leg up on all those other students.

Here’s the news: your degree isn’t going to get you a job on its own. Well, maybe it will – but odds are it won’t be the one you want. There are thousands and thousands of students graduating every year with the same degree you have, so you have to do something more to set yourself apart.

Building a personal brand means getting your name out there, and it also means making it clear that you’re an expert in your field. You want people to know who you are, what you’re good at, and what you want to do. The components of a successful personal brand – the stuff that’ll get you there – can include:

  • A tailored resume
  • A personal website that lists your achievements, credentials, displays your work, etc.
  • Business cards
  • A well-established social media presence
  • A network of people who can help you (and you can help in return)

Now, that last bit – the network – is probably the most important part, and it also takes the longest to build. You’ll be building relationships for your entire life, and for good reason. Having good relationships with people will open doors.

The other four parts, though, are all things you can start working on right now. If you’re sitting at home for break, bored off of your ass, then there’s no better time to start.

Check out this post to learn how to get started.

6. Deliberately Start Growing Up

This point may offend some of you, and to those of you that do take offense, I apologize. I also say grow up.

There are far too many college students who are still complete children. By this, I mean they let too much of their lives be run by their parents.

I understand that a lot of students need help from parents to pay for college. That’s completely fine – the transition to independence can never be instantaneous. However, I know too many people who are far more dependent than they should be. Their parents still call them and hassle them about their grades, when they should be caring about them all on their own. They don’t have their own bank account. They are, for all intents and purposes, still naive kids.

They need to grow up.

If you have free time during the break, then you can step into the new year like a grown man (or woman). Learn a few things! Take control of your life!

  • Get your own bank account so you can take out money without making a call to mommy
  • Find a part-time job so you have some money to take out
  • Do your own FAFSA this year
  • Do your own taxes this year – with TurboTax or the VITA program, it’s not that hard

Additionally, you should start learning important personal information. Do you know your own social security number? How about your car’s license plate and VIN number? Do you know who your health insurance provider is? You should!

I don’t want to sound like an old codger who walked uphill through 30 miles of snow to school every day, but I’ve been doing my own taxes since I was 15. I applied for college on my own and have always done my own FAFSA. It’s really not that hard – it just takes being organized. I’m always taken aback when another college student says he doesn’t know how to file his FAFSA, or doesn’t know his own social security number. I guess that’s the way things are now – but that doesn’t mean it has to be that way for you.

7. Clean Up Your Living Space (And Maybe Redecorate!)

Nothing can give a boost to your new year’s fresh-start efforts like making changes to your environment. Your surroundings dictate a lot about your life – you’re going to have a hard time making significant changes when you’re sitting in the same old messy room all the time. It’s time to change things up!

Take some time to clean up your dorm or apartment. Heck, maybe even buy a couple new posters and redecorate a little. Fresh change is good. I’ve changed up my room for the new year, and I can definitely tell that it’s helping me make other changes in my life.

new room

I’ve pimped the place out with some new posters, and also hung up some Christmas lights and installed a dimmer on the side of my bed so I can dim them to whatever brightness I want. It helps out a lot for customizing my environment based on my mood! I also installed a cool new way to display my books:

new bookshelf

Doing a bit of redecoration can be pretty cheap. You can find tons of cheap posters on AllPosters or Amazon, and other things can be found from all sorts of sources.

8. Start an Accomplishment Journal

In my post on crushing self-doubt, I recommended starting an accomplishment journal to keep track of all the things you get done. Now, an accomplishment journal is different than your Impossible List. It’s much more granular – much more concerned with the day-to-day, rather than the huge life goals you have. It’s also blank – it expects nothing of you. Its only  job is to show you what you’ve done, and to motivate you to keep doing.

This journal can be a physical book, or just a blank Evernote document, or whatever. Essentially, all you have to do is write down things you’ve done as you finish them, such as:

  • Completed homework assignments
  • Cleaning jobs you’ve been putting off
  • Health-related accomplishments, like going a day without sugar (what seems easy to some may not be to others)

Anything that makes you feel accomplished, put in your journal.

Then, when you’re feeling unmotivated, or doubting your own abilities, look back at the journal. Look at the sheer amount of stuff you’ve gotten done. Then, keep on accomplishing. Keep on expanding the journal.

9. Start Taking Your Health Seriously

You’re never going to be any younger than you are right now, and as you age, you won’t be able to get away with living an unhealthy lifestyle as easily as you could before. Now is the time to start taking your health seriously.

  • Pay more attention to your nutrition. Making food may seem like a pain in the ass and a waste of time, but you’re giving yourself more time overall by making the good stuff.
  • Move more. If you think about it, most of us don’t move much at all – we sit in class, we sit on the bus, we sit at home. In college, we have to walk to classes a lot – but you should be building more moving habits on top of that. You’ll need them when you graduate and no longer have to do all that walking.
  • Try to get a good amount of sleep. If homework is taking over your sleep time, learn to do it more efficiently by cutting out distractions. Check out this finals studying guide for tips on this subject – it may be about studying for finals, but a lot of the advice will help year-round.

Coincidentally, my favorite health blogger – Mark Sisson – wrote his own post on things you can do to start your year off right. All of his tips are health-based, so I’d recommend taking a look at them.

10. Make Your New Year’s Resolutions the SMART Way

Even though there are a good amount of things on this list you can start working on, I’m sure you have other goals and resolutions you’d like to make for the new semester. Everyone does.

However, most people will just make them and then immediately fail. I see it every year – I go to the school gym like always, and Januaries always piss me off. Droves and droves of resolution-making wannabes curling in the squat rack and generally making a mess of things. In a couple of weeks, they’re all gone.

Don’t be like them. For one, don’t curl in the squat rack (I will hurt you), and two, don’t make vague resolutions that you won’t keep. Make SMART goals:

  • S – specific – don’t say, “I want to get healthier”. Pick a goal – a real goal. Something with specific reasons, requirements, and constraints. Specify a benefit.
  • M – measurable – be able to measure your performance. A goal like, “I want to run a 5K in under 30 minutes” is great – you will know exactly when you’ve achieved it, and you have something to work towards. Something visible.
  • A – attainable – make your goal something you can attain in the near future. If you can’t even bench 100 pounds right now, don’t make it your goal to bench 225 right away. Shoot for 135, make it, and then raise the bar.
  • R – relevant – is this goal relevant to your life? It needs to really matter. A goal that doesn’t really matter to your life’s path isn’t going to be fulfilled – you just won’t be able to keep motivation.
  • T – time-bound – you need to set a time boundary for when this goal will be accomplished, so you are motivated to practice. The Alarm Trigger isn’t made-up; deadlines drive our performance.

If you’d like, you can read more about SMART goals. Whatever you do, just make some.

Thanks for reading my list of ways to start the next semester off right. If you’ve already made some goals of your own, share them in the comments below – maybe you’ll inspire someone else! Also, share this post with anyone who could use a boost to make next year even better than this one.