Maxwell: Avoid starting classes in neutral

Alexander Maxwell

The start of the semester is a great time for us as students. Even though we have many assignments and projects, we still have time to get them done. We feel optimistic because our schedules are not yet full and we have yet to really screw up anything too bad.

We are not yet overwhelmed.

Why can’t we keep this outlook with us all semester? Embarking towards the sea of the semester, we end up leaving these hopeful feelings behind on the shores of Syllabus Week. We should make an effort to keep the optimism the beginning of the semester gives us. If we can retain the ambition afforded us when classes start, the semester can easily be much more productive and enjoyable.

In order to do this, we must make a choice to be busier right now. Normally we tend to wait to work hard, because being lazy is just so easy. Then when we are forced to begin projects and complete assignments, getting started is harder and we have to get things done in less time. We create concentrated work rather than spreading it out evenly over the time we have. It may seem like this is just part of being a college student, but we can only blame ourselves for having so much to do all at once.

We all have the opportunity right now to avoid these distressing situations. The tools we have are usually directly provided to us, though often this may not be as obvious to us as it should be. For example, it is worth noting classes do not tend to have “surprise” assignments: In general, all of what students are expected to complete during the semester is pretty much in the syllabus. I have never had a class that did not give me a schedule or plan that included all test times and due dates for major assignments. Yet amazingly, I tend to find myself surprised when I end up with such little time to get the work done. Ironically, I always look at a syllabus that has deadlines listed for large assignments and think, “man, that will suck,” because I know how much I will have to get done in a hurry. It seems I know I will not pay attention to what needs to get done until the deadline for it approaches.

It is amazing how much simply deciding to be aware of the work we need to do can benefit us. Carrie Bartley and Scott Roesch show the correlation this can have in their study, “Coping with Daily Stress: The Role of Conscientiousness” that was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Being conscientious of upcoming work by planning and prioritizing was shown to create less opportunities for stress and was an effective way to cope with stress in general. More interestingly, a study by Julie Penley and Joe Tomaka titled “Associations Among the Big Five, Emotional Responses, and Coping with Acute Stress” related conscientiousness with the stress-avoiding ability to more easily experience tasks as challenges instead of as threats. It should be easy to see that having such an ability would be beneficial to us as college students.

The first few weeks of classes, beginning with what many call Syllabus Week, do not need to be spent idly. We know right now what is expected of us and when our assignments and projects are due. There is no better time to plan what will need to be done with the time remaining in the semester. If your class starts a week or more before you actively get involved, you will need to put in a lot more effort later to catch up, since it will already have a head start. Being in college is intended to make students busy all year, not  only as we approach the end of our semester. The only way to stop this from happening is to consciously decide to be busy now and to start planning to do the work before we are forced into it. Luckily, it is during this part of the semester we still have hope and ambition to help us.


Alexander Maxwell is a senior in computer engineering from Monterey, California.