How was your first semester

Why a bad semester is good for you

by Tim Reichel

My second semester in one sentence: It didn't go according to plan.

Not at all. It went really bad - and looking back, that was the best thing that could have happened to me. Because that low point changed me radically and made me a better student.

Back then I learned what really matters when studying - the hard way. But sometimes this is the only way that gets across to us. And I've learned that a bad semester, which at first glance only delivers horror results, can be good and valuable at the end of the day.

In this article I tell you what I took away from the worst semester of my university career and show you how you too can draw strength from such a crisis and come back stronger.


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In the middle of the crisis

Overall, my studies were successful: great content, met fantastic people, passed with distinction, standard period of study, doctoral programs. Everything perfect. Only at the beginning it didn't look like it at all.

My second semester was a complete disaster: I chose the wrong subjects, only passed half of the exams and finished the rest with bad grades. After a solid start, this semester pulled my legs away. I was completely demotivated and devastated.

I felt really bad and couldn't explain why it suddenly stopped working. Compared to the first semester, I had hardly changed anything, and yet everything was different now.


What happened

After a calm and good start to my studies, I was sure: "I now know how to study - it's not that wild."

I knew one shit.

In spite of the high failure rates, I managed the first semester flawlessly and passed every exam, but all of this was only possible because I had worked hard for it. I had a firm desire to be successful and I did everything to achieve it: I planned my semester completely and organized it with great precision; I made use of all the support that was available from fellow students, learning partners, lecturers and chairs; and I felt a deep need to improve every day.

But after this first partial success, I rested on my results. After the tension from the first major exam phase, my motivation dropped significantly and I took a more relaxed approach to my studies in the second semester.

I wasn't arrogant or negligent, but there is no doubt that I was no longer with the same professionalism that was the basis of my success: I no longer planned my semester in detail; I skipped a lesson here and there; I tried a lot on my own instead of getting help; I talked less with fellow students or mentors; and I made it a habit to only do the bare minimum.

And all of that became my undoing.


Turn things around

Even before the final test result was announced, it was clear to me that it couldn't go on like this. I had to change something and get my studies back on the road to success.

It became clear to me that studying on the back burner doesn't work if you have high demands on yourself and want to get the most out of your studies. There is no shortcut, no easier way to get good results - there is only one option: honest, smart and hard work.

Anyone who thinks they can already do everything and stops working on themselves will not only not improve, they will get worse. It will slip, fall short of its own expectations, and become unhappy.

After I understood that, I was able to concentrate on the essentials again and get off to a full start with my studies. I put my development back into focus and worked hard to keep improving. Of course not without enjoying the student life in between, but I never rested on short-term successes again. I always stayed professional and always went one extra step instead of being satisfied with what I had achieved.

And that's only because I completely ruined this one semester.


How you can come to terms with a bad semester and learn from it

I'm not telling you this brief detour into my personal story to show off. I want to show you that a semester that doesn't look good for you at first can be the beginning of your own success story.

If you can learn from your failures and draw the right conclusions, you will take a giant leap in development and benefit greatly from this short-term crisis.

To do this, you first have to review and honestly analyze your past semester. To do this, take a sober inventory and look at your results. Be objective and as emotionless as possible. Just write down all exam results and additional milestones on a piece of paper and look at your "metrics".

Once you've done that, you can do the following:


# 1 Check your own expectations

  • What were your expectations when you started the semester?
  • How did you imagine the course?
  • What specific goals did you have for the past semester?
  • What expectations did you have of yourself?
  • Were these expectations realistic?


# 2 analyze mistakes

  • What results are you not satisfied with and why?
  • How did that happen?
  • What major mistakes did you make during your semester?
  • What small mistakes influenced your success?
  • What would you do differently today?


# 3 take responsibility

  • Why are you responsible for the outcome of your last semester?
  • What exactly do you have to work on in order to get better?
  • Do you want to be responsible for your studies or leave the power over you and your success to others?
  • If other people or external influences had a negative effect on you: How can you avoid that in the future?
  • Compare yourself to fellow students who always blame others - do you want to be someone like that?


# 4 Forgive yourself

  • What positive things can you take away from your last semester?
  • Why were your decisions in the last semester understandable at that time?
  • Why would you decide differently today and what does this knowledge bring you for the future?
  • Does it help you more when you blame yourself or treat your past positively?
  • Why is your next semester getting better?


# 5 Develop countermeasures

  • What are your expectations for the next semester?
  • What is your overall goal for the next semester?
  • What can you do every day to achieve this goal?
  • How can you avoid your biggest mistakes from last semester?
  • Who can help you with this?

Work through this five-step plan in detail and answer each question in writing. Take your time and be ruthlessly honest with yourself. The effort will be worth it, because the results of this analysis will open your eyes and make you incredibly strong. If you can provide specific answers to these questions and take this evaluation seriously, success will inevitably return in your coming semesters.


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A seemingly bad semester can be the beginning of a new era for you - if you draw the right conclusions from it and are willing to work hard and honestly on yourself. If you take responsibility for poor study results and stop blaming others, you will develop into a strong personality and greatly improve your performance.

Studying is not about being able to do everything right away. It's about learning independently and dealing constructively with mistakes and new challenges. The sooner you understand this and put it into practice, the sooner you will become a good student who is not only successful but also happily doing his rounds around the campus.

Remember: long-term development is better than short-term success. Check the questions from above and take apart your last semester. The "worse" it was, the better your chance of getting started right now.


Image: © Caleb George /