Because I was a nerd, the idea of back-to-school shopping always excited me. I would rummage through the aisle of Ackerman Union buying pens, papers, planners, books and pretty much the whole nine yards. Though it was an exciting time, it was also an idealistic beginning to a school year filled with optimism and extreme possibilities.

For one thing, the level of excitement pretty much dwindles as you get closer to senior year. The next thing is that all the back-to-school “gear” you’re buying, you probably will never use most of it. Trust me, somehow your pens and highlighters will get lost, borrowed and forgotten before you even get to midterms. No fear, I know money is really tight. School preparation is obviously about getting the right stuff, but it’s also learning how these tools can make you successful.

I’m not talking about the same old supplies of paper, books and a backpack. I’m speaking of supplying your life with some structure, so that you don’t get that feeling of “Crap! I shouldn’t have waited so long to start this 30-page research report on Algae” or “Crap! My final was yesterday” type of dilemma. Some of my suggestions were taken from experience or advice I learned from time-management workshops. These “school supplies” can be tangible items, and others are more intrinsic, but if done diligently, all are effective.

Goal-setting: This is the Tao of tackling school. Clear your mind grasshopper and start the reflection process. Start big picture. What is your goal for this quarter/semester: all As, one-on-one time with professors, to be initiated to your sorority of choice? Goal-setting gives you something to strive towards.

Try this exercise, with each long-term goal, couple it with some short-term goals. Each time you complete a short goal, you’re one more step to achieving your long-term goal. Here’s an example. My long-term goal is to get an A. My short-term goals: Meet my professor every two weeks, get an A on my midterm, make a class friend to share notes or study with.

As corny as making goals are, they are the guiding light at the end of the tunnel to success. OK, now that was corny. But you get the picture.

Look at your Syllabus (ASAP!): If not for planning ahead, at the very least to have it in your mind. If you’re a serious student (which I’m sure you paid serious money to be) then your whole schedule needs to orbit around important assignments, tests and due dates. Memorize these dates and don’t get caught off guard. That kegger during week 3 (no matter how tempting) needs to come in second to your midterm on week 4. And don’t forget, a syllabus can change, so update accordingly.

Planning: One essential tool you will need (besides a computer) is a weekly planner that lists each day with time slots where you can block out times your busy. Look at your syllabi and write down all your important midterms, tests and finals. Next is seeing when assignments are due and planning dates that are feasible for you to start. If you’re a procrastinator like me (and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s just the way you are), then cross out the day before your assignment is due. Like it or not, you’re going to need to remind yourself that on that Thursday night before your Friday morning deadline, you will most likely pull an all-nighter studying or writing and should not be bothered!

Dedication and Effort: Being a college student is a full-time job; you have to treat it that way. Goal-setting and planning activities around your syllabus is all fine and dandy, but if you can’t even make the effort to open up or write in your planner, and actually stick with deadlines than all these steps are futile. In essence it looks like easy steps, but I tell you, when life gets in the way planning around your syllabus will get harder. But in this economy, can you afford not to make the effort?

Make your syllabus your guide, your planner as your tool and your goal as motivation. Trust me, it will pay off in the end.