Get Your Semester Off To A Positive And Successful Start

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Monday, August 1, 2022 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Business | School of Health and Natural Sciences | Pressroom | Faculty/Staff | School of Arts and Letters | School of Education and Behavioral Sciences | School of Aviation | Students | School of Computing

Macon, GA


You’re at Middle Georgia State University for a reason.  Knowing why you’re here is essential - and so is knowing how to keep going until you get the degree.  To succeed in college, you first have to know how to set yourself up for doing well.  In this Q&A, Dr. Rod McRae, assistant provost for Faculty Development at MGA, shares proven strategies from students who have been exactly where you are now and from experienced instructors who have worked with students to do better in class.

Many first-year students feel overwhelmed as they try to adjust to college life. What habits should new MGA students build to help them do well in their courses?

Successful first-year students focus on five main strategies to point themselves in the right direction early each semester.  Some of these methods take a little effort and time to set up, but they save much, much more time throughout the semester:

  • Show up for class. Some instructors have a strict attendance policy, and others won’t have any rules about attendance.  No matter what type of course, you can’t learn as much if you’re not where the teaching happens.  Don’t go to in-person lessons if you’re sick, of course, but attend every class session you can.  MGA’s instructors know their subjects well and want you to get the best information to learn so that you can pass the class, work towards your graduation, and get a decent job.  Showing up isn’t optional if you want to be successful.
  • Think of the syllabus as a guide to passing the class. Sometimes, the course syllabus feels irrelevant or unhelpful, but it actually contains everything you need to know to earn your best grade: what to read/study/do and when, assignment due dates, contact info for your instructor, how grades are calculated, and a lot more.  Even if the syllabus might seem boring or just like all other course syllabi, it will help you to stay on top of the course workload.  Syllabi exist to support your success in your courses.
  • Managing your time = managing your stress. Most students identify time management as an ongoing struggle.  The first step to using your time wisely is to create a schedule.  Early in the semester, figure out what your obligations are and make a sustainable plan for getting things done.  MGA’s Student Success Center has this handy guide.  Or just do a web search for “college time management,” and skim the results until you find a schedule layout that makes sense to you.  Pro tip: Use the Pomodoro Technique to make progress on projects, assignments, and studying.
  • Meet with all of your instructors early on in the semester. Your instructors understand exactly what it takes to pass their courses.  They can’t do the learning for you, but they know all about the course content.  If you’re worried about struggling in a course or have questions at all about any part of the course, talk with them during their regular office hours.  Those office hours are meant for just that purpose.  Or if those hours clash with your class/work schedule, then email to set up an appointment.
  • Your brain wants to learn, especially if your body and mind are in good shape. Being a good student first means you have to be a healthy human.  Stress, anxiety, and depression literally limit the amount of learning you can do.  Good sleep, decent food, and regular exercise literally boost your brain’s capacity for learning.  Taking care of yourself also takes care of your happiness, health, and success.  MGA’s Counseling Services are always glad to talk about your emotional wellness.  Visit MGA’s Recreation and Wellness facilities for ways to keep up your physical wellness.

What about returning or nontraditional students, especially those who may have struggled in past semesters and want to improve their academic performance?

Experiencing setbacks in college is really common, and there’s no shame in making mistakes.  The bigger issue is not learning from your mistakes.  To avoid repeating self-defeating decisions, look at your failures with the intent of figuring out how to keep moving forward.  As well as the pointers above, these three tips will boost your progress at MGA:

  • Past results don’t have to define future outcomes. To flip stumbling blocks into stepping stones, consider a mistake as just figuring out what not to do next time.  Don’t fear failure because anyone who took on a challenge—like earning a degree—also encountered setbacks.  Take on a Growth Mindset, which means thinking positively about your capacity for developing knowledge over time and learning through mistakes, not in spite of them.  Own your failures as genuine opportunities to get better.  Need help?  Don’t wait for it to find you; go and connect to what MGA offers to support you.
  • Everyone at MGA wants you to succeed, so use the many resources available to you. Aside from your courses, you’ve paid for access to helpful programs and people.  But if you don’t know what they’re for and don’t use them, then you’re missing out on resources that are specifically designed to help you as an MGA student.  Think of it this way: every unit at MGA has the overarching purpose of supporting your success.  Find out more about the MGA Libraries, the Student Success Center, the Center for Career and Leadership Development, and Academic Advisors to get good help for getting you to graduate—and beyond.
  • Every class assignment is designed to develop your skills and knowledge. One of the main results of earning a degree is to create career opportunities.  What you learn at MGA will set you apart from those without a degree, and no one can take your education from you.  To earn that, though, you want to figure out three important parts of each assignment: the purpose of the work (as in how the assignment fits into your learning in the course and beyond), the specific tasks you need to complete (the steps expected to do well on the assignment), and the criteria for how the work will earn points (i.e., the grade for the assignment).

What are common misconceptions that can get in the way of earning a degree?

No matter where you’re from or how you grew up, your decisions in college are yours.  So are the consequences.  Avoid these common blunders, and you’re far more likely to earn your right to walk across the MGA stage:

  • Avoid staying clueless about your own purpose for being at MGA. The goals of getting a degree and then a good career might not be enough encouragement when coping with difficulties and challenges.  Find your why, and let it guide you all the way to graduation.
  • Avoid being passive in your courses. Show up for classes.  Meet with your instructor.  Get to know your classmates.  Take part in every lesson.
  • Avoid assuming that learning should be easy. Anything worth learning takes effort—sometimes a lot.  If learning complicated topics was easy, there would be no places of higher learning like MGA, which offers help for your learning.
  • Avoid distracting people. No one is doing the learning for you.  It’ll be your name on the diploma, not the people who have their own priorities in mind.
  • Avoid time wasters. Unless the instructor asks you to use your phone, put it away during class.  Your phone often feels like a good use of your time, but in class, it can eat up your attention and reduce your ability to learn (and thus to do well in the course).

Knowing how to succeed in college isn’t just about learning new subjects.  Knowing good strategies is just the first step.  Now, you have to use them.  Decide to persist.  Develop your resilience.  Commit to do whatever helps future-you to live well and do better.  Your attitude is crucial, so have a good one, even when things get tough.  MGA faculty and staff stand ready to help your journey in higher learning!


Dr. Rod McRae is the assistant provost for Faculty Development at Middle Georgia State University. Working with the university's full-time and contingent faculty members across five campuses, he focuses on faculty development that supports the ways faculty enrich their instructional practices in order to enhance student learning. Of particular interest in his work is fostering a culture of collaboration and engagement, especially through transparent practices and inclusive pedagogies that boost academic outcomes for historically disadvantaged populations.