Back to School Advice

Back to school advice, from a knowledgeable authority — you!

Now that the State Fair in full swing, it can only mean one thing: we’re all in danger of eating too many corndogs. No, wait, it means two things. One of them is the corndogs. The other? Well, friends, it’s time to go back to school.

But wait! This isn’t your standard back to school blog.

It’s not a reminder to sharpen your pencils or organize your desk or start going to bed earlier (though maybe try doing all those things). This time, I want you to give the advice. 

Now, you might be saying “but Katie, isn’t this why you’re here? To give me back to school advice?” To this I say…well, yes. But also, bear with me. It’ll all make sense when we’re done. Okay? Great. 

Grab yourself a pen and paper.

Or a marker and a white board. Or open a new Google Doc. I’m not picky. Go on, I’ll wait.

I want you to think back to the last school year. First, brainstorm a list of the things you liked. They can be school related – have a great schedule? Was your math class really fun? But they can also be not school related – maybe you found a weekend job you really like or joined the curling club. Don’t censor yourself, just list off the things that you really liked about last year, even if they’re as simple as “I got to read for fun (walk my dog, go for a run, etc) almost every day after school”

Now I want you to do the same thing, but I want you to think about things you didn’t like. Think about classes, your workload, the types of homework you were doing.

  • Did you miss the bus every Monday morning?
  • Spend your lunchtime at school frantically struggling to catch up?
  • Don’t forget to consider extracurriculars, obligations to family and friends, jobs, volunteering – run it all through your mind and try to think of specific things that weren’t your favorite. 

I have to point out for anyone who’s feeling like a Negative Nellie here, that I’m not looking for “biology is the worst” or “I don’t like doing homework.” 

Be specific.

  • Why was biology the worst?
  • Did you not understand the material?
  • Get stressed before tests?
  • Feel anxious about lab work?
  • What parts of homework don’t you like?
  • Is it time consuming when you’d rather be doing other things?
  • Do you stay up super late doing it?
  • Do you forget to do it until the hour before it’s due?

Being reflective and specific is going to make the next steps so much easier.

So now you have two lists.

Before we move on, can you see any patterns in your likes and dislikes? For instance, if you’ve listed that you liked your math class where the teacher gave pretests and test revisions and also your English class where you spent a whole semester writing a research paper where you turned in work in steps, I’d say that, in general, you like to have big work broken down into smaller parts. If you notice that you were happy during the semester you went to bed early and hated it when you stayed up late every night to finish your calc homework, I’d say that you, like me, prefer getting plenty of shuteye. Note down any patterns you see on your list.

Time for the advice part.

I’d like you to use your likes and dislikes (as well as any patterns you might have recognized) to give yourself three pieces of advice for the year ahead. Now, as every advice columnist knows, there are three parts to a good recommendation. A suggestion for what to do, some specific tips to help you do it, and, the most important part, the reason you want to do it.  Without tying your advice to the reasons why it’s important to you, it’s much more difficult to follow through.

How do you decide?

Well, if I were the person who liked their big projects broken into smaller steps, I might say:

“When I get assignments, I’m going to break them up into smaller parts and put them on the calendar as if they’re assigned homework, even if my teachers don’t require it. If I make myself a schedule and stick to it, I’ll be happier and I won’t have to feel frantic at the last minute.”

Or, if you love your extracurricular activities, but know that it’s a struggle to get your homework done every Sunday night, you might say:

“This year, I’m going to make sure to budget an hour to work on homework every night after practice. I’ll work on homework after dinner, but before 9:30 pm. That way, I’ll still get to do the things I love, but I won’t get a terrible case of the Sunday blues every week.”

“But Katie,” I hear you say,why only three? I’ve noticed lots of things I’d like to change!” I hear you. Still, I suggest three because it’s really tempting to make a lot of sweeping promises when September comes around. But it’s often hard to stick to them (ever failed to make good on a New Year’s Resolution?).

So choose your top priorities for things that make you happier during the school year, build yourself some new strategies to make those priorities happen, and regularly remind yourself to take your own excellent advice. 

Give it a try.

I encourage you to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Check in with your goals daily or weekly. You might even revisit this exercise in a few months, once school’s underway, to check in on how your likes and dislikes are shaping up. Since you’re the advice giver here, feel free to update your suggestions as needed. 

With that, I think I’m ready to turn you loose. I hope you have a fantastic school year filled with lots of things that make you feel great.

Now go on – before I start giving you advice about making it to the bus on time. 

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