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6 Tips to Start Your Semester Off Right

Whether you're taking a class online or studying on campus, these tips can help get your semester off to a good start.

1/22/2016 | Going Back to School | 6 minute read

Maintaining a balance between work, school, and life is important – especially when getting back into the classroom.


Even if your course is offered online, you'll need more than a laptop to do your best work. Find a place with limited distractions and noise levels conducive to concentration, like a quiet corner in your home or a local library.

Not sure what your ideal space for studying is? Take this learning styles self-assessment to understand the way you best process information and help you determine the right environment for tackling your coursework. For example, auditory learners might want to avoid studying in a bustling café.

Widener Library at Harvard UniversityOn campus this semester? Take advantage of Harvard’s great libraries! Extension School students with a valid ID have access to all libraries of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as 3,000 electronic databases and journals through the Harvard Libraries website. See your full library resources here.


Your brain is just like any other muscle in your body. The more you exercise it, the stronger and more agile it will be. Build up your strength with some interval training: The Pomodoro technique advises breaking down tasks into 25-minute intervals and taking five-minute breaks in between. Taking frequent breaks can improve mental agility and prevent burnout.

You can also keep your mind in shape with mental puzzles and games. Pick up your favorite newspaper and tackle the daily crossword or Sudoku puzzle.


Students studying together in a Geology courseYou’re all in this together. Study groups can be a great way to explore challenging course concepts. Ask your professor if you can take a few minutes at the beginning or end of class to discuss organizing a group. Plan social outings to get to know your fellow students  and remind each other to take breaks.

If you’re studying online, you can still make connections. Thanks to a wide array of social tools, your support network can reach far beyond Harvard Yard. Past students have had success connecting and collaborating on WhatsAppLinkedInSkype, and Google Hangouts.


… and family, coworkers, and neighbors. Set expectations for your availability during the semester, and see if they can offer support. Don't forget to celebrate your successes with them when they do help you along the way, whether they've picked up your kids from school, allowed you to leave work early one day to take your exam, or lowered the music so you could concentrate on reading.

Most people can’t do this alone. Don’t wait until the end of the term to realize you could really use some help.


Every school has student resources you can tap into. Talk to your advisors about the availability of writing and math tutors or workshops to hone your study skills, improve concentration, or overcome procrastination.


Harvard Extension has best-in-class distance learning capabilities and unparalleled online course offerings to reduce your travel time while maintaining high academic standards. Still, going to school while working isn’t easy.

Talk to your employer, family members, and friends about your responsibilities going back to school so everyone understands that your time will be divided temporarily. The more your support system knows, the more able they are to help you. On your own, decide what your main priorities are for the semester. Determining what comes first and what can wait until the term is over will help you keep your sights in focus when your to-do list starts mounting.

Finally, aim to make time for yourself to exercise or do something for your health. Ask a friend or loved one to join you if you want to get in some quality time while you’re at it. An hour of physical activity can be energizing and rejuvenating, particularly when you combine it with the social aspect.

Here are some articles from the Harvard Business Review with more information on how to maintain a balance between work, school, and life.

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