Nervous About the New School Term?
Tips on easing the anxiety associated with unknown expectations
It’s normal to feel slightly anxious before and during a new school term (a semester or quarter for some folks) begins. New professors, subjects, and methods of teaching can throw some folks off. This is normal. The key to succeeding every semester is adaptability. For those with anxiety, the threat of the unknown makes this difficult. Here are some things I do to reduce the anxiety I have before starting a new term.
Know Your Instructors
When you register for classes, you are usually given the name of the professor and their associated college. Most departments will have a faculty listing of the professor, what their research areas are, notable accomplishments, and maybe a website link. You can also check out the comment sections of ratemyprofessor.com for them, assuming they have an entry.
RateMyProfessors.com - Find and rate your professor or campus.
With over 1.3 million professors, 7,000 schools & 15 million ratings, Rate My Professors is the best professor ratings…www.ratemyprofessors.com
Why check the comments and not the rating? Well, disgruntled students are likely to rate the professor and not really say anything of value in the comment sections. Some ratings are fair, some are not. The comment section will give you a sneak peek at the expectations that the professor had of their students and the general reaction of past students to their teaching methods. Take these entries with a grain of salt though, as teaching methods and the requirements of the various courses they teach will change over time.
For those in research programs, diving into that professor’s research and other content like blogs and books can be beneficial. I scan over the abstracts of their latest work and recent collaborations to familiarize myself with what interests them.
Is the syllabus or class description available? If not, can it be requested? Some programs make the syllabus available ahead of time to allow students ample time to prepare. The background of the course and the required assignments will be listed.
But wait, wouldn’t that freak you out?
It depends on how you take it. Personally, I find it comforting knowing what the focus area is and whether or not I’m looking at a project-based course or a research-based course. The required texts, if applicable, are usually listed as well. You can take that extra step to familiarize yourself with what's expected by reading the synopsis of the book(s). I only do this to determine if I want to rent the text or purchase it and I don’t do it often. Some texts are handy to keep around. For the minimalists out there, checking out if the texts come in ebook format beforehand makes all the difference.
Recognizing the Subject Beforehand
Now I’m not saying to go and read the required text or even to dive into a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). What I’m suggesting is obtaining a high-level understanding of the material you are about to dive into. What will you be studying? Was this the main research area of the professor who’s teaching it? You don’t have to go too deep into the weeds to just get to a comfortable level of explaining what the class will involve. For most classes, the length of most elevator pitches will work. A quick 20–30 second summary of what the class is on and how it plays a role in your studies will do the trick.
Write the Unknowns
Once you know who will be teaching you and on what they will be teaching next term, write down what doesn’t appear obvious to you and bring it up to the instructor at the beginning of the term. Too obvious, right? Well, you’d be surprised how many people skip this. There is an introductory period before every term. The professor hands over the syllabus and high-level expectations and then opens the floor or the online forums for those with questions or concerns. They are often gifted with silence though many are scrambling, trying to understand what’s expected of them or what will help them succeed.
Don’t shy away from the opportunity to ask questions. If the online forum is too much, email the professor or attend office hours and voice your questions or concerns. Your professors cannot read minds. They can only do so much to help you but in a sea of people, they have to know that they specifically need to help you.
I know, this seems like a lot to do before the term even begins. It’s technically something reserved for the first week of classes but amongst all the other things you already have to do, establishing the expectations of your class and your professor ahead of time will make your first week exponentially easier and get you a head start. Good luck with your courses!