Finding direction

Patricia Mathu
Mercury Staff

A compass for navigating a virtual class format, habits for success

The Student Success Center has a wide set of resources for students including the Writing Center, peer tutoring and review sessions. In addition, they offer holistic support for students via success coaches like ITS junior Faiza Zaman. She focuses on helping students develop skills to deal with time-management, motivation and procrastination.

“The transition to college can be really scary,” Zaman said. “It is a whole new lifestyle. Everyone adjusts differently.”

Transitioning brings new stressors from schoolwork, social life and extracurricular activities. Here are Zaman’s tips for incoming students to manage this new environment.

CREATE AN ORGANIZATIONAL SYSTEM

“When students come in, the first question I ask is if they have a planner,” Zaman said. “Obviously, everyone wants to stay organized in their own way, but I really suggest getting a planner.”

Zaman likes to use her physical planner, but students have found success with a variety of tools. Some enjoy using to-do lists, which give students a sense of accomplishment when they can cross something off. Others, she said, like bullet journaling, which is a free-form calendar, to-do list and diary all rolled in one. She says these are particularly useful if you are artsy or looking for something aesthetically pleasing but warns that it often takes more time to maintain. There are also online resources like Google Calendar, Todoist and Asana.  

Finding a system that works for you is a process. Ideally, you want something with enough structure to hold you accountable for your academics and social engagements — which can be just as important when it comes to mental health! — but will not take too much energy to maintain. As many continue to shelter at home, now is the perfect time to try to discover where your healthy balance of planning and spontaneity, structured and unstructured time, lies. Already having these systems in place will make your transition much smoother. Instead of scrambling as you settle into college life, you will be able to fold your new environment into pre-existing organizational systems.

FOCUS ON A LONG-TERM GOAL

As classes transitioned to online in response to coronavirus, Zaman said the Student Success Center saw an increase in students finding it challenging to stay motivated.

“Doing online classes puts more time management skills on you,” Zaman said. “You have to be able to motivate yourself even more than physical classes in-person.”

Her recommendation to them has been to focus on a long-term goal: try to fit the present task into a larger picture. For most students she helped, this was graduation. However, you can still practice this visualization with goals this summer even before your academic courses begin. Do you want to develop a habit that fits into a larger health goal? Is there something that you want to learn that will help you on a larger professional trajectory?

Zaman said writing down your goal and putting it in a high-frequency location, like near your bed, in the bathroom, or by your desk, can help with the much-needed motivation, especially during difficult times. The idea here is that focusing on something big-picture will direct your energy towards something greater than any individual action.

RECOGNIZE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

When students begin to struggle, Zaman suggests trying to understand where the challenges stem from. Isolating challenges make them easier to address.

“If you are noticing that you’re struggling in one or two specific classes, figure out what makes a difference compared to your other classes,” Zaman said.

Students can try to carry lessons from classes in which they are finding success to classes where they are struggling. Are you more focused in mornings or afternoons? Do you study better in groups or individually? What are some ways that help you retain information? Perhaps, from your experiences with schools before UTD, you already know some things about your learning habits. Keep those in mind as you prepare for classes to begin.

Zaman said that the transition to college is challenging in unique ways to every student. Incoming students should prepare to give themselves time to adjust. But when struggles persist, students should seek external support. Zaman said that struggling students who do not feel comfortable coming into the office can turn to family and friends for advice. But if that is not enough, there are trained UTD professionals who want to help.

“Us coaches, we’re not scary! We welcome anyone to come into our office and discuss what challenges they’re having. We want to provide the best help we can,” Zaman said.

Students interested in academic success coaching can make an appointment online, and, depending on a student’s needs, meetings can happen regularly throughout the semester or just once.

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