I feel like every student who’s finished their first term says, “it feels like I just started yesterday,” and honestly, it’s so true. Three and a half months of full-time studying (plus a lot of over-time studying) and it truly feels like I was only in school for 2 weeks, yet I learned more than I ever thought was possible in that amount of time.
Before I dive into the nitty gritty of exactly how I managed to pull this term off with only one mini cry session (it was just one of those days), I’ll share with you all the classes I took and a peek at what my weekly class schedule looked like:
I took 5 classes (16 credit hours): Anatomy Applied to Occupation, Patient/Client Care Management, Domain of Occupational Therapy, Occupational Engagement and Theories of Practice, and Evidence-Informed Practice.
All of my classes were online, and Anatomy and PCM had on-campus lab components that met twice a week: Anatomy on Tuesdays and Fridays for 3 hours, and PCM on Mondays and Wednesdays for 1.5 hours.
Every class had a specific setup on Blackboard so that at the beginning of each week the lead professor would post our lecture video, reading assignments, other resources, and the weeks assignment.
Now, let’s go over what you’re really here for; how I got through my first term:
Plan, plan, plan
The first thing I did when class started was print out every syllabus from my classes and read through them all. I wrote down every assignment, exam and project due date in my calendar, on my iPad and kept them on the desktop of my computer for easy access.
Thursdays were my most richly-scheduled days (since our weeks started on Thursdays, next term we will start our weeks on Mondays), I spent the day reviewing all of the new information for all of my classes, watching the lectures that were posted and starting my readings, and usually I had enough time to get some assignments done as well. Because I devoted my Thursdays to getting as much done as possible, it made the rest of the week easier on me and allowed me to leave some time during the weekend to do something fun with my peers.
- Keep a planner – whether it be digital or analog
- Schedule your days – include the amount of study time for each subject and don’t forget to schedule in breaks!
- Don’t procrastinate!!!
Study Like You Mean It
It may just be me, but I cannot study at home. There are about a million other things I can think to do at home other than studying and at this point I don’t even attempt it because I know myself too well. So, I have my study spots around town that I go to every day to get work done- a local coffee shop and the school’s library are my go-to spots. Once I’ve found my place and gotten myself situated, there isn’t anything that I can do but focus on the task at hand.
Use your resources. Everything the professors provide has some sort of value, so use it! I watched every lecture and actively read [almost] all of the reading assignments, highlighting and taking notes along the way. Each week the professors provided learning objectives that I used as a study guide, I would answer the learning objectives so that by the time I needed to start studying for the exams, I already had a study guide created.
On that note: always make your own study guides! Creating your own study guide is a way of studying in itself, and, personally, every time I try to study from someone else’s notes it never makes sense because study guides and notes are so personalized to the creator.
Find a partner to study with after you’ve read and reviewed your resources. I have one friend that I study well with; we quiz each other and teach each other concepts because we find that talking through things helps us learn the best. If you can teach the topic to someone else it helps you understand better.
- Find your study spot
- Use all of the resources your professors provide
- Create your own study guides
- Find a study partner
Self-Care and Breaks
I can’t reiterate this enough! Schedule in time for yourself. Every. Day.
I’ve found that by taking a small amount of time every day to do something for myself- like doing a facemask, watching a show, reading a book for fun or eating out with a friend- rather than waiting until I feel burnt out to have a ‘self-care day’ can really help alleviate stress and keeps me more motivated and feeling good! Every morning before I started my day, I would read a couple chapters from a book, make myself breakfast and coffee and sit outside. This was a great way to make sure that my days started on a good note and set me up for more productivity.
On that note, if you feel like you need a break because you can’t focus, then take a break! Studying for hours on end is hard enough, so schedule in short breaks if it helps you focus better during periods of study/work.
- Rather than having, say, 1 ‘self-care day’ per week, take a small amount of time every day to do something for yourself
- Take a break when you absolutely need it
Eat Well and Exercise
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is so easy to skip out on the gym or pick up fast food and unhealthy snacks when most of your time it being committed to studying and getting schoolwork done. So many people fall into these unhealthy habits (even I’m guilty of this), but I can guarantee that life is so much better when you feel good on the inside.
Eating well isn’t as complicated as a lot of people make it out to be; I like to take a couple of hours on my Sundays to grocery shop and meal prep for the week so that there is no excuse to make poor eating choices. Meal prepping is a LIFESAVER. Do the work up front and never have to spend valuable time during the week wondering what you’re going to eat for dinner! Pro-tip: to avoid getting tired of your meal preps, find recipes that you really enjoy and play around with the ingredients to make it taste the best to you.
And as far as working out goes, you don’t need to spend two hours in the gym everyday – that’s just not realistic in grad school. I use the gym at my school and I’ll just go right after my last class of the day. Sometimes I can only spend 20 minutes there, but 20 minutes is better than nothing and I ALWAYS feel better after getting my body moving.
- Being productive and staying motivated starts with feeling good on the inside
- Start meal prepping
- Schedule in time a few times a week to workout, even if it’s just a little bit of time
Find Your People
This is probably one of the most important things about finding success in OT school. Find your people! Have a support system that knows exactly what you’re going through. Find people that want to spend time with you, who like to study with you, and who understand when you need some time alone. For me these are my roommates and a few of my classmates; we’ve gotten so much closer as we’ve gone through the first term of the program together and have helped each other figure it all out along the way.
I also have a separate group of classmate friends that I meet up with once a week for a Bible study. I love the time with these girls because we get to talk about our faith in the context of school, how we manage to make time for the Bible and using our faith as encouragement to our classmates.
It’s also so important to have a support system outside of school. This can be your family, your significant other or friends who will talk to you about anything but school! Just make sure that they understand that sometimes school has to take priority and that not responding to a text or call doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them, it means that this program is hard and requires a whole lot of your attention.
Remember Your ‘Why’
In my most difficult moments during the term, whether I got a grade that I wasn’t expecting, or I was on my eleventh hour studying, I found that taking a moment to remember how far I’ve come and remembering exactly why I was going through this program helped give me the push I needed to keep going. OT school is hard! It’s a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice, but it is a privilege to have been accepted into a program and to be learning the things I am. Sometimes I even go back and read my personal statement or look at my acceptance letter and remember the overwhelming joy I felt when I got the email.
Don’t let the stress and difficult times make you forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. Remembering your ‘why’ is one of the best ways to stay motivated and push through the hard times.
First term was full of so many learning experiences and I hope that I was able to show you all a peek into how I managed to make it through. I could probably write a book just about first term, but you just have to experience it first-hand to really understand it and to figure things out for yourself. I’m so grateful for the experiences I had during first term and can’t wait to start the next term- after I have a nice break of course.