6 essentials to ensure a successful semester of college

August 04, 2021 · 7 min read · By ASU Online
Learn how to start every semester with a strong plan for success. 

The start of a new semester marks a new beginning and offers another opportunity to challenge yourself and achieve success. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions from excitement to nervousness, but there’s no need to stress. You have the power to start on the right foot or make every semester even better than the last.

Stop and reflect on previous learning experiences and behaviors that either helped or hindered your ability to achieve at your highest potential. Just a few simple changes can profoundly impact how you navigate a new course or even an entire program. As you prepare for the new semester, we encourage you to explore different ways to help your productivity soar.


1. Get organized and plan ahead.

Preparation and organization are key to being successful in college, as they help minimize stress and maximize productivity. When you build a solid foundation and understand what the expectations are, you’ll have the clarity to plan ahead for assignments. 

  • Familiarize yourself with course syllabi and download materials sooner rather than later.
  • Buy any books required for class in advance so you’re ready for the first day.
  • Reach out to your professors and introduce yourself. Communicate any travel plans or commitments that may conflict with your coursework. 
  • Find a planner or calendar to capture important dates and deadlines.
  • Create a master weekly schedule to outline the study time you’ll need. 
  • Establish a dedicated workspace and keep it free of clutter. 
  • Connect with your fellow classmates (they can become great study partners and friends).
  • Stay confident and embrace an optimistic mindset. There’s power in positivity. 


2. Set strong, achievable goals.

Goal setting is a powerful tool. It keeps you accountable and helps you maintain a sense of direction. Set yourself up for success and create goals that are clearly defined. You can make them SMART or WOOP them up.

SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  

For example: "I want to achieve at least an A- in all of my classes this semester.

To achieve this goal, I will set appointments with each of my professors at the start of the term. I will ask for advice on how to prepare and take notes on their feedback. I will create (and follow) a week-by-week study schedule for each course and include a calendar to note key due dates for assignments and exams. I will follow my plan, complete all my work and apply all that I learn along the way to future projects. By the end of the semester, I will score an A- or higher in all of my courses." 

WOOP stands for wish, outcome, obstacle and plan. It’s a simple, four-step, question-and-answer exercise that helps define your goal. Take a moment and write your responses to these prompts.

  • Wish: What do you want to achieve? 
  • Outcome: What would happen if you achieved your outcome? 
  • Obstacle: What obstacles might be in the way of achieving your desired outcome? 
  • Plan: What plans or actions will you take to overcome those obstacles and achieve your desired outcome? 

Whatever your goal-setting approach, the key is to remain accountable. Write down your goals. Keep them visible and read them out loud each day. Stay focused on the commitment you’ve made along the way. The reward is worth the work and so are you. 

An ASU Online student works in their room.

3. Take great notes. 

Note-taking helps you pay attention and stay focused on your studies, especially when reading a textbook. It also helps you learn. Effective note-taking is strongly correlated with better achievement, according to a meta-analysis by researchers Andrea Beesley and Helen Apthorp

Vicki Sheerin, a health sciences major, attributed her success each semester to the note-taking system she created.

“I was laughing with my kids about this,” she said. “[They said] ‘wow mom, you write a lot of notes!’ because I had 160 double-sided pages of notes last semester, and 60 pages this semester. The method of organized note-taking I’ve developed - it works so well. I got an A last semester, and have an A this semester.”

The act of writing something down promotes active engagement and prompts you to summarize what you hear or read, which helps you understand and retain information. When it comes to successful note-taking, it’s important to keep a few tips in mind.

  • Keep all your notes for a particular class in one place. Find what works best for you. It may be a system of color-coded notebooks, one notebook with class-specific tabs or an organized system of files on your computer.
  • Use abbreviations or shorthand to keep your notes short and tight. Capture key terms and write (or type) in short sentences. 
  • Be mindful of space. Use headings and subheadings to find key points with ease and break information into sections for quick scanning.


4. Use your university’s resources.

A strong support system can make all the difference when it comes to achieving your goals. ASU Online students have access to people and services who can help every step of the way.

Isabel Quimel studies business law from her hometown in Alaska and credits her ASU Online support system for giving her confidence to pursue success in college despite personal circumstances.

“As a transfer student, I love my advisors and the Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services. My accessibility consultant helps me succeed at ASU Online. My advisors also took their time to learn about me and my goals – they have provided me with every resource and support I need,” she said.

From success coaches and alumni networks to academic advising and online tutoring, your university is teeming with all types of student support programs. You simply need to seek them out and make the most of the resources available to you. Remember, your success as a student goes far beyond just getting good grades. It’s about having a successful journey with individual growth and an expansive support system.

5. Surround yourself with positive people.

There’s wisdom in these words: “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” The people you surround yourself with can have a big impact on how you see and approach your studies. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re balancing all that life sends your way, especially while simultaneously tackling schoolwork. Be mindful of the company you keep. Stay close to positive people who encourage you and are as driven as you to succeed.

For Miami-based global studies and political science student Sydney Selde, the missing link between her and pursuing her dream career through ASU Online was a friend.

“My best friend told me about ASU Online and how impressed she was by the faculty and programs. One phone call later with my ASU Online enrollment advisor, Heidi Nuetzman, was all it took to know I was making the right decision,” she said.

Selde continued to prioritize relationships and even began building bonds with faculty who were committed to helping her advance her career.

“As a 2021 ASU Capital Scholar, my instructors Dr. Woodall and Ms. Grant have offered me invaluable support in my application process for my virtual DC-based internship,” she said. “Working with them this summer has once again proven to me how invested ASU's faculty is in the success of their students, both on-campus and offline.”


6. Schedule “me” time.

Practicing proper self-care is just as important as scheduling study time and attending class. Reading a good book, going for a run or making time to meditate –– even if it’s just for a few hours each week –– is essential for success. 

When you’re going to school, working full time and balancing your family life, it’s easy to focus on everyone else’s needs over your own. Keep your personal growth and development top of mind. Be intentional about scheduling time for yourself. Your “me” time should be fun. It should be a chance for you to breathe, think and relax.


Success starts with ASU Online

These habits can make a big difference when it comes to having a successful semester and a strong learning experience. Learn how ASU Online can help you reach your goals and prepare to thrive in a professional setting. Connect with us on LinkedIn and follow ASU Online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Working with [my instructors Dr. Woodall and Ms. Grant] this summer has once again proven to me how invested ASU's faculty is in the success of their students, both on campus and online!

Sydney Selde

ASU Online student and 2021 ASU Capital Scholar


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