Jump In: Start Your Semester Off Right - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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January 11, 2019

Jump In: Start Your Semester Off Right

The holidays are over. The new semester begins. For some of you it may be your last college semester ever. For others, it is your first. No matter – we all need to jump in to the routine now, and here are the three most important things you can do to get a great start – and they are aimed at mind, body and soul.

Mind: Organize

If you are going to have a very busy semester (and why wouldn’t you?), it is critical to organize at the very beginning of the semester. This is the time to plan how you intend to manage the many classes, assignments, clubs and activities, books, papers, and notes. Why not schedule study time for finals now? Research shows that spaced repetition, spreading learning out in intervals rather than in one cram session, is more effective for learning. Better grades are a result of organization? You betcha’. Preparing for all of this up front will help you jump in to the semester with both feet… and then land safely.

Pick a system – hardcover organizer, electronic calendar, tabbed notebook, whatever – and go with it. The system itself is not such a big problem, it is the compliance – you need to stick with it to get the benefits. This takes a little discipline, but it’s worth it.

When you are organized, you reduce the cognitive load on your mind. It’s a bit like a computer processor, the more browser tabs and applications you have running at the same time, the more likely you’ll experience slow responses and risks of a computer freeze. The brain is wired to simplify the way we perceive the world by ignoring details and focusing on grouping things together. This is one way optical illusions work. For you, if you are organized and know exactly where you always keep your chemistry notebook, you won’t need to use “processing power” to remember where it is. This frees up your mind to focus on learning.

Another benefit of organization is the amount of additional time you have that used to be used for figuring out where to put things or find them. It’s like doing a personal financial budget. Many people say they feel like they make more money after they create a budget because it is now efficiently organized. It works the same way with time.

Once you are using your time more efficiently, you can do a better job of prioritizing, get more done in less time, and even have time for our next jumping in action.

Body: Healthy Living

As much as organizing does for the brain, taking care of the college student body – your own body – can have great effects on your learning at college. Exercise has been shown in studies to simulate brain cell development, improve memory retention, and increase focus and concentration. Could you use some of that this semester? Uh, yah. So jump into new routines now.

So, what’s not to like about exercise? Because your organized, you can find the time in the day to do it and it really doesn’t take that long. Some experts suggest that moderate exercise even three times a week can benefit cognitive function. One study of older people in Neurology: Clinic Practice report that those who exercised about 52 hours over six months, or about 8 ½ hours a month, showed the biggest improvements in thinking and speed tests. Another study found that moderate exercise for one hour, three times a week is effective at improving memory. Improved sleep and mood are also byproducts of regular exercise. There are 168 hours in a week. Do you think you could find three hours, or less than 2% of your week, to devote to helping your mind and body get more healthy?

The other side of the health equation is eating right. We need the right fuel to run our engines. There are a lot of options at college from the dining hall to on- and off-campus restaurants to dorm food and late night pizza deliveries. The convenience of all of these options can lead to consumption of empty calories or overeating. Eating at college is as much mental as it is physical. Experts suggest the following:

  • Eat breakfast no matter what time you wake up to make sure you get the high fiber, lean protein or health fat you need.
  • Make a plan for the dining hall to choose specific healthy foods and to help avoid impulse selections that might tend to be less healthy.
  • Take it easy on the coffee and the soft drinks – caffeine, you know.
  • Have healthy snacks nearby, always. These foods will feed your brain and keep sugar levels… well, level.
  • And that leads us to our last, but certainly not least, area.

Soul: Prayer

Far from being an afterthought or an occasional act, prayer should be a priority and it should be done “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). To paraphrase Paul, prayer is God’s will for us, should bring us joy and what we should do in all situations, including while going to classes, taking exams, working on papers and living side-by-side with our classmates and roommates.

Starting out a semester with prayer and making a habit of daily prayer will put us on the way of life, renewing us each day. Praising our Lord God gives us perspective. Asking for His protection and blessing, and even His correction, helps us orient ourselves in the proper posture to face whatever a day or a semester will bring. And there is no better way to heal our interpersonal relationships than with prayers for those we love… and those who try us.

That’s right, we need to petition for even, and especially, those who persecute us or just make our lives harder. That special dear one who lives in the residence hall with us and lodges complaints about all we do – yep, need to pray for that person. The professor who thinks her class is the only one on the planet and assigns work with that in mind – yep, need to pray for the professor. The leaders of our college who make and enforce all the rules – sure, they need our prayers as much as anybody. A funny thing happens when we pray for these people who make our lives more difficult; often they don’t change at all, but our attitude is touched by the Holy Spirit and they don't seem to bother us so much anymore. We might even feel our heart softening in the process.

How should we pray? Well, true to the blog post title, we need to jump in with both feet. For starters, pull out your organizer and schedule five or ten minutes at a regular time to devote to prayer. Like Jesus did, find a place of solitude and have at it. That might be the bathroom in your residence hall or suite. It might be the library at 8 a.m. It might be a special, secluded corner on campus that you make your own. Talk to your maker with full transparency. He wants to hear from you. But don’t forget that He also wants to speak to you, so don’t filibuster your prayer time. Instead use part of it to listen to what He wants to communicate to you.

That’s it! Ways to start your semester off right. They all work together, support each other, and enable each other. They all take some discipline, and they are all things you can do. Believe it! Now jump in!

Geneva College is a Christ-centered academic community preparing students for faithful and fruitful service to God and neighbor. To learn more about a biblically based college education, contact Admissions at 800-847-8255 or admissions@geneva.edu.