Back to School Survival Kit

By Latoya Fife, student, SUNY Empire State College

September 8, 2016

Current 1Starting a new school semester can be quite intimidating, whether you are a new student or an adult returning to school after many years. To help prepare students for success, here is a short list of strategies to smooth the transition:

Always read the learning contract thoroughly.

The first tip seems very simple, but it is easy to miss key dates and/or requirements that can be detrimental to your overall grade. It is recommended that students read and underline phrases that they may not understand and reach out to the instructor with any questions. Remember, they don’t know what you don’t know. When the course begins, being prepared with questions and a general understanding of the contract is the first step toward a successful academic term.

Take advantage of academic support and workshops.

According to some faculty at SUNY Empire, a common mistake students make is not seeking academic support in a timely manner. Some of the most successful students recommend using free resources each term, like tutoring and face-to-face or virtual workshops that cover a wide range of topics, from writing to time management. There is no such thing as too much help and the resources offered can help develop and build skills that every student needs to stay on track throughout the term.

Assess your time management skills.

Another useful tool to ensure a productive and successful semester is good time management skills.  Some of us are naturally organized but for some people prioritizing and organizing tasks can be a daunting task.  SUNY Empire State College offers face-to-face and online time management workshops to help students find a balance between their personal life and their academic life. Students receive email notifications throughout the semester with updated information about the available workshops.  It’s always a good idea to make sure your contact information is up to date so you receive all the important information and college news about events, to ensure a successful academic year. In the words of Benjamin Franklin "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

Find the right balance and support.

Another method for student success comes from the support of your family and friends for encouragement and motivation.  Pursuing higher education, starting a new career or switching gears in your current position can be demanding and it’s important to establish a support system to help you find a balance between your personal, professional and academic responsibilities. 

Learn how to navigate the college website.

The SUNY Empire State College website is a very important resource. It’s a one-stop-shop with information about learning contracts, Moodle (the college portal for online discussions and course assignments), the online college library, links to financial aid and course registration and academic history. The SUNY Empire website always provides information on school closings due to inclement weather and system updates. Every student should know how to navigate the website; there are tutorials for students who are not technologically savvy and you can always request additional assistance.

Find stress-relieving activities.

Studying can be very stressful. The college offers a variety of stress-relieving activities to participate in, collegewide and at many locations. A lot of students have full-time jobs and combining that with coursework requires discipline and organization. Planning ahead to avoid exhaustion is a good strategy to relieve stress, as college courses can be difficult and time consuming and will require focus and dedication to retain the material. The college offers an annual wellness retreat for students to learn about healthy living and how to integrate positive habits into your busy schedule.

Making the decision to pursue higher education can be life-changing. There are many resources available to ensure a healthy learning environment, as well as flexible scheduling to accommodate all students.

At SUNY Empire State College, you are not alone.

For more information about academic support resources, workshops and getting started in your first term, visit

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Workplace Violence: Active Shooter Threat Awareness/Explosive Threat Awareness Training, By Suzanne Lazar, student, SUNY Empire State College; editor, The Student Connection

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Article Contributors

Anita DeCianni-Brown

Latyoa Fife


Suzanne Lazar

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Ready to advance your education and career? There’s no time like the present. Apply now, or learn more about SUNY Empire at one of our information sessions.