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Starting Strong: Tips from One New Student to the Next

As you start your Penn State World Campus education, knowing how to begin can be the most challenging part of the transition. Whether you are a recent high school graduate starting college for the first time or an adult learner returning to school after years in the workforce, there is an inevitable learning curve that comes with this next step in your educational journey. Here are some tips that I have found helpful as I settle in to my first semester as a World Campus student.

1. Look ahead in your assignments and readings

Of all the organizational strategies I have used this semester, planning ahead in my course work has been, by far, the most important. The stress avoided by knowing in advance what assignments and readings you have due is invaluable as you are getting started. While your approach to planning depends on what works best for you, the objective is to be aware of the workload in front of you, especially any exams, major papers, or other heavily weighted assignments coming up.

One specific approach that I have made part of my routine is combing through my courses every weekend and writing out the required readings for the coming week. The weekly reading for my five courses seemed daunting at first, so I quickly realized the importance of advance planning in not letting myself get buried by textbooks every week. Having this map of reading for the week also ensures that you don’t discover any unpleasant surprises when starting an assignment. You don’t want to find that an assignment due tomorrow also requires reading sixty pages of your textbook — it can happen to the best of us!

2. Allow yourself time to readjust to academic writing

Whether you were last in school three months ago, three years ago, or three decades ago, there is an inevitable feeling of academic “rustiness” as you restart your education. During my first week at World Campus, I was surprised at my slow pace in completing initial writing assignments. I have always loved writing and did not consider myself out-of-practice, thanks to a writing-intensive internship I had a few months before. However, I could not seem to organize my thoughts or think of the right words in those first assignments.

What I realized was that no other form of writing truly mimics academic writing. While the writing you do in your career or personal life will, of course, make you a better writer overall, it takes time to apply these skills to writing for your courses and to readjust to the overall flow of academic writing. As you start your first writing assignments, then, be patient with yourself and allow a bit more time for these assignments than you typically might. You’ll be comfortable with the demands of academic writing again sooner than you think.

3. Familiarize yourself with the resources available to students

Although we don’t share a physical campus as World Campus students, we are more connected in the online environment than you might expect! We are fortunate to have a wide range of help available, both within individual courses and for student life overall.

In exploring these resources, start with your courses. The first module of a course introduces you to course-specific resources that will be helpful to refer to throughout the semester. For example, many courses have discussions for finding support on specific issues, such as “General Questions” forums for asking questions about course material and “Technical Help” forums for sharing technical difficulties with your course’s tech support team. Another valuable resource you will find in some courses is a link to Tutor.com. In many courses, a certain amount of tutoring time through Tutor.com is made available free of charge, so definitely take advantage of this if you are struggling with a specific concept.

I have also found it beneficial to be aware of our broader support team at World Campus. For example, have your academic adviser’s contact information accessible for support throughout the year for enrollment-related questions. Reach out to Student Affairs for questions about other services available to you as a student and ways to get involved in the World Campus community. Get in touch with your classmates if you’d like to start a study group for one of your courses. As I’ve learned in a matter of weeks as a World Campus student, members of our community will always be open to helping you!

Beginning a new chapter of your education is at once exciting and intimidating and can require some trial and error along the way. However, strategies such as planning your course work in advance, gradually readjusting to academic writing, and taking advantage of the resources available to you can help set you up for success in completing your degree.