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Falling Gracefully Into Fall Semester

August is fast-approaching. We look in the rearview and wonder, “Where did summer go?”.  We start bringing ourselves to terms with the reality that the lofty project list we created at the start of summer is going to end the season with some (and maybe many) boxes left unchecked. 

This transitionary time from summer to fall semester is an important and exciting one for many offices in higher education.  Admissions teams make a final push to recruit and admit students; advising centers coach and prod students to finalize enrollments and schedules; faculty come out of the summer research period and prepare courses with up-to-date curriculum and pedagogical approaches; students, whether online or on campus, prepare to come to college for the first time or come back as a returning student.  Those involved in enrollment management bite their nails and await first day enrollment figures. Will all our work get us to our goals?

Regardless of your role in higher education – from advisor to admission counselor, and from social media marketer to administrator – the lead up into fall can sometimes feel like a chaotic period.  Here are a few guiding principles we use to get through this exciting and work-intensive time.

  1. Avoid the “tyranny of the urgent”. Charles Hammel’s 1960s book “Tyranny of the Urgent” helps us to delineate between everyday tasks and priority tasks, and to make sure our focus is shared among those two types. In chaotic periods like the lead up to fall, the heightened number of everyday tasks can create a tyrannical situation and hold our schedules hostage.  It is important in these times to keep focused on our overall priorities and make sure we balance the work we’re doing each day in pursuit of our overall goals.
  2. Create Lists. Preparing for a new semester can feel overwhelming.  To combat this, compile a list of items you need to complete to prepare for the semester, whether it’s automating processes, setting up your calendar for important reach outs, tasks you need to complete, etc.  Putting tasks on paper will help you focus.  As you complete the tasks, cross them off.  You will be able to view your productivity and you’ll have a list to reference when reflecting over the semester and your accomplishments.  We’re always amazed at how quickly we can work through a list when our minds are focused.
  3. Give Grace. Give yourself, your colleagues, and your students some grace.  To some colleagues and students this will be their first fall experience.  You might have to answer the same question several times each day, but the person asking the question is likely asking it for their first time.  Try to show up during your work shift as your best self and show kindness, patience, and understanding to those around you.
  4. Perform a Mental Check-In. This year, this tip is arguably more important than ever.  We have all been through a pandemic, have had several challenges, and will undoubtedly have more to come.  Set aside time to decompress. Breathe slow and deeply for a few minutes, check-in with yourself, and identify what you need.  Don’t neglect yourself.

If you’re interested in learning more about how student advising and support services prepare for the fall semester, please consider joining our upcoming MESS Network Coffee Chat on Finding Balance During Chaos: Preparing for Peak Times with Dawn Coder, Director of Academic Advising and Disability Services at Penn State’s World Campus and other members of the Penn State World Campus team on Tuesday, August 3 at 2:00 PM ET. Click here to download a calendar invitation for the event.


Leah Michel, Coordinator, Southeast Online Advising and Student Services, Southeast Missouri State University
Chelsea Caile McNeely, Director, Southeast Online and Early College Programs, Southeast Missouri State University & Vice Chair for Professional Development, UPCEA Marketing, Enrollment and Student Success Network

This guest blog post is brought to you by the Marketing, Enrollment, and Student Success (MESS) Network. The MESS Network engages members in actively building the competencies, skills, and confidence needed by today’s professionals to successfully attract and retain students in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive adult, professional, continuing, and online education marketplace. Learn how to join the MESS Network (or one of UPCEA’s other Networks) for more great content here: https://upcea.edu/join-a-network/.

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