Newsletter: Back to School 9/2023

Rob Humbracht

As a parent, back-to-school makes you realize the passage of time. 

This year my daughter carefully picked out her outfit and then donned - for the first time - fake nails before deciding that they were impractical for the first day of school. Fortunately, she came to this conclusion on her own. But those fake nails reminded me of the limited number of “back-to-schools” she (and I) had left.

As much as I want to bulldoze the path in front of my daughter, I know the obstacles she faces in school are hers to face.  What I can do for her is what I hope to do in this article: give advice and maybe some inspiration about how to keep “back-to-school” in perspective and have a great year.

Start the term with a plan. Use a paper planner, a wall calendar, and a timer to organize your study and leisure time. You’ll be ready for midterms and beyond.

So, how do you make the most of going back to school?

1. Get organized. There’s a momentum to getting organized at the start of term, so ride that wave until it crashes upon the shore of midterms if you can.


  1. Buy a paper planner and use it. Here’s the one I use in my work and adore (it’s also not expensive): 

    (note: there are no affiliate links or any kind of monetary rewards from this mention, though if the makers of Lux wanted to offer me some merch, I wouldn’t say no). I also keep electronic calendars and tasks, of course, but there’s nothing like a clean sheet of paper for each day to make you want to make the most of it.

  1. Buy a wall calendar of the month or the entire semester. You’re trying to remind yourself of dates that would otherwise be invisible in Google Calendar, to see those midterms and assignments coming from weeks (not days) away.

  2. Use a timer for studying. A timer helps you set a specific amount of time for each task or activity you want to accomplish or enjoy. It also helps you stay focused, motivated, and productive by using the Pomodoro technique or other time management methods. It also helps you take breaks, relax, and recharge by using the 52/17 rule or other rest strategies. Use a timer.

    Podcast version: “just studying” is inefficient.  You open a book or a resource and start to read until you feel like you’ve got it.  The better alternative: make a list of what you intend to accomplish in the next, say, 50 minute sprint. Turn off notifications start a timer. Do not get up until the timer goes off.  If you do this consistently, you’ll get better at the most critical task for academic success: understanding how long each task really takes.

  3. Set up a free Notion account (where I’m writing this very article!) and use it to organize Notes and whatever else you want about your life. Inspiration:

There are dozens of other ways to get organized, but those four are the ones that consistently make the biggest impact on my to-do list and feelings of organization.

2. Learn to use ChatGPT to its fullest. Initial reports about ChatGPT emphasized its ability to help students cheat. That’s certainly ONE use, and it’s one that will continue until teachers adapt their assignments to include the use of AI rather than stubbornly putting their fingers in their ears🙈. 

But ChatGPT can be used in surprising ways to help students, including:

GPT as expert tutor

Summarize large quantities of information (even PDFs)

AI as mentor or coach

Or, you know, build your own.

3. Get in shape. The chart below from 2022 comes from the ACHA’s NCHA (say that five times fast). That’s the National College Health Assessment from the American College Health Association.  How much time do most college students spend on physical fitness?

I’m no doctor, but when I look at that chart, I see at least 62.4% of students that aren’t getting enough exercise, though you may quibble with me about what the right amount is for yourself, of course.

Exercise is not only good for your body, but also your brain. 

  • Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which delivers more oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells, which enhances the brain’s ability to function, learn, and remember [source].
  • Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and connections, which improves the brain’s plasticity and adaptability [source]. 
  • Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that improve mood, motivation, and attention, including endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine [source].

In short, if you want to do well mentally this semester, don’t underestimate the benefit of preparing yourself physically.

Remember: quality over quantity!

4. Don’t overcommit yourself. You might be tempted to sign up for every class that interests you or join every club that appeals to you or take on every opportunity that comes your way. But remember: quality over quantity. Focus on what matters most to you and what aligns with your goals.

5. Eat Your Frogs. Eating Frogs is the idea that there are certain unpleasant tasks you need to do that will otherwise build up, so devoting time each week to those tasks means you hold your nose and open wide and then don’t have to think about it the rest of the week. [source]

What does that look like for students? Well, imagine if every Sunday you studied for roughly two hours for future midterms. During each session, work on the most important and challenging task for that course. This task could be reviewing notes, making flashcards, solving problems, writing outlines, or doing practice tests. This is your frog. Eat it first.  

Imagine what an impact such deliberate practice could have over the course of a semester [source].

6. Don’t forget your purpose. You might be tempted to lose sight of why you are in college or what you are studying or where you are heading or who you are becoming. But the more you stay in touch with that purpose, whatever it may be, the more palatable the late nights will be, the better your performance, and the easier the tough choices about how to spend your time.

Remember why you are here.

I’m not here to weigh in on any questionable fashion choices you’re making as you go back to school.  Sometimes as a father - and as an advisor - it’s smarter just to close your trap.

But I hope that these tips inspire you to make the most of this special time, one that marks the start of an excellent year.


P.S. It’s been a minute since we’ve emailed this list.  We’ve been busy getting our current crop of students through their admissions essays and interviews, but we’re planning to be back in your inbox weekly with actionable and somewhat irreverent advice.

P.P.S. If you’re interested in booking a free introductory meeting with Passport, anyone who does so will get two bonus hours with any of our Ultimate Packages or above (1 free with a custom package). Just mention this promotion to your advisor when you book your meeting.


This week’s newsletter is by Rob Humbracht, founder and CEO of Passport Admissions and lead author of The Savvy PreMed. He is also CEO at ReelDx and Co-founder of HEAL Clinical Education Network. Follow him on LinkedIn.

Next week you will hear from Ryan Kelly, Head Advisor and Editor at Passport Admissions.