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Finding a Balance on Campus

By Olivia Rawley, AmeriCorps Career Pathway Coach

So: You’ve enrolled in college, and you think you’re ready to start your new life as a college student (eek!). You start trying to imagine your life— classes with captivating professors, new friendships with like-minded people, parties, clubs, etc.—and it sounds incredibly exciting. It should feel exciting.

But the excitement starts to wear off when you start thinking about responsibilities. Oh yes, the dreaded responsibilities.

The classes may be exciting and the lectures enthralling, but the homework keeps piling up; you’ve been having a lot of fun with your friends, but you realize that you all keep getting pizza one too many times throughout the week, and you decided to start hitting the gym to feel healthier; you’re dedicated to the club you’ve joined, but they have three-hour meetings on Tuesday nights and events on weekends that tap into valuable time; on top of it all, you have to get a part-time job to pay some of the bills. You think to yourself: there goes my social life!

It may all seem like too much, and I don’t want to overwhelm you.  College is a valuable experience and an overall exciting time in your life, but it is also very busy, especially if you have to work to help pay your tuition or bills (I know I did!).

But there are ways to find a balance between school and work and staying healthy without sacrificing your social life and hobbies. It’s all about finding that work/life balance! I know, I know. This phrase may conjure some eye rolls, but it’s important for your physical and mental health. We can’t be on the go all the time, even if we would like to be.

So how exactly do we go about finding this coveted “balance?”

TIME MANAGEMENT 

You’ve obviously heard about time management before. Maybe your high school teachers mentioned it one or two times in passing, but it went over your head because it didn’t really apply to you. You say to yourself: I manage my time just fine. I write my papers a couple of hours before they are due, and it ends up turning out well enough! 

I can’t reiterate this enough: that will not work in college! You need to give your assignments the appropriate amount of time without feeling stressed that you only have a couple of hours to complete them. Whatever is on that paper will be riddled with errors, I guarantee it.

You don’t want that stress, especially because it’s avoidable.

GET A PLANNER. 

You’re an adult now;it’s time to get a planner. I recommend getting something that allows you to list out daily “to-dos,” in addition to an hourly schedule so you can schedule blocks of time.

For example, say it’s a typical Tuesday. You have classes from 9am to 12pm, and then you have to go to work from 2pm to 5pm. Oh, and your friend wants to get dinner at 7pm! This leaves you with some “open” time to get some studying done. You decide to schedule in “study” time during that window between 12pm and 2 pm since you’ll be tired after work and may need a nap.

Now, when you schedule this time, you need to get specific. Don’t just write in “study” time. Look at whatever assignments you have due (hopefully you have these things written down in your planner!) and determine what’s most pressing.

For example, you see that you have a five-page paper due next Monday for your Contemporary Art History class. Well, you haven’t even started that yet! So, you write in your schedule: Draft introduction and find sources for Art History paper. 

Make sure you include the location as well. It wouldn’t make sense if you were already on campus to run back to your dorm/apartment to study, so write down next to your task @ library.

Also, be realistic about your time. If you’re sitting down to write a draft of a paper, a half hour time block isn’t going to cut it. You may need two hours or more. Better to overestimate than underestimate. Again, this is about managing stress!

WHEN YOU’RE STUDYING, MAKE SURE YOU’RE STUDYING. (NO MULTITASKING, PLEASE!)

We need to stop advocating for multitasking ; it simply doesn’t work. Or even if it does work, it’s not an efficient use of your time.

Picture this:

You’re at the library trying to study for a biology exam. You’re going through your previous notes, reviewing terms, etc. You’re on a roll until your phone vibrates. You look down at your phone and your friend has sent a funny meme. Of course, you have to reply. Then you get back to studying, but about 10 minutes in you hear the ping of an email because your laptop is open. You look at the email and it’s a professor replying back to your email about a paper that is due next week. This email jogs your memory that that paper is due next week and you only have the intro done. Better stop studying for this bio exam and get back to the paper!

This happens all the time, and it’s very inefficient studying. Put the phone away and turn off notifications. Close all the tabs on the computer if you need to be working on the computer. Block off time when you’ll be working on your paper before you switch to studying for an exam. There are even apps and websites that can stop your notifications or lock you out of social media websites for a designated amount of time, so even if you are tempted to multitask, your computer or phone simply won’t let you do so.

The point is to enhance focus and “deep work” (this is referencing Cal Newport’s book Deep Work). It’s about making your “hour” of studying count.

IF YOU CAN, FIND A JOB ON CAMPUS.

I can assure you that this will make your life much easier than finding a job at an off-campus location. Then, all the places where you’ll need to be in your day-to-day life will be in a small geographical radius. Cuts down time for commuting from place to place! Also, many student jobs are in a relaxed environment where you can do homework in between work tasks. Doubly convenient, right?!

So, where do you find these jobs? Many universities have resources for student employment, like their student job board (should be located on their main website). There is usually a filter specifically for on-campus jobs.

And if you can’t find on-campus job on the job board, don’t fret—but continue to use the job board! The postings there are specifically geared toward college students, so most of the employers are understanding of your schedule: school first, job second.

KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO

College is a time to try new things, find new passions, join new clubs, and pursue your interests. However, this can lead to you joining six or seven different organizations and suddenly discovering you have no time to study, work, or even sleep!

To be successful in college, you need to know how to prioritize and know when to say no. If you are over-worked and over-extending yourself, you need to learn when to say no and step back from something. Since you can’t drop all your classes or quit your job, you may need to take a break from some clubs or organizations that are eating into the time you should be spending studying or working. If you compromise your mental or physical health because you are too involved, you won’t be able to focus on the areas that really need your attention. Tell the club you are in that you need to take a few weeks off to focus on a class. The students involved have been in your shoes and they understand where you are coming from. Then, join back up when you feel you have a better grasp of your time – or don’t! if you find that you have to completely drop something because it just doesn’t fit into your schedule, be honest with people and let them know that you took on too much and need to step back for the time being. Be honest and know when you are taking on too much. No one can fault you for needing to put your classes first.

If you need any additional resources geared toward time management, I recommend delving deeper into Cal Newport’s work, specifically, his books Deep Work and How to Win at College.

Until next time,

Olivia