Student Blog: Tools To Get You Through Your First Semester of College

Here are some strategies I've developed for dealing with your first semester of college (and any semester after that)!

By: Nov. 29, 2023
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Student Blog: Tools To Get You Through Your First Semester of College Introduction

Hello readers! I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m almost at the end of my first semester as a college student. Personally, I felt like Thanksgiving break was way too short but now I’m finally back on campus, in the swing of things, gearing up to take on finals and auditions for next semester’s season in the next couple of weeks. I’ve definitely felt a little homesick this semester but Thanksgiving break was a nice remedy. I’m thinking about all the other college students in my shoes right now and wishing them all a great end to the semester! Since I’m in a reflective mood, I’m also thinking about how I’ve coped with so much change in my life these past few months. It definitely has not been easy but I’ve found some ways of dealing with all the highs and lows of college life so far that could help prevent my fellow college students from dreading next semester. These tips are also meant to help incoming college students with their very first semester of school, when that time comes. Some of my coping mechanisms are kind of obvious but what can I say? They just work for me. :)

Nap Time! 

The first strategy I recommend for helping to balance a busy workload and theatre schedule (for theatre students, of course) is getting enough sleep. Now, don’t be fooled, I am not great at this! I’m pretty much the opposite of great at getting a sufficient amount of sleep… I'm a borderline insomniac. However, I am used to getting up in the morning much earlier for my high school schedule than I do with my college schedule, so far, which has been a major plus. Still, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights throughout the semester. So, although I’m not an expert, my one tool for getting enough sleep is scheduled naps, power naps to be precise. I feel like most college students take advantage of this tool already but if you don’t, and are looking to gain some extra hours, try taking a look at your daily schedule and finding intervals of time when you can rest, maybe in between classes or before getting dinner at the end of the school day. Most of the time, I like to catch a nap after my afternoon ballet class but before going to the dining hall to have dinner with my friends. It gives me a little over an hour to catch a nap before going to rehearsal or doing my homework. This doesn’t work for me all the time because sometimes I have so much on my mind I can’t fall asleep until the day is over. However, a good power nap will definitely suffice when you haven’t gotten much rest the night before so find a time that works for you and stick to it. Make sure to set an alarm (or multiple) so you don’t fall asleep for so long that you can’t go to bed that night. 

Your Notes App = Your Best Friend

My next strategy is making a to-do list. I love using the Notes app on my phone to make checklists of all the things I need to do, whether it’s homework, studying, practicing audition material, or even just cleaning my room. I’ve noticed a lot of my friends use this strategy too, so take it from me when I say that sometimes it just helps you to make a list on your phone or write the list down in a journal, planner, or on a plain piece of paper and organize yourself! It may seem obvious or like a waste of time to do this but truly, if you’re in a rush, keeping track of everything that needs to be done can change the entire trajectory of your day. I especially love using the green check mark emoji on my phone to mark each task I’ve already completed because it’s so satisfying to see a visual representation of myself actually being productive. You can use this strategy anytime but tracking your productivity, I’ve found, is the best when you’re coming off a period of exhaustion or feeling overworked because it gives you that visual push of motivation to get back on schedule. 

Showing Up For Yourself 

My next couple of suggestions kind of go hand in hand. These tools fall under the umbrella of “showing up for yourself” which basically, for me, means getting out of your comfort zone, or simply getting out of your bed, to complete tasks that are easy to bypass. In my case, before coming to college, I literally hated practicing my singing. There are a million reasons why I just never wanted to push myself to do it regularly but, since coming to school, I’ve made a change. I actually enjoy practicing a lot more now because I get to go into a secluded little practice room and have time alone to take a good look at what I’m doing instead of going through the motions. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t days when getting out of bed to practice sounds like the worst idea known to mankind. Recently, I’ve been pushing myself to overcome that little voice that says “don’t show up for yourself” because I came to school to work and learn so I need to keep that promise to myself. Deep down, I know a lot of us feel the same way. If anyone is struggling with this right now, all I have to say is be consistent. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes, practicing on a consistent schedule truly makes a difference. It’s shocking to me that I can actually make that claim with confidence now because I’m doing it for the first time in my life. Take it from me, once you get past the hurdle of avoiding it, showing up for yourself actually becomes rewarding. I’m sure there will be times in the future when it’s even harder for me to set aside time to practice but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I definitely think it does help to be in a space like a practice room, even if it’s not the most advanced one, because there’s not much else to do in there but sing or make music. I mean, basically, each room has a massive piano in the middle of it and a door that shuts and locks so, even if you are being heard by the people outside the room, you feel alone. Such privacy and a change in space can really contribute to your productivity. 

Throughout this semester, I’ve found that your space kind of means everything. For example, my dorm room barely has enough space as it is so when it’s dirty I feel like I’m being swallowed by everything in it. How can I get my homework done or take my power naps in there when it’s a total mess? I used to be such a messy person but since I’ve gotten older and adjusted to living with another person, I’ve found that I can’t survive long in a room with things all over it. As a solution, I routinely clean my room. Does it look perfect all the time? Absolutely not. Does it stay messy for long? Not at all. Finding that balance in controlling my surroundings has taken some time but it feels good to know I have a comfortable space to come back to after my day of classes to get the essentials done. Even in that comfortable space, however, sometimes I just need to get out. I mean a lot of stuff goes down in one’s room. Maybe not crazy stuff but stuff. In my room, I sleep, eat, watch TV, and have friends over often. Sometimes it becomes so comfortable that I’m distracted by everything in it and, if I have an assignment or a certain task hanging over my head, I can’t get anything done. That’s why it helps to change your space sometimes. I’ve done homework kind of all around campus this semester. The library is a great and productive place to work but also I’ve found that even just plopping down at a table or sitting on a bench outside (thankfully, I have the luxury of doing that on my campus) can be a helpful change of scenery. It’s a similar way of “showing up for yourself” because sometimes you have to leave your comforts to feel driven and accomplish your to-dos.

Gimme a Break, Gimme a Break (finish the line)

My last tool for coping with an overloaded schedule is giving yourself a break every once in a while. Take this tool with a grain of salt because if you give yourself too many breaks you won’t be productive at all. I feel like life, especially college life, is about finding a healthy balance between being productive and taking time to “stop and smell the roses.” This semester, I’ve had many moments when I’ve felt too mentally overwhelmed with everything on my plate that I need to stop and just call my mom or hang out with friends. It’s definitely okay and most of the time NECESSARY to enjoy life during the school week in addition to the weekend. I bet most college students can’t say they’ve gone to a Broadway show on a school night but at schools like Wagner, it’s probably more common than anywhere else. When all three of my friends won the lottery to see Shucked on a Wednesday night, I was definitely not going to pass up the opportunity of going even though I had quite the busy schedule. Of course, if you have a commitment like a rehearsal maybe don’t skip that on such short notice but, if you were in my situation and just had tasks that you would have to find another time to complete, you take advantage of the chance to do something fun. In a theatre program especially, I think it’s important to step back from your work every once in a while to enjoy life experiences and art made by others. It may seem like common sense but sometimes we forget to really enjoy things, especially when we are super busy. Just remind yourself to take a step back every now and then.

NYC Bucket List: Holiday Edition 

Continuing this segment from my first blog post, here is my NYC Bucket List for the holiday season: 

  • Go to the Bryant Park Winter Village
  • See the Radio City Rockettes again this year
  • See the Rockefeller Center Tree again for the first time in years
  • Definitely NOT go ice skating because I'm scared of that
  • Eat some yummy pasta in Little Italy 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!