7 Tips to Start Your Extension Semester Off Right

Whether you're taking a class online or studying on campus, these tips—suggested by our advisors and current students—can help set you up for success this semester. Have your own tips? Please share in the comments below.

1. Find Your Study Zone

Even if your course is offered online, you'll need more than a laptop to do your best work. Find a place with limited distractions and noise levels conducive to concentration, like a quiet corner in your home or a local library.

Not sure what your ideal space for studying is? Take this learning styles self-assessment to understand the way you best process information and help you determine the right environment for tackling your coursework. For example, auditory learners might want to avoid studying in a bustling café.

Widener Library at Harvard University

On campus this semester? Take advantage of Harvard’s great libraries! Extension School students with a valid ID have access to all libraries of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as 3,000 electronic databases and journals through the Harvard Libraries website. See your full library resources here

2. Train your brain

Your brain is just like any other muscle in your body. The more you exercise it, the stronger and more agile it will be. Build up your strength with some interval training: The Pomodoro technique advises breaking down tasks into 25-minute intervals and taking five-minute breaks in between. Taking frequent breaks can improve mental agility and prevent burnout.

You can also keep your mind in shape with mental puzzles and games. Pick up your favorite newspaper and tackle the daily crossword or Sudoku puzzle.

3. Connect with your classmates

Students studying together in a Geology course

You’re all in this together. Study groups can be a great way to explore challenging course concepts. Ask your professor if you can take a few minutes at the beginning or end of class to discuss organizing a group. Plan social outings to get to know your fellow students  and remind each other to take breaks.

If you’re studying online, you can still make connections. Thanks to a wide array of social tools, your support network can reach far beyond Harvard Yard. Past students have had success connecting and collaborating on WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Skype, and Google Hangouts.

4. Get by with a little help from your friends

… and family, coworkers, and neighbors. Set expectations for your availability during the semester, and see if they can offer support. Don't forget to celebrate your successes with them when they do help you along the way, whether they've picked up your kids from school, allowed you to leave work early one day to take your exam, or lowered the music so you could concentrate on reading.

Most people can’t do this alone. Don’t wait until the end of the term to realize you could really use some help.

5. Know your resources

We’re here to support you too! Whether it’s your first time back in the classroom after 10 years or simply a return from a long vacation, the tutors at the Writing Center can help you start and finish that paper. Schedule an in-person, e-mail, or Skype appointment. If math is causing frustration and confusion for you, the tutors at the Math Question Center can help. They meet regularly on campus and online.

The Career and Academic Resource Center offers dozens of webinars on topics like improving concentration, overcoming perfectionism, and strengthening your public speaking skills. 

Also check out the Bureau of Study Council’s tools and information for academic development, which includes ways to prepare for exams, and manage stress and anxiety.

Visit our Resources page to learn about all of the benefits available to you as an Extension School student.

6. Make a plan for balancing work, school, and life

Harvard Extension has best-in-class distance learning capabilities and unparalleled online course offerings to reduce your travel time while maintaining high academic standards. Still, going to school while working isn’t easy.

Talk to your employer, family members, and friends about your responsibilities going back to school so everyone understands that your time will be divided temporarily. The more your support system knows, the more able they are to help you. On your own, decide what your main priorities are for the semester. Determining what comes first and what can wait until the term is over will help you keep your sights in focus when your to-do list starts mounting.

Finally, aim to make time for yourself to exercise or do something for your health. Ask a friend or loved one to join you if you want to get in some quality time while you’re at it. An hour of physical activity can be energizing and rejuvenating, particularly when you combine it with the social aspect.

Here are some articles from the Harvard Business Review with more information on how to maintain a balance between work, school, and life

7. Know where to go for deadlines, guidelines, and more

The answers to many of your questions (Is it too late to add/drop?, What’s the difference between my DCE ID and my HUID?) can be found right here on our website.

Familiarize yourself with our Resources and Policies section. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, our Enrollment Services staff are happy to help. Call (617) 495-4024 or e-mail inquiry@extension.harvard.edu.

Have your own tips to share? Please comment below.

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Hauke Schupp, ALM'12 (not verified) replied:

Great writeup on starting out on the right foot. Having gone through the General Management program I can only stress the importance of items 3 and 5 listed above. 3. Connect with your Classmates As extension students you have to make the best of the experience at Harvard (either on campus or online). One of the most important resource are your classmates. It is very easy to get caught up in your day-to-day, especially if you take classes while working as I did, and not focus on building strong relationships with your classmates. Your classmates will be at different stages in their Extension School journey and you can learn a lot from their experience. Connect, build a network, and ask questions. 5. Know Your Resources Harvard offers a lot of resources to its students. Make sure you take advantage of all of them both offered via Harvard Extension School and other Schools within Harvard. There are a lot of events accessible to all students at Harvard facilities that I which I would have known about earlier in my journey. Check out the Harvard Crimson, Harvard Faculty Club, Harvard Sports Events, and Harvard Student Associations for these opportunities to network and build relationships within and outside of your course of studies. Good luck and enjoy your studies.

September 2, 20163:06pm

David Gray, ALM... (not verified) replied:

Dear Hauke, Thank you for emphasizing #3 and #5. I'm almost a year into my studies and while I have thus far made it a point to connect with classmates, I have yet to take advantage of any resources. And, once I'm admitted (fingers crossed) I will heed your advice on #5 in earnest. Great advice and great article. A worthy reminder for working students at the beginning of each semester. Dave

January 25, 201710:46pm

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