Learn From Your First Semester in College

The lessons learned from the fall can help students have an even better spring experience.

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For students just starting college—or those transferring to a new institution—the fall semester can be one of the most learning intensive times of their college year.

There is so much to learn for new students: how to live independently, how to manage your life (e.g., laundry, meal plan, bank account, personal time, health and wellness) along with your classes, how to write a paper at a college level, how to do group work, how to balance a list of hundreds of things you'd like to do on any given day with your list of what you have to do.

[See 10 ways to save money at college.]

The start of spring semester, then, becomes a perfect time to reflect a little on how your fall semester went. You may have earned a 4.0 but been completely miserable; you may have done poorly academically but are proud of what you learned through the experience. Some self reflection can help turn the lessons you've learned from the fall semester into an even better spring experience.

Consider asking yourself the following questions:

What did you learn inside of the classroom? Are you an undeclared major? Did you fall in love with a subject you never thought about majoring in before? If so, what other classes can you take this semester that will continue to pique your interest? If you came to school 100 percent certain of your college major and career track, did your classes solidify or challenge your decisiveness?

[Discover some hot college majors.]

Additionally, try to spend some time thinking about what you can learn that you may not have considered. If you've never learned to play an instrument but always wanted to, can you add a two-credit piano class this semester? Can you take a Journalism 101 class that also challenges you to write for the campus paper on a regular basis? What kinds of classes can you take that will complement the classes you have to take, like prerequisites? What class would you regret not taking if you never got it on your schedule before graduation?

What did you learn outside of the classroom? One of the most amazing aspects of college is how much learning takes place outside of the classroom as well. After all, you went to school to learn about more than just Shakespeare and Organic Chemistry, right? What kinds of experiences have you had—or can you have—that help you learn when you're not officially sitting in a lecture hall, lab, or seminar room?

Did you join a club for your religion or cultural background, even though you're usually pretty shy? Are you considering being a resident assistant or running for student government, even though you never did anything of the sort in high school? Are you thinking of doing rush or pledging a fraternity or sorority even though you swore you never would before you left for school?

[Get tips for how to choose your extracurricular activities.]

If your first semester didn't challenge you too much, spend some time reflecting on why. Did you just need some time adjusting to college life? If so, that's perfectly understandable. And now that you've had some time to adjust, what will you do this semester that you're a little nervous to try? What kinds of things appeal to you on your campus that you'd like to become more involved with? And what steps can you take during the first few weeks of the spring semester to make sure you're connected in new and exciting ways to things you want to try?

One great way to challenge yourself is to try to think about what you might regret not doing during your time in school. If you know you'd always be a little sad about not doing something, then use that fear of regret as motivation to finally get involved. You might be surprised at just how much fun you have and how much you learn in the process!

[Learn free ways to stick to your resolutions on campus.]

Did you have a fantastic, but unexpected, experience during your time in school? If so, what prompted you to try something new? What was something that you never imagined yourself doing but that turned into one of the best decisions you made while in college? Share your experiences and advice in the comments section below.