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Planning the Next Semester

As the semester draws to a close, students need to do three things. First, they need to celebrate another semester in the books. Every semester brings unique challenges and opportunities to grow.  If students do not stop to celebrate their accomplishments, the academic journey begins to feel like an academic treadmill.  While we encourage students to enjoy the process, celebrating minor finish lines is vital to avoiding burnout. Second, students need to rest. The holidays usually take care of that, but some students are exceedingly good at avoiding relaxation. Used to the structure and steadiness of school, they create structure with their time off. While some structure is good, some freedom is necessary. Take a break. Third, after resting and celebrating, students need to plan the semester ahead. This third task is the topic of this blog post.

Planning a semester is about balancing academic responsibilities with a myriad of extracurricular activities. More broadly, it is about balancing workload with novelty.  Now, many students don’t have a ton of control over their schedules. As students matriculate through the grade levels, though, their ability to choose a schedule increases. High school students typically follow this path from forced structure to decision-making.

Freshmen typically have the inclination to participate in a variety of activities is natural. It’s important to choose activities based on passion rather than solely for resume enhancement. Exploring interests helps shape well-rounded individuals who can contribute positively to both college and society. If a student finds a gap in the available activities, starting a new club can demonstrate initiative and passion.

Sophomore and junior years are when the academic workload intensifies, making it necessary to be more selective with extracurriculars. Depth of involvement in a few areas is more impactful than shallow participation in many. For example, a student passionate about soccer and teaching could show commitment by playing school soccer, coaching younger players, and volunteering at soccer camps. Such focused engagement enriches the resume authentically and aligns with personal interests.

By senior year, students often have a strong connection to certain activities, which can lead to meaningful letters of recommendation. College applications should highlight activities that truly matter to the student, reflecting their genuine interests and values. The objective is to present a well-rounded profile through academic achievements, test scores, and a resume that showcases dedication to personal passions.

The key is balancing academics with extracurriculars. The term extracurricular should be understood in the broadest sense.  These activities are crucial not only for personal development but also as a key component in college admissions. They provide a more comprehensive view of a student’s character and values than grades and test scores alone.

However, the pursuit of extracurriculars brings the danger of overscheduling. In a world filled with constant stimuli, having a packed schedule can deprive children of the downtime necessary for a healthy mindset. While extracurriculars offer structure and time management skills, they can also impede unstructured play, crucial for developing creativity, problem-solving, and social skills. Overscheduling can lead to stress and burnout, impacting both students and parents.

To mitigate these risks, there are three key principles for scheduling the semester ahead:

The first principle for effective semester planning is prioritization and focus. It’s crucial for students to select one or two extracurricular activities that truly resonate with their interests and passions. This approach ensures that students invest their time and energy into areas where they can achieve depth of involvement and genuine fulfillment. Such focused participation not only fosters personal growth and skill development, but also creates a more impressive and authentic profile for college applications. Depth in a few chosen activities is far more beneficial than a superficial engagement in numerous ones. This prioritization helps students develop a strong sense of identity and purpose as they dedicate themselves to activities that truly matter to them.

Incorporating downtime into the daily routine forms the second key principle. Downtime is essential for students’ mental and emotional well-being. It allows them to relax, reflect, and engage in creative pursuits that are not structured or guided by external expectations. This unstructured time is critical for developing creativity, problem-solving skills, and emotional resilience. Actively scheduling time for relaxation, hobbies, or simply unwinding can prevent the risks associated with overscheduling, such as burnout and stress. It also ensures that students have the opportunity to enjoy their childhood and adolescence, balancing the demands of structured academic and extracurricular commitments with the freedom and joy of unstructured play and exploration.

The third principle involves regular review and adjustment of the student’s schedule. This ongoing assessment is vital to ensure that the balance between academic responsibilities, extracurricular activities, and personal time is maintained. Students’ interests and academic pressures can evolve over time, making it essential to adapt their schedules accordingly. This flexibility allows students to explore new interests, disengage from activities that no longer serve their goals or well-being, and manage their workload more effectively. Regularly reviewing and adjusting the schedule helps in maintaining a healthy balance, avoiding overscheduling, and ensuring that each student’s unique needs and aspirations are met. It empowers students to take control of their time and activities, fostering a sense of autonomy and responsibility toward their personal and academic growth.

By following these principles, students can enjoy the benefits of extracurricular activities while maintaining a healthy balance between academic obligations and personal well-being. The aim is to develop individuals who are not only academically accomplished but also emotionally and socially well-rounded, ready to contribute positively to their future college communities and society.

For more insights and personalized guidance, SAOTG’s flagship academic coaching program and our free resources offer valuable tools for students and parents navigating these challenges.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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