For Boston College students, the nearly month-long winter vacation is a much-needed break from classes, extracurricular activities, and the fast pace of campus life. For most, winter break is a time to celebrate the holidays, relax with family and friends, and eat good food. The transition between hours of watching Netflix to setting an alarm for class and reading newly-bought textbooks is a difficult one to make. While this change is both mentally and physically difficult, there are effective ways for students to improve their mindset and prepare for the upcoming semester.
One of the most stressful feats of returning to academia is the “rebooting” of one’s mind academically. Studies have shown that breaks between semesters can negatively impact students’ retention of previously learned information. According to the Glossary of Educational Reform, this so-called “learning loss” is “any specific or general loss of knowledge or reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.” College students have already developed fundamental skills, such as reading comprehension, which are unlikely to be lost over winter break. The chief problem that college students face as a result of extended breaks is the ease with which earlier information can be forgotten. Often, professors in the following semester expect students to retain specific information, as it is intended to be built upon, and not retaught.
After the stress of finals, during which a student is solely focused on taking exams or turning in papers, most students want to put academics completely out of their minds and focus on having an enjoyable holiday break. Letting go of college stresses and spending time with family and friends for a few weeks is important for mental health, but inevitably, winter break must come to an end. There are a few simple steps that students can take in order to avoid being completely overwhelmed when returning to school and to smooth the transition into the spring semester.
In order to avoid “learning loss” over break and ensure that important information for new courses is retained, one can begin to ease back into academics and review concepts near the end of winter break or at the start of the semester. Depending on an individual’s major, this can be done by taking time out of each day to read for leisure, do some writing, or review math and science concepts by skim reading class notes from the fall semester. These small acts can help with the transition back to academics and serve as preparation for the heavy reading, writing, and general workload that comes with college classes.
Getting organized can be one of the best ways to prepare for the start of the new semester. Printing out and reading through the syllabi for classes is a great start because although it may create some stress, it can also be a source of excitement and motivation. In addition, major assignments and exams pulled from syllabi can be put into a personal calendar, removing any stress over missing important dates. Be sure to put any extracurricular activities or meetings into the calendar as well. Another simple way to start organizing for the academic semester is to find out what books are needed for which courses (which can be found in Agora Portal under “Classmate Roster/My Courses”). Comparing prices and finding the best option for buying or renting the necessary books can put students a step ahead both financially and academically.
When going into the spring semester, having a good mindset is essential. New classes and a new schedule serve as an opportunity for a fresh start. While it can be difficult to leave home and return to reality, focus on what there is to look forward to. Get excited about returning to BC and seeing friends that have been missed. Be optimistic about how the new semester will go and think about the benefits of each new class, remembering why that class was chosen in the first place. Setting goals can also help create a positive outlook. Make a list, whether on paper or mentally, of realistic ambitions or objectives for the spring semester. These goals could range from improving essay grades to spending more time outside once the weather warms up.
Having something to look forward to can also help ease the transition back to college after break. This can be anything from organizing a get-together in the dorm to planning a trip with friends over spring break. A night out attending one of the many social events on- or off-campus not only can be a great way to catch up with friends, but it will enhance the overall thrill of being back at BC.
Returning to BC after such a long winter break is undoubtedly difficult, but it can be made easier by taking small, seemingly insignificant steps that will prepare you for classes and for the fast pace of BC life. Doing some reading, getting organized, setting goals, and making plans with friends are all very doable actions that can have a strong impact on the start of the new semester. Stay positive and remember that it is a new year, a new term, and a fresh start with so much potential and so many opportunities to be taken advantage of.