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It’s hard for me to think of any fonder memories of childhood than the annual rite of the first day of school. The shopping beforehand had all the excitement of Christmas coupled with the thrill of being able to select my own purchases.

Which lunchbox would I pick? The Donny Osmond or the David Cassidy? What kind of pens and erasers? Which size notebook?

There’s something about new school supplies that fires optimistic, energized neural pathways and enlivens the soul. It’s still that way for me, even now that I’m the one standing behind the lectern, looking at the sea of eager, expectant, hopeful faces, blinking up at me. I want them all to win.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind changing places with them.

Most people use New Year’s Day as the signal to set new goals and chart fresh beginnings, but I’ve always preferred the start of school in the fall as my marker of growth, possibilities, and determination to succeed.

The wonderful, implicit promise of each new school year is this:

You Can Always Begin Again.

It doesn’t matter how well you did in last year’s class or last semester. The new school year offers a full reprieve from past mistakes and a fresh start. A chance to shake off the chalkdust and outdo yourself.  It’s a completely clean slate.

You can be whoever you want to be this year. You can begin again.

If you’ve always been a jock, there’s nothing stopping you from going out for the school play this year. If you got lousy grades last semester, this year you can choose to hit the books, redeem yourself and be a nerd. It’s up to you!

It’s the perfect time to reinvent yourself and carve out a new identity.

You Don’t Ever Have to “Graduate,” If You Don’t Want To.

If you loved school, like me, you don’t ever have to graduate. You just level up. You can keep on learning new things your whole life, and you can declare the start of a brand new semester of your life, anytime you want.

Then again, not everyone loved school as much as I did. Some people had bad academic experiences and felt unsuccessful, frustrated or bored. That’s OK. This is different. Your old marks are expunged and forgotten and you get to award the new ones. No more teachers’ dirty looks.

You can give yourself assignments—whatever you want—and then go off and do them. Then, you get to give yourself grades for what you’ve done! Go ahead and give yourself a gold star and straight A’s. Put yourself on the honor roll and the dean’s list. You’re in charge now.

The promise of this new school year is that you can always begin again. @outsmartcollege
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There are no limits to the mysteries your mind can comprehend and unravel, as long as you keep expanding your limits. No one is smarter than you, and there’s no ceiling to what you can learn, when you apply yourself.

May I offer a few suggestions?

Have you seen all the free online courses from professors at schools like Harvard, MIT and Yale, where you can tackle anything from nuclear physics to Renaissance art to Irish history or cryptography while lounging at home in your jim-jams? What’s cryptography? I have no idea, but it sounds interesting and kind of like espionage. If you find out what it is, let me know.

Check out Khan Academy, Open Culture, EdX, or Coursera (when you’re through here, of course.) No pressure, no graded tests, no cost. Amazing!

Me, I’m brushing up on my Italian on Duolingo (It’s free and fun, people! No more excuses for not being bilingual) and rewarding myself with a long-awaited trip to Rome when I’m done. Faccialo!

There’s no telling how far you can go or what you can accomplish this school year.

Take a deep breath. Are you ready?

Great. Open your brand new notebook to page one. It’s time to get started.

What will you learn this year? Let me know below!

Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder is a college consultant and life planner who believes in the power of charting a clear course to attain your dreams. (She also believes in making frequent, ongoing course corrections!) She is the author of The New College Reality: Make College Work for Your Career and The Unemployed College Graduate’s Survival Guide and is currently working on her first screenplay. You can find more info on her website, and follow her on Twitter or FB.