As summer starts to wind down, you might be finding yourself digging out that schedule you registered for back in the spring, bracing yourself for the semester ahead. Chances are, your fall semester looks a lot like mine always did through undergrad: packed and busy, with wall-to-wall classes, club meetings, and trying my best to have a social life alongside it all. Oh, and we can’t forget about those naps I would take when I had too much to do. (In graduate school, I had a professor who deemed these “defensive naps.”)

The idea of starting fall semester is always a little daunting, despite that wave of excitement that usually settles in right as classes start. Admit it—you still get a little bit giddy when you buy new school supplies, even if those first day icebreakers are awful and tedious. A fresh start is always exciting, no matter the venue. You have a new chance to prove yourself, to do well, to meet new people, and to try new things. If you didn’t do so hot last spring, fall is the time to work harder, learn from those mistakes (like writing papers the day before they’re due… or the hour before), and bring your GPA back up above water.

But, if you’re going to do well this fall, you need to start preparing before the semester starts. Don’t wait until week one to get your act together and turn off that Netflix binge. Plus, you’ve already seen every episode of Criminal Minds, let’s be real.

Think of this list as a timeline, starting a few weeks before school and leading up through that first week. You can time these things however you need to, but it’s a good idea to start early so you can eliminate that overwhelming feeling when you rush to do it all the first week of classes.

fall semester


Look up your textbook lists.

Usually around the end of July, most universities will post the required textbook lists online. You can probably access the list of books required for your classes through your school’s online portal—likely the same place you register for classes and check your tuition balance.

Even if you aren’t totally sure about that psychology seminar just yet, see what books are required. It helps to know how much each book costs through different online bookstores, and if there’s a cheaper/more convenient e-book version you can purchase. Keep a written list of prices at different websites for each required text. Consider going ahead and buying (or renting) books for classes you are sure you’re not going to drop during add/drop week. You don’t want to be that kid on day one that doesn’t have the book when the instructor wants to dive right into chapter one.

Get your parking pass, or arrange your transportation.

If you’ll be commuting to campus, it’s smart to get your campus parking pass during the summer, before the rush at the start of the semester. Not only will you save yourself the hassle of waiting for your pass to arrive in the mail and paying for visitor parking the first week (or waiting in a long line at the transportation office), you’ll definitely prevent the possibility of missing out on a pass if they tend to sell out at your school. If you’re new to campus this year, find the best parking lot for your schedule before classes start. Drive around campus and find the lot closest to where you’ll have most of your classes. Or, if you’re a seasoned campus veteran, make a mental note to park in that ultra-secret, hardly-ever-full lot you found last semester.

coffee shop

Look for part-time work.
If you didn’t get a part-time summer job and you think you might have some time in your fall schedule, consider applying for a job. Even working 10-12 hours per week at a job that doesn’t pay very much can help you put away money for after graduation, pay your tuition, purchase textbooks, or even start paying off the interest on any unsubsidized student loans you’ve taken out. Don’t take on more than you can handle, though. If you’re carrying the minimum 12 hours to be full time and don’t have any other obligations outside school, a small part-time job could be fine. But, if you’re carrying 18 hours and trying to work your way through the biology honors program, you may want to focus on classes. If you do want to get a job, though, apply for one a few weeks before school starts and beat the rush of applications when the students return to town.

Attend orientation.
If you’re a first year student or a transfer, go to orientation. I’ve already stressed the importance of attending transfer orientation—it’s really not just for freshmen! Orientation is a great opportunity to learn about campus, organizations and clubs, get all the info on registration and campus services, and of course, to meet new people. For some, it may even be mandatory as a freshman or first year student.

Handle any holds on your student account.

Check your school’s online portal, or call the registrar’s office to find out if there are any holds on your account. Holds can be there for a myriad of reasons, from unpaid balances on your account, to missing immunization records, to missing grades. Make sure you deal with any holds that might be on your account prior to the start of the semester. Some holds may even result in your being dropped from all your classes, or late fees being applied to your tuition statement, so it’s important to take care of things before that happens.

Look over the syllabi for your courses.
If your school has an online learning portal, like Blackboard or Canvas, your instructor may have uploaded your syllabus to the portal even if classes haven’t started yet. If it’s not on there, don’t hesitate to reach out to the teacher and ask for a digital copy via email (be polite, of course). This will help you decide if you want to stay in the course if you’re on the fence, and it can also help you plan your semester if the syllabus outlines major project and paper due dates.