If you’re new to college life, you’re about to get hit by something you’ve never experienced before (but will experience repeatedly at the beginning of each semester, no matter how long it takes you to earn your degree): syllabus shock! This dreaded phenomenon generally occurs sometime during the first week of each semester. You’ll know it when you feel it–the cross between a gut-level adrenaline rush and getting hit on the head with a frisbee you didn’t see coming. Suddenly the amount of work ahead of you feels like way too much to handle. Your mounting anxiety makes you want to drop all your classes and go back to bed. But before you allow these overwhelming emotions to overpower you, know and believe that there is a way through! Your nerves really will calm down, and believe it or not, you will survive this coming semester and live to tell about it. As the old adage goes: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Here are some bite-sized nuggets of wisdom to help you cope:

  • Get organized. Make sure you have a calendar (whether physical or digital) that you can carry with you at all times, and block out every regularly occurring event in your week (from classes, to study groups, to your work schedule to extra-curricular activities). Consider color-coding these categories to make it easier. The idea of a calendar is that you can look at it quickly and get an idea of what is going on each day of your week with just a glance. As new events come up, add them in. Consider getting a binder for each class and print off a copy each syllabus so you can access each one easily even if the internet is down. Gather all the school supplies you need into one place and have a backpack that is as packed as possible so that it’s ready to grab for class each day.
  • Make a plan. Get a planner and go through each syllabus, class by class, writing down every assignment’s due date onto the appropriate dates. Again, this will be made so much simpler if you use colored pens or highlighters—one color for each class. That way, you can easily zero in one color/class at a time whenever needed. Consider using attention catching symbols such an *asterisk to signify an *important project or paper. Or a double underline to signify an The more visual you make your planner, the better.
  • Break it down. Find ways to break huge tasks (say, 100 pages of reading or a 15-page paper) into smaller, more manageable chunks. Look at the deadlines for these tasks and then back up and set measurable goals. For example, if you have to read 100 pages in your History of Civilization textbook by next Friday, write down some benchmark reading goals: “Read to page 35” by Monday, “Read to page 65” by Wednesday and “complete reading” by Friday. Consider breaking a paper down into smaller tasks such as: choose a topic, begin research, complete research, finish outline and finish rough draft. Assign these tasks reasonable dates so that you don’t end up procrastinating and pulling an all-nighter to write the entire paper in one day.

These ideas may sound like “little” things—and they are. But taking time for these steps at the beginning of the semester will add up to a much more purposeful, intentional approach to how you handle the work load that’s to come. Right now it feels like there is a ton on your plate! But take a deep breath. Before you know it, you’ll be to mid-terms, and then all the way through the semester. To layer adage upon adage: “Yard by yard, it is hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch!”