How to Start the Semester Strong By Reflecting on What You Learned and Truly Enjoyed Last Semester
“The students who succeed after college … are those who are always learning outside the classroom as undergraduates, in everyday circumstances, whether in clubs, sports, activities, in residence halls or in part-time jobs. It’s that lifelong curiosity that leads us to appreciate education whenever it happens and wherever, even when it doesn’t come on the campus of an elite university.” By JeffreySelingo
As students prepare for the spring semester, there are some quick, important things they can do to ensure they get off to a strong start.
- Look at the list of courses you took last semester and the grades you earned.
- Thinking about each course, list:
- What you enjoyed
- What you did well
- What you struggled with
- What you could have done better
- Now think about your extra-curricular activities, that is, the clubs, organizations, programs and events you dedicated time to:
- Which did you enjoy?
- Did you have enough time to do well in each?
- Which do you want to continue?
- Do you want to or should you drop any?
- Now make a list of all the things you really enjoyed last semester. Were there any special moments for you in a class or in interactions with professors, TA’s, peers?
- The next step is to consider the real-world applicability of what you learned and what you enjoyed most. You can use any model of skills and competencies you want.
- NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, has done the research on the attributes employers are most looking for in applicants.
Attribute and % of respondents
Leadership – 80.1%
Ability to work in a team – 78.9%
Communication skills (written) – 70.2%
Problem-solving skills – 70.2%
Communication skills (verbal) – 68.9%
Strong work ethic – 68.9%
Initiative – 65.8%
Analytical/quantitative skills – 62.7%
Flexibility/adaptability – 60.9%
Technical skills – 59.6%
Interpersonal skills (relates well to others) – 58.4%
Computer skills – 55.3%
Detail-oriented – 52.8%
Organizational ability – 48.4%
Friendly/outgoing personality – 35.4%
Strategic planning skills – 26.7%
Creativity – 23.6%
Tactfulness – 20.5%
Entrepreneurial skills/risk-taker – 18.6%
- I also like Bob Johansen’s. He has come up with ten skills that leaders of the future need to cultivate:
1. The Maker Instinct: the ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.
2. Clarity: the ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. Leaders must be clear about what they are making, but flexible about how it gets made.
3. Dilemma Flipping: the ability to turn dilemmas—which, unlike problems, cannot be solved—into advantages and opportunities.
4. Immersive Learning: the ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments, to learn from them in a first person way.
5. Bio-empathy: the ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns.
6. Constructive Depolarizing: the ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication is broken down— and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
7. Quiet Transparency: the ability to be open and authentic about what matters, without being overly self-promoting.
8. Rapid Prototyping: the ability to create quick, early versions of innovations, with the expectation that later success will require early failures.
9. Smart-mob Organizing: the ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media.
10. Commons Creating: the ability to seed, nurture and grow shared assets that can benefit all players— and allow competition at a higher level.
[Quoted from: http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jacl/vol8/iss1/13]
Regardless of which model you use, continue listing which courses and extra-curriculars and one-off programs provided you with the opportunity to learn which skills and competencies and which provided you with a deep sense of pleasure and joy. (Now, add the skills and competencies to your resume or online portfolio so you don’t lose track of them!)
Are there so-called “lessons learned” from last semester? Things you do not or absolutely do want to repeat or delve more deeply into? Keep them in mind.
Finally, it is time to take a look at the spring line-up of courses and other commitments you have for the spring.
- Make a realistic schedule. (You can find details on how to do that in a previous blog post.) Don’t forget to schedule time for internship or job-seeking!
- Commit to attending every class.
- Find the professors’ email addresses and office hours and put them in your schedule.
- Commit to seeing each professor twice in the semester.
- Be sure you know exactly what the time commitment is to each activity outside of class. Dance, theater, and music groups tends to eat up dozens of hours as you head towards finals and deadlines for papers, for example, just when you need time for studying, researching, and writing.
- Organize your computer files, notebooks, and other supplies.
- Re-familiarize yourself with the rules around finishing work, incompletes requests, and grading. These are usually found in your college’s version of a rights, rules, and responsibilities document.
- Find the syllabus, grading rubric, learning outcomes, and book lists for each course. (Buy the books online to save some cash.)
- Do any of the courses and other activities include the things that gave you the most joy and pleasure last semester? If not, can you make adjustments? What about the “lessons learned”? Can you take those into account in your lineup of courses and extra-curriculars?
Why this focus on articulating the things that provided you with the deepest pleasure, those moments of inexplicable joy and gratification?
As Andy Molinsky (@AndyMolinsky) says succinctly: “People have pursued one path in life — influenced by their culture, parents, or sense of what they “should” pursue — that leads them to invest time, money, and skill development in a path that is very hard to escape from.”
To avoid this trap, you must focus on the things that genuinely interest you! Because the things that interest you reflect your true passions, and they will give you joy.
Being joyful enables you to love well, to contribute to your community and the rest of the planet.
Being unhappy makes us all unable to love well and to tap into the energy we rely on to make the planet a better place for ourselves, our families, and our communities. What could be better than that?