Many students have just completed their fall semester; if your semester doesn’t end until January, you can still work through part of the checklist now and finish when your classes conclude.
At the end of a semester most of us (parents, teachers, and students) feel so exhausted that we barely bother to unpack the backpack dragged it on the last day. But there are a few tasks, if done now, that will make your life easier.
Here’s my end of the semester checklist.
1. Finalize and Confirm Grades
For most of us, this step is simple—log into the online grading system and view the results.
If you see any errors, now is the time to act. Even if you are already on break, send an email to your instructor. Provide as much detail as you can. In a typical semester this might mean you attach a scan or photo of the assignment or paper showing that the grade discrepancy. This year, there has been less paper exchanged, so you may include screen shots.
The idea is to double check grades while the events of the semester are fresh in your mind and while you still have the papers to document your results.
Most of the tips I include in these articles come from years of experience. I’ve seen students learn the hard way. Here’s the sad story on not checking grades. A student was transferred into another class period of French during the last grading term and that meant a teacher change. The first teacher promised to update the new one with grades from a major project, but with everything else going on, that didn’t happen. The student’s semester grade was an 88 because the new teacher had entered a “0” on the project. Everyone knew this was a mistake (she was a strong A student) and planned to resolve it in the new year. The grade was forgotten until the following fall when the student was getting ready to apply to college and looked over her transcript and saw the 88 in French 3 had never been changed. By this time the teacher who submitted the grade no longer worked at the school.
Don’t wait to check on the details. If you see an error, mention it and follow up. No one cares about the accuracy of your grades more than you.
2. Update Your Resume
Ideally, all high school students keep track of their activities, service hours, honors & awards, and other extracurricular achievements. This is the foundation of the resume you will use when applying to college. (College resumes are a little different from the resumes we might use when applying for a job, so don’t worry about the formatting yet.)
If you already have this list started, update it with what you did this semester.
If you haven’t started tracking this information, now’s the time to begin. Personally, I like keeping a document on my computer (Word or Excel.) If you prefer a paper copy, you can use a spiral notebook or bound journal, just be sure to leave room for new additions.
Here are the categories and details you want to track:
- Activities—This includes school clubs, sports, community organizations like Scouting, and religious activities such as youth group. Colleges will want to know the approximate number of weeks you participated in this activity and the average number of hours per week.
- Service—This is where you list any community service hours. List where you volunteered, what you did, and how many hours you spent.
- Honors & Awards – Were you recognized for any achievements? These are the types of things students tend to forget over time. Did you earn a Microsoft certification as part of your computer class? Were you recognized as the most improved freshman tennis player? Did you place 5th in the district debate tournament? Did your math teacher recognize you as a top student? Big or small, list them all!
- Work – Not all work is paid, so be sure to list internships here as well. Keep track of your dates of employment and hours worked.
- Summer / Other—This is my catch-all category for other things you’ve done that may not fall within one of the areas above. Did you complete an online course that won’t be listed on your transcript? Have you listed your summer camps / experiences? Did you train for and complete a triathlon? Teach yourself to cook? Rebuild that old car? Colleges don’t want to know about your Netflix marathon, but if you have committed significant time to a hobby, you can list it here.
If you take a little time now to document everything you have done this year, you will have more accurate records and won’t have to scramble to remember items when you start working on your college applications.
3. Identify 2-3 Goals for the Spring Semester
While the successes and pains of this semester are fresh in your mind, take stock of what worked and what needs improvement. Maybe you finally settled on a routine that makes you more productive. Maybe you need to change your calendar system or work to get more sleep.
Here are the areas you might consider
- Study skills—when, how, and how much you study
- Organization—desk, car, backpack, digital files
- Time management—time on task, use of a calendar, doing the hard work first
- Personal wellness—getting enough sleep or exercise, drinking more water
You might have many goals to make next semester better, but I want you to limit yourself to two or three top priorities. Once you have those changes incorporated into your routine, you can add a new habit. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do too many new things at once.
4. Clean Up After Fall Semester
Set aside a little time to organize and clean up. File papers you want to keep and recycle the ones you no longer need. (Don’t do this until you have confirmed grades in step one!) Many students will continue in the same classes in the spring; you may want to hold onto unit reviews, tests, and papers.
Take some time to do a digital cleanup. Put documents into folders on your computer. Save important items (desktop to the cloud or cloud to your hard drive). If you haven’t learned to create unique document names that clearly identify each file, go in and rename the mystery items. (Eight Word documents all saved as “English” probably won’t help you find the one you need to reference next spring.)
This is a good time to replenish school supplies—more pens, new notebooks, a fresh pile of index cards.
Depending on your natural level of neatness (don’t ask to see my desk!) and the number of “zones” you need to clean, you may want to plan to work on one area per day. Here are the clean-up zones for my family:
- Computer / digital files
- Supply shelf
We’ve had a long and trying semester and we are all looking forward to this break. But before school resumes in January, take time to work through each step on this checklist. Doing so will make your life easier in the long run.
I want to take a moment and wish each of you the very best this holiday season. It has been a challenging year. I’ve seen friends and clients struggle—trying to start college in the middle of a pandemic, concerning health issues, multiple cancelations for the ACT / SAT, having to apply to college without visiting the campus, trying to make distance learning work, difficulty finding employment, etc. But there have also been some bright spots—new friends, early decision acceptances, extra time with family, higher than anticipated scores, new cooking skills, and more time with pets (my rescue dog loves this!)
I’m looking forward to a better year in 2021 and wish you a happy and safe holiday season!