Back to School Tips, Tricks and Hacks

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I hope this glorious autumn day finds you well.

Full disclosure. As I write this, it’s the middle of July. Moreover, we'll publish this article in mid-August, so we can get ahead of the big promotional push for your upcoming fall semester.

Still, I like to picture autumn as I write this.

My mind's eye beholds the portrait of a campus blanketed with fluttering leaves, sun-dappled chestnut trees gently swaying in the soft autumn breeze, apple pies cooling on the window sills of stately academic halls. I know that doesn’t really exist, but it’s what I like to picture. Gets me in a headspace for another school year.

But dude, honestly, it’s hardcore summer right now. It’s freakin’ hot out. It’s like, dead-of-July, 100-degrees, traffic-light wilting, tar-bubbling-on-asphalt hot. And it's a dreadfully still kind of heat. The city feels like a mausoleum right now and people are super cranky. So I apologize if my tone comes off as disingenuous when I say with completely feigned enthusiasm that it’s almost fuzzy sweater and pumpkin-spiced-everything season!

From where I sit, that hardly seems true. I’m going to the beach tomorrow just to get out of the city heat. I can’t even think about school right now. But here’s the thing — it's really close. Everything is about to get really real again.

Why Can’t I Touch It?

Summer is a beautiful mirage. It seems so perfect. So real. You do everything to capture it. To hold it still, to keep it like a firefly in a jar. But it’s a mirage, staring you in the face during those long winter months, just out of reach. Then, practically as soon as you touch it, it ripples away.

Like all the sweetest things in life, it feels so brief that when it’s over, you wonder if it was all a dream.

Why do I mention it? Why would I rub it in, especially when summer days are so precious and few? Well, it’s because we sympathize. We’re as into learning as the next student-centered website, but we also love adventure, and vacation, and those mid-century modern roadside American boutique hotels with the original neon signage. So we know how hard it is to say goodbye to summer. And more to the point, we know how hard it is to get that a** in gear.

But that’s why we have each other. You motivate us to awaken from our summer slumber, to get our proverbial s*** together, to dive head first into fall like an overconfident squirrel plummeting from a branch. And hopefully, we can do the same for you, motivate you to take this autumn by the acorns and show it who’s boss.

Our motivational strategy is to arm with you with a whole bunch of awesome tips and resources, the kind that can help you kick off your college career, take on the new semester, and succeed throughout the school year. Shake the sand out of your shoes, order coffee without ice for the first time in months, and read on for everything you need to get set for the school year.

  People, Get Ready

If you’re reading this at the start of the semester, that’s awesome. Our seasonal promotional efforts have succeeded. Welcome, target demographic.

Just kidding. These days, you can start school practically whenever you want. Check out our list of schools that you can start anytime for evidence.

This means that you could be starting your own personal path through higher education any day of the year, be it a crisp pre-autumn dawn, or a sweltering July night. So the resources here, which are all about getting off to a great start at college, are relevant all year round.

If you’re preparing to make the leap from summer to school, from sunshine to study, from vacation to dedication, or if you’re returning to school after a long time away, check out the following resources:

And if you’re still working on your last-minute preparations for school, join our very own Dan Edelen and his son Ethan Edelen on their journey from college applications, to enrollment, to those final stages of readying for the first day of college!

  Get Gear

Part of getting ready for school is gearing up. Whether you’re heading to a dorm room, venturing into off-campus housing, or planning to set up an online work space in a room for which your kids have no key, you need supplies.

It’s not complicated, but it helps to know what you need. If you’re somewhere in the packing or purchasing process, we urge you to check out the following tips:

And if you think you might be interested in experiencing Greek life, and consequently living in a sorority or fraternity house, read on to learn all about Joining a Fraternity or Sorority: The Pros and Cons of Greek Life

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  Get the Tech

So now you know what gear you need, but what about the technical stuff? Students on traditional campuses and students in online college share many of the same basic needs when it comes to computer and smartphone technology; organizational and education apps and software; and web access.

