What You Should Do Right Now to Prepare for the New Semester

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The new school year starts soon. If you’re in college, especially if you’re taking psychology and related courses, here’s what your professors want you to do right now.

Know the basics

I can’t tell you how many students message me a week after an online class has started asking when class starts.

I can’t tell you how many students stand up in the middle of class on the first day of class and announce they are in the wrong course.

Make sure you know the course start date and time. Make sure you know what courses you are taking. Go look up that information right now.

And always remember, psychology and philosophy are different classes.

Get Your Textbooks and Required Readings

As the years pass, I hear more and more comments that professors shouldn’t use textbooks. Or any readings whatsoever. Well, they do and you should obtain them ASAP.

  Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

Source: Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash

“Good professors can teach me everything I should know without using textbooks,” a student once said to me. No, they can’t. It would take at least two years to teach every single concept without any readings in introductory social science courses.

Lessons and lectures augment the text(s), but never replace it. So make sure you get those textbooks, course packets, and whatever is required. Go to your school’s bookstore site—they make it easy to find the required readings for your class if the syllabus isn’t yet available.

Here’s a hint: You don’t have to buy required textbooks from the campus bookstore. You can get them wherever you want, for rent or purchase—you can even share with a fellow student. Most professors don’t care how you obtain the required readings, just that you do.

Once, a student raised their hand on the first day of class and asked, “When are we supposed to get the textbook?” “You’re supposed to have it right now,” I replied. Let’s just say that student expressed shock using words I won’t include here.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ll hear it a hundred times: In college, students are expected to obtain the textbook and other required course materials before class starts. In fact, in many of my introductory psychology courses, I was expected to have read the first chapter of the textbook by the first class session.


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Learn How to Use the LMS

At this point, pretty much every course uses a learning management system (LMS) to some extent. In many cases, the college or institution uses one specific LMS. For example, by law, all California community colleges use Canvas.

Most colleges and universities include statements in student documents indicating that students are required to learn how to use, and be able to access, the LMS by semester/class start. They all have some version of a “distance education” or “online learning” office that provides copious resources to students to prepare for online learning, including how to use the LMS.

Prepare now. If you wait and expect your professor to teach you how to use the LMS, or to help you access it, you may be sorely disappointed. Professors are not IT experts. In many cases, they’re troubleshooting their own LMS accounts—you just don’t know it. I’ll save you from sharing my Canvas tears.

Check Your Expectations

Speaking of what you might not know is going on “behind the curtains,” take a moment to think about and assess your expectations for both college and each specific class. This will not only help you determine if a class is right for you, but it will also help you succeed in your classes.

  Luis Villasmil/Unsplash

Source: Luis Villasmil/Unsplash

Referring to professors, a student once said to me, “You’re all sitting on the couch watching Netflix most of the time.” I’m really, truly not exaggerating. I wish I was. Kind of like expecting “good professors” not to use textbooks, this is way off the mark. Just like your professors don’t know the realities of your life, you don’t know the realities of their lives. I wouldn’t be a good psychology professor if I didn’t encourage you to check your assumptions and realize that trite, meme-esque saying: “You never know what someone is going through.”

Education Essential Reads

Most colleges and universities have some sort of college preparation classes they offer and sometimes require new students to take. I’ve seen the number and availability of these courses explode over the last few years. There’s a good reason for this, too: many colleges and universities find that students are coming to class with unrealistic expectations not just of the particular course, but of college in general. In fact, in one of my psychology courses, we explore the research demonstrating that college students experience drops in self-esteem due to unrealistic expectations.


Your professors are preparing your courses right now. Some, like me, have been prepping all summer—many for no pay and while they are not in contract (eg, adjuncts). Just as they are responsible for being ready for day one of class (and are working now to achieve that) so, too, are you.

  Aman Upadhyay/Unsplash

Source: Aman Upadhyay/Unsplash

Some professors will dive right into course content, Chapter 1, on the first day of class. Some professors will make the first day of class a “syllabus day”—they’ll review the syllabus in class for the entirety of the first session. The same possibilities happen online, just with modules. Make sure you’re prepared for either of the above and anything in between.

Psychological research has pretty much confirmed that first impressions really do matter, whether we like it or not. So in that spirit, thrill your professor—online or in person—by prepping now so that you’ll be engaging and ready to go on day one. You deserve a great education and you can do a lot right now to ensure you get it.

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