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Top 10 ways to prepare for an unprecedented fall semester

Whether you are returning to Grounds or staying home, here are some ways to prepare for this upcoming semester

Try a new hobby — like drawing — in the time between your remote classes.
Try a new hobby — like drawing — in the time between your remote classes.

1. Buy or make a mask

Even if you are quarantining at home, you are going to need a mask whenever you leave the house, but these masks will be especially important if you are coming back to Grounds. The University will be providing a welcome kit with two reusable masks, but you might want more to avoid having to wash your masks every other day. If you want a larger collection of masks that are fashionable or your preferred design, check out the many small businesses that are selling handmade masks with cute designs. If you are crafty, you can also make your own masks to coordinate with your outfits. 

2. Get your planner ready

If you’re like me, then you probably ended last semester with the worst organization and studying habits. It is easy to lose track of your routine when half of your courses are asynchronous and have very few deadlines. To ensure academic success for this next semester, start researching different ways to keep track of your assignments. Calendar phone apps such as Google Calendar and DigiCal are great for keeping deadlines in your line of sight. You can also use appointment books to create a visual representation of your day and plan your study sessions. Even creating a Google doc with a link to all your Zoom sessions can save you the hassle of searching through all your emails five minutes before you are supposed to log on. Whether you are sticking to your tried and true system or trying something new, you will feel less anxious with better organization. 

3. Download Zoom backgrounds

During our sudden removal from Grounds and need to adapt to online classes in March, many of us did not worry ourselves with finding funny or cute virtual backgrounds during Zoom calls. However, now is the best time to search and download pictures for your upcoming courses. Search for a background to make your study space seem more interesting or to add some unique humor to your future Zoom classes. A Disney Park blog made many downloadable backgrounds that transport you to Disney resorts around the world. My personal favorite was made by a Reddit user that makes you look like you are on the set of “The Office.” These backgrounds can not only add humor to your Zoom meetings but will also reflect your personality and interests. 

4. Reach out to your friends

By the time that next semester starts, it will be almost half a year since we have seen our fellow Hoos in person. Start talking to those you want to reconnect with and plan how you can gather while respecting social distancing guidelines. If you still wish to self-isolate, you can find ways to keep in touch with friends by coming up with a time to video chat. You would be surprised by how fun a Zoom murder mystery party can be. There are even sites such as Netflix Party and Discord that allow you to watch movies and shows together. With a little bit of creativity, you can have a lot of virtual fun with your fellow Hoos. 

5. Reflect on last semester 

The best way to make this next semester better for your academics, social life and mental health is to reflect on what did and did not work for you last semester. For example, I learned that staying in my pajamas and doing Zoom classes in my bed did not put me in the best mindset to learn and engage with others. If you can relate to this, try putting on a comfortable pair of jeans and finding a productive space to take your courses. COVID-19 has forced us to learn quickly what works best for our new normal and what does not. Now that we had last semester as a trial period, we can enter the fall with more information on how to cope. 

6. Gather recipes 

Those of us that will be returning to Grounds can benefit from researching recipe ideas for when we are back on our own. This is especially important this coming semester as the amount of students that will be allowed in a dining hall at one time will be greatly restricted and it will be difficult to enjoy your meals when you are worried about respecting social distancing. Even those who are staying at home can benefit from researching what snacks and meals go best between classes and require little preparation time. Search for meal prep ideas or snacks to power you through a long day of studying. 

7. Reach out to your professors

There is still a great amount of uncertainty regarding how classes will run on Grounds and what they will look like. If being in the dark about future plans makes you anxious, email some of your professors to gain some insight into how the class will function in the fall. Even if they are still unsure about whether they will be in-person or not, it can be relieving to have some expectations about the fall. 

8. Get your supplies together

I might be outing myself as a major nerd right now, but I cannot stress how much joy I get from buying new pens, highlighters and sticky notes each year. Start shopping online — or in person if you’re comfortable — for the stationery, electronics and accessories that will make your academic life easier. Even looking at dorm decorations can help you feel more excited for the next semester. 

9. Try new things

An unprecedented year is going to require some unprecedented actions. Many students are still learning how to cope with reduced social interaction while others are finding ways to navigate mental health in a completely new environment. Something as simple as a new hobby — like drawing or knitting  — or a new way of digitally interacting with friends can help you on your journey to a new normal. Try changing up your routine and see how it affects you. Who knows — you might end up drastically increasing your quality of life. 

10. Remain optimistic 

The fall semester is going to be rough — that’s a given. Remaining hopeful and optimistic, however, will put you in the best mindset for adapting to whatever 2020 has in store next. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the fall — for one, many of us will be reuniting with friends we have not seen since March. With our plans to return to Grounds, many students will be returning to their second home in Charlottesville. This semester will be amazing if we all focus on the amazing things we will have instead of the bad things that may happen. 

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