Check out our recently updated resources on all the essential gizmos and gadgets for succeeding in any educational setting:

  Get Healthy

College is a time of enrichment. It’s a time of self-discovery. It’s a time of…gluttony. The quality of your dining hall food may vary, but in almost every single case, it is “all you can eat.”

I know I took full advantage of that opportunity. But wait, there’s more. In addition to your swipe pass to an endless high-fiber buffet, you’ve get late night cram-session snacking, and, if we’re being honest, probably some measure of alcoholic beverage consumption in your future. I convinced myself for most of my freshman year that my clothes were shrinking on account of not being washed. That legendary undergrad weight-gain known as the Freshman 15 — that's a real thing.

Add to this the stress of your new studies, the storied permeation of sexually transmitted diseases on college campuses, and the often unrecognized dangers of sexual assault, hazing, and bullying, and college isn’t exactly a recipe for healthy living. But it helps to be fully informed on the inherent health risks that come with being a student — from the Freshman 15 to grad-school burnout. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to make smart decisions. These smart decisions can boost your health even as you navigate the gauntlet of risks and temptations that come with campus life.

Check out these important resources to learn more:

For even more topics, check out our Focus on Student Health and prepare yourself for a healthy college experience.

And for students with disabilities — from physical disabilities and learning challenges to mental health issues and vision or hearing impairment — check out our series of guides on navigating higher education, with a particular focus on the online college experience.

  Get Credit

You’re not just beginning your journey toward healthy living habits as an adult. Now’s also the time to develop health spending habits. For many students, college is the first time you’ll be living on your own, managing your own money and wielding your own credit card. You must wield it responsibly.

For advice on students and credit cards, check out Credit Cards for College Students — 9 Things You Should Know.

And of course, because there’s nothing financially smarter than free money, check out the very best scholarship search engines and indexes online at How to Find Scholarships — Scholarship Indexes, Directories & Databases.

If you’re an online student and you’re interested in learning more about scholarships specifically designed for the online college experience, check out Scholarships for Online Students.

Start your search by applying for TheBestSchools.org's very own $1000 Online Learning Scholarships today!

  Get Smart

Of course, the real reason you’re in college or grad school is to learn. And we’ve got all the tips, tricks and resources to help you do exactly that! You’ll want to check out The Study Lounge, our official headquarters for exam preparation, essay-writing, and the general process of grooming yourself for academic excellence. We’ve got learning strategies, study starters, testing tips, and mega-playlists, basically everything you need, whether you’re starting a research project or you’re waist-deep in exam season. From advice on improving your study habits to bite-sized glimpses of big topics, we’re here to simplify the process.

Study Starters

Our Study Starters give you the key facts and get you on your way:

Homework Help

Get practical advice on how to structure a college essay, improve your study routine, and get the most out of the online research process.

Study Tunes

These Spotify playlists are designed using empirically tested principles of neuroscience to give you the most cerebral listening experience possible. Well, not really, but they are killer study mixes. Remember what the dormouse said: "Feed your head."

And follow us on Spotify to see our constantly growing collection of mixes!

The Savvy Student’s Guide to Study Skills

As part of our series of Savvy Student’s Guides, we looked specifically at making the most of study time.

  Get Involved

You have control over how rich your college experience can be. From participation in athletics to the school newspaper, from engagement in large scale campus traditions to membership in interesting campus groups, from engagement with advocacy groups to basic military training, colleges and universities create access to a diversity of experiences. Take advantage of everything your school has to offer!

Recreational Opportunities

Advocacy and Support

Ok. I think we've bombarded you with enough links for now. Keep these with you. Bookmark this page, as well as The Quad home page to stay current all year long. Use the links above as you navigate the fledgling semester, but stick with us this year and beyond for new stories, important updates, and a constantly growing set of resources.

Good luck and Welcome Back!

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