Five Tips for the Fall Semester

Photo by Stanley Morales on

Next week marks the start of the Fall semester at Johns Hopkins. A lot has changed on campus over the past several months and this Fall semester – even more than previous Fall semesters – offers the opportunity for students to reimagine both themselves as well as their Hopkins experience. With this sense of possibility in mind, I would like to offer five Life Design-inspired tips for approaching the Fall semester.

Approach the semester with a curiosity mindset

It’s during the first few weeks of the Fall semester that people are open to making new friends, clubs are accepting new members, offices are hiring new student workers, and programs are recruiting new participants, making it possible to redefine your college experience. In my Arrive and Thrive class I ask my first-year students to keep a Fall Experience Journal to help them reflect on these experiences and opportunities, but even more seasoned students benefit from a more intentional approach to the new academic year. So before settling into a familiar pattern of the same activities in pursuit of the same goals with the same group of friends, take some time to explore the campus with a curiosity mindset.

Be mindful of your values

With so many opportunities in front of you, how do you know which to pursue? In my Life Design classes and workshops I ask my students to reflect on the questions “Who am I and who do I hope to become?” These are big questions and answering them requires you to be able to identify and articulate your core values. And not just once, but continually, as a university education should challenge these values as well as your aspirations and sense of self. So before jumping back in, take some time to think about how the experiences of the past year might have changed – or clarified – who you are and who you aspire to become during and after college.

Keep an eye on the future

While it’s important not to get so wrapped up in long-term planning that you miss out on new and unforeseen opportunities that come your way, you don’t want to be so “in the moment” that you lose sight of the future. Many academic and co-curricular programs have application deadlines early in the fall term. Deadlines for jobs and internships in big tech, finance, and consulting are even earlier. Internal deadlines for competitive fellowships like the Fulbright were last year. Waiting until the spring semester of your senior year to start paying attention to deadlines will mean that the door will have already closed on many possibilities. Don’t let a missed deadline be the thing that keeps you from pursuing a meaningful post-graduate experience.

Build your network

Your network is important, not only for connecting you to career and professional opportunities but also for supporting you in times of struggle. Recent research has found that resilience is not just the result of one’s internal “grit” or fortitude, but is also a result of one’s networks. A strong and diverse network can help us clarify our purpose, regain perspective, and persevere through difficult times. So take time this fall to grow and nurture your networks by reconnecting with existing contacts and bringing new people (especially people whose background and beliefs are different than yours) into the fold.

Have fun

When I ask my students what would make their college experience meaningful and fulfilling, almost nobody mentions good grades, prestigious awards, or coveted opportunities.What do they mention? Meeting new people. Developing meaningful relationships. Spending quality time with friends. Don’t get so caught up in grades and other external markers of success that you don’t make time for fun and miss out on the joys of the college experience.

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