New Semester, New Routine: Five Tips for Adjusting to Change

Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate College

A man in a blue shirt writes on some papers with a pen.

As a graduate student, starting afresh with a brand-new semester can be either a blessing or a curse. For those of us who struggle with change, there can be a helpless, ironic kind of feeling where it seems that the moment we’ve finally settled into our new routine, the semester changes and our lives are upended once again. Rinse and repeat, until graduation. It’s perfectly natural to struggle with change, but if you set yourself up for success during the transition, you might just find that having a fresh start gave you a boost towards your most productive, successful semester yet.

1. Embrace a positive outlook. Our brains are powerful and mysterious, and our attitudes have the capability to impact our experience on a profound level. Confirmation bias is real—if we go into a new semester expecting to hate our new schedule, we will notice and remember the negative aspects of our routine and overlook the good. As you start this new semester, try your best to reframe it as a fresh start and even an exciting opportunity to strengthen your capacity for flexibility and adaptation. As you navigate shifting professional and personal landscapes throughout your life, an ability to adjust quickly and effectively will serve you well!

2. Don’t try to do too much. So you’re fully on board for the whole “new semester, new-and-improved me” mindset. Awesome—but don’t overdo it. Positive changes only stick when they’re sustainable. So instead of trying to overhaul your whole life, sit down and spend some time listing out what worked well and what could use improvement from last semester. How was your sleep schedule? Self-care routine? Did you get assignments done on time? Were your study strategies successful? Pinpoint one of two areas that need a little TLC and focus on those. What are some changes that you can build into your new routine to prioritize those areas that you’ve identified?

3. Tweak your systems of organization if need be. The start of a new semester is a great time to toy with new organization strategies. Improving your time management and task tracking can go a long way in reducing stress. Maybe you’ve been using a paper planner but find that you don’t actually end up cracking it open very often. Try something new! Google or Outlook calendars can be great tools to keep track of deadlines and commitments, but I recommend supplementing them with something like Notion (a customizable user-friendly online workspace) to organize notes, to-do lists, and all the other bits of information that you might otherwise jot on a random slip of paper and lose forever. Feeling organized is one of the greatest combatants to stress and can set you up for a great semester. Even if you try a new system and find that it’s not for you, you’re still learning about yourself, which is always a plus.

4. Get to know some new people. New classes mean new classmates and new seating arrangements! Challenge yourself to expand your horizons beyond the few familiar faces in your lecture hall; the beginning of a semester is a great time to sit next to someone new and strike up a conversation. By putting yourself out there even just a little, you can make new study buddies, colleagues, and friends—support systems are important, even in academia.

5. Use your resources. Actively forming your new schedule and routine is the perfect time to take advantage of campus resources that you haven’t yet had a chance to use. Think you can benefit from talking through stress or mental health struggles? Get set up with CAPS for individual or group counseling! Feeling lost about writing your capstone or dissertation? Block off time to get some support from the Academic Writing Center. Prioritizing self-care this semester? Join an intramural sports team or get personal training through the Campus Recreation Center to take care of your body. This university is chock full of resources that exist to help you succeed, and by coming acquainted with them now, you will set yourself up for success when you hit a roadblock later on.