Melissa Holzberg: Make the most of syllabus week

Well, GW, we’re back. For those of you who have just moved into your freshman residence halls, welcome to some of the most interesting years of your life. And for those of us who are excitedly unpacking for years two, three and four, by now you’re probably well aware of what kicked off today — “sylly” syllabus week.

Syllabus week, an opportunity to put off work and have fun for a few more days while professors introduce students to their classes, is something I’ve been looking forward to since the middle of July. I started getting antsy at home, and I was constantly thinking about being back at school, where I could see my friends and let loose.

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Melissa Holzberg

But as summer came to a close, photos of college freshmen packing up their cars clogged my Instagram feed. It was then I remembered that as a freshman, I looked at syllabus week as strictly academic — a chance to buckle down and start the semester right. With that in mind, I’m going to take my first week back at GW more seriously.

Instead of blowing off syllabus week this semester, we should all strive to channel our excited nerdy selves a little bit more — upperclassmen and freshmen alike. Going to class and being attentive during that first week helped set me up for a strong semester last year. It will benefit you, too.

For example, getting to classes early or on time shows initiative, and may also give you a chance to bond with your instructors. The first class of my freshman year was a discussion section at 8 a.m., and I was in my seat 20 minutes early. That meant I had the opportunity to chat with my teaching assistant before anyone else arrived, which turned into a positive relationship. After that, I felt more comfortable going to office hours and asking questions during class.

“Think of that first week like the first few days of dating someone new,” said Dona Coultice-Christian, a communications professor. “If you want to get something from a relationship you need to be engaged.”

Even just showing up on the first week is important. It’s totally understandable to be intimidated by — or maybe even uninterested in — starting a dialogue with your professor or teaching assistant. But, if you’re willing to show up that first week, you’ll be able gauge the general feel of the class, know what books you’ll need and avoid falling behind if your professor does assign work right off the bat.

Political science professor Danny Hayes uses the first week of classes to make sure he and his students are “all on the same page” about the course workload, assignments and his grading policies.

“Missing the first class or two obviously doesn’t mean you’ll fail the course. But, it’ll certainly mean you’ll have to play catch-up as the semester picks up steam,” Hayes said.

And University Writing professor Katherine Howell said it’s better for students to recognize early on if a class is not right for them.

“If they can enroll in a section that interests them more, they’ll have more success in the course,” she said.

While scheduling is behind us, you can also use this week as an opportunity to see if your classes are right for you. If you wake up excited to go to a course, you won’t mind staying in the night before — even if your friends are out “getting sylly.”

As a first-week freshman, I honestly thought that everyone went to their classes those first few days. I didn’t know what syllabus week was until the week had already passed. I went on Facebook the second week of classes and saw that my peers were all out and experiencing college firsts: first parties, first all-nighters, first fights with their roommates.

Meanwhile, I studied my syllabi. But showing up and working hard like I did doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun. A balance does exist.

Of course I hope that as a freshman, you take advantage of your lack of coursework during that first week. Those nights you spend with people on the floor of your residence hall — the nights that go from just hanging out to staying up until 2 a.m. — are the ones you’ll never forget.

Remember why you’re at school this year. You’re here to both make memories and to learn. Build a foundation for great relationships with your professors and with your peers. Most importantly, brace yourselves: Syllabus week is here.

Melissa Holzberg, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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