CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve been accepted to PT school. All those long hours, prerequisites, and work you have put in have been worth it. You start soon. What should you expect on the first day? How should you prepare? Take a look at my steps
1. Be at least 15 minutes early to class
It’s the first day of school. You don’t want to make a bad impression by being late on day one! Will you lose your spot if you are late? Most likely not. But you don’t want your professor to think that you can’t be on time to a graduate level program. Do what you need to do to make it to school on time. Get up earlier than you think you need to. Set 20 alarms. Do whatever it takes to make sure you get to school on time!
Don't forget to account for campus being crowded the first day of school. Give yourself time to find parking and to find your seat in class. Remember, if you’re early you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re late? Well, you can fill in that part.
2. Start planning your semester ASAP
Just like in undergrad much of the first day of school will be dedicated to going over the syllabus and structure of the class. In my time in undergrad, most folks saw syllabus time as a time to kick back and go with the flow; they didn't listen much on syllabus day. As a PT student, this is your day to plan ahead. Those dates that may seem far in the future will come sooner than you think.
If you're thinking “it's only the first day, I have time," you're right. You do have time. That means that this is the perfect opportunity to plan as much as possible. This was a strategy I kept from undergrad, and I'm glad I brought it to grad school. If you know that you have a test in a month you can focus forward and study a little each day until the test. Planning helps me stay calm and when it comes down to it, I don't feel like I have to cram.
3. Sit wherever you need to pay attention
Some people may prefer the front so they are in line of sight of the professor and won’t doze off. Some people can handle sitting in the back. Most of my professors even allow you to stand in the back of the room if that helps you pay attention. Do what you need to do to set the pace for the semester and pay attention. The last thing you want to do is to not pay attention during class and try to make it up later on your own time.
Once it's class time, check out a few more tips for being an all-star PT student!
4. Dress appropriately
Am I saying go all out and dress in a suit and tie your first day because you are going to be a doctor? No. When I say dress appropriately, I mean dress as you would expect someone to dress in a professional program. Your school may have a specific way they want you to dress each day. My program, for example, has one day per week where we are required to dress in a polo and slacks. But the other days, they leave it more open to us. Check with your specific school on their requirements before the first day (which they will probably talk about in your orientation).
5. Bring snacks
Your first day might be a long day. For your first day and any other days after that might run long, plan accordingly. Pack quick, easy snacks to keep you going through the day so you are able to last. I know it can be tough for me to stay awake and focused if I do not have any food in my stomach.
6. Figure out how you study from day one
If you don't have a specific study strategy that's worked for you in the past, this is your time to figure out the best way YOU study. Everyone studies and absorbs the information differently. What might work for one person might not be the best option for you. I would suggest getting a small group you can study well with, know what type of learner you are, because things will be moving fast.
Even if you do not study with that group all the time, just having a group you know that you can go to when you do need help (especially when doing things like practicing for practicals) is smart to have. For me, I happen to be more of an independent learner for tests, but when I do have questions and need to practice some skills for upcoming practicals, I have a couple of people that I study with and bounce ideas off of.
7. Get a good night's sleep the night before
This may go without saying for some people (like myself), but for others that have a hard time doing so, here's your reminder: sleep! You want to be mentally prepared for your first day, and take in all the information you can. If you do take a long time falling asleep, I find what helps me is to lay in bed about an hour or so before I actually want to fall asleep, with the lights OFF, cell phone OFF, and try to prepare my body to sleep.
If you're stressing out and can't get to bed, dive into our ten step process for working on your work-life balance and find your harmony.
8. Do not study before the first day of class to “get ahead”
If you are someone who is just wondering if you should study or not to “get ahead,” I would advise you to not do so. The reason for that is because school will teach you everything you need to know from the beginning. Yes, programs go very fast in the curriculum, but your program won't expect you to have a wealth of PT knowledge on your first day.
They may try to jog your memory on some prerequisites that you took, but in most cases, the program will review the important bits that you need to know, and everyone starts on the same level. Trust me, you'll have hours upon hours of studying to do once you start, so you might as well enjoy your freedom while you can.
Don't let the pressures of PT school pile on too heavily! Recognize when they're setting in and know that grad school isn't glamorous.
9. Go be active
Do whatever activity you enjoy that keeps you in shape and gives you a break from school. Your first day can be overwhelming which makes getting up and moving doubly important.
You can go to the gym, go for a run, or just take a light walk outside to clear your mind. Just do whatever activity you like to do to move your body after sitting in a chair all day in class. Your body will thank you throughout the semester.
10. Go to bed at a normal time after your first day
This might seem similar to point number seven, but after your first day you'll have homework. You'll have studying to jump on. But you should also make sure to take care of your body and get a good amount of sleep each night. My motto in school so far has been, “Whatever I know by 10 PM, I know.” Once the clock hits 10, I go to sleep.
Yes, you may have some studying to do after your first day, but that doesn’t mean you should stay up until 3am your first night (or any night for that matter) to study. Pace yourself! I never have pulled an all-nighter while studying, and I don't plan on that changing now.
And that's that. Your first day is over, and now you're on to a long, challenging, but rewarding journey through physical therapy school. The first day of school can be nerve-wracking for some, but you'll survive. You know why? Because you earned the seat you claimed on the first day.
As my anatomy professor said on my first day in PT school, “You're currently sitting in a seat that could have been someone else’s seat, so be honored and privileged that you can finally sit there.” All the applications, essays, and prerequisites brought you to this day, and now you have some tips that can start you off on the right foot. Good luck on your first day, and your future patients await!