6 Tips for Back-to-School Success from an Academic Success Coach

Mariel MooreSep 8th, 2021

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Many students are experiencing burnout. It’s a common-enough situation in the best of times. But right now, students are struggling extra hard to stay focused on school and on their ultimate goals. If you’re looking for tips to help you stay focused and achieve back-to-school success, you’re in the right place.

I sat down with our Success Coach Manager, Peter Marshall, to chat about trends he’s seeing with students. “I think we’re just starting to see the effects of Delta. There is this underlying fear with students right now,” explains Marshall.

When so much is in flux, like it has been with the pandemic the past several years, it can be difficult to buckle down and do what needs to be done for your education. The good news is that Marshall has some excellent tips to help students get back on track (and stay on track) even through difficult times.


1. Practice Good Time Management

Marshall explains that protecting your study time is crucial to going back to school. This is particularly true for working students that may have many other competing priorities. “It all starts on Mondays,” says Marshall. “You’ll see this trick a lot with personal trainers too. If you want to really stick with something and make it a priority you should always make time for it early in the week.” The adage, “Never miss a Monday” applies to your schoolwork and not just your weight training sessions. Set aside some time early in the week to get started on your schoolwork. It will set the tone for the rest of your week.


2. Make a Place for School

A good study area is more helpful than you know. Just like having a dedicated fitness area (at a gym or at home) improves your likelihood of sticking to your exercise habit, having a dedicated spot in your home for studying improves your chances of getting study time in regularly and sets you up for success. A study space also gives you a place where you know you can focus on school and get into a routine – i.e., “When I sit down at this desk I study.” According to our partner school, Maryville University, “A study space can be a home office, attic nook, kitchen table, or – for those who have limited living space – an area in a bedroom or living room. Creating a dedicated space may be an ideal choice if you are easily distracted and have a hard time focusing amid other distractions, such as the television, smartphone notifications, and social media accounts." Marshall gives these tips for designing the right study space, “It is better to create a space that is not in a high traffic area where kids are running around, or your roommates are binging Netflix. It’s also good to keep all your materials you need in this space.”  You can think of this space as always ready for study time. You can store your books here when you are not in class, you can attend virtual classes here, and you can make sure you always have a pack of pencils here.


3. Give Yourself a Quick Win

Marshall often coaches older students who can be daunted by the thought of going back to school. “Giving these students a quick win to show them they can make progress can be a real game changer in the beginning,” says Marshall. Marshall recommends starting with a simple class. New students with Accelerated Pathways receive a complimentary StudySMART course that many students enjoy because it eases them back into school. StudySMART and an additional course called Student Success are available to students through Accelerated Pathways. Both provide valuable information for all students but especially those who may have been away from school for a while or students who need an extra boost to get going strong. Again, using the analogy of exercise, many personal trainers will start with a quick easy workout the first time. The point is not to burn 1,000 calories or lift enormous weights in your first session. The point is to show new exercisers that it can be done. That they can ease into a new way of life. The same goes for returning to school.


4. Break It Down

When confronted with a big, audacious goal, it must be broken down into easy actionable steps. Many top business leaders (and leaders in general) live by this philosophy. Taken even further, to achieve big things, start by thinking small. For example, if you want to go back to school, start with a goal of talking to an admissions counselor. Breaking down your big goals into small manageable chunks gives you a place to start. It also de-stresses the situation. Big goals tend to be paralyzing. It’s like you’re confronted with too many possibilities. By creating small actionable steps, you remove the paralyzing force and give yourself the push you need to move forward with more confidence.


5. Take Breaks

Research shows that taking purposeful breaks when doing schoolwork can improve your ability study. Marshall recommends the Pomodoro method to his students. “Every 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break,” he says. While the Pomodoro method calls for a very specific schedule of work to break time, you can find a rhythm that works for you. Maybe studying for an hour is more feasible for you. Great! You may want to consider increasing your break to 10 minutes to accommodate for that extra time. Many students find that having scheduled study breaks can keep them focused more reliably for their designated “study time.” Try it!


6. Hit Your Milestones

As you’re goal setting, don’t be afraid to really map out what both short- and long-term goals look like for your education. Give yourself some deadlines. Do you want to finish that bachelor’s degree you started in the next two years? Well, work backwards from that date and give yourself some milestones along the way. This can help you keep your sights not only on your short-term goals but on your long-term success too. Making your goals timebound is essential if you are a fan of the S.M.A.R.T. goals method, which helps people set very defined actionable goals and then gives themselves a deadline for achievement. We cover setting S.M.A.R.T. goals in this post on continuous learning. Setting milestones functions in much the same way.


So, whether you are a high school student jumping straight to college courses or you are returning to school after quite some time away, these tips should help you hit the ground running. College isn’t easy and it does require a lot of self-discipline. But that’s where Accelerated Pathways comes in. Our coaches are trained to help students—no matter what stage of life they are currently in—stick to and achieve their goals. Reach out for more information on how Accelerated Pathways can help you overcome burnout and use these strategies and more to achieve your educational goals.

Mariel Moore

Mariel is a writer, content strategist and marketer. Besides educational topics, she's also covered content on consumer trends, healthcare and wellness. Mariel has a knack for booking cheap travel and when she's not working, you just might find her searching for the best flights to Europe.