Maintaining a school-life balance is extremely important while you’re in college. You are obviously there to study and learn, but that should not take up all of your time. College is also about making new friends and being a part of something new, but again, these experiences should not make up your entire life. If you go toward either of these extremes, it can have a negative impact. Rather, try to do a little bit of everything; this will also help you become a more well-rounded person!
Now that you’ve had a chance to settle into the rhythms of college life, you might be discovering that balancing classes, homework, friends, family, sports, clubs, and “you-time” is harder than you expected! The good news is that this is totally normal—most college students go through an adjustment period and can feel overwhelmed for the duration. This article shares ideas and insights about ways to balance your life from people who have been through it!
What can I do starting now?
There are many strategies you can start using right away to help develop and maintain your school-life balance.
Study outside of your dorm or apartment. Having a separate, designated space, like the library, computer lab, or a quiet lounge to complete your work, can help you focus. Ultimately, this strategy trains your brain to associate the location with school work, which helps lower distractions and improves productivity.
“I would try and get my studying [and] assignments done in between classes or right after. I would go to the library or somewhere I could get work done in between classes so I would not be distracted with anything at home.” -- Sabrina, Ohio State University
Keep a calendar. There’s no way to remember it all, so you need to write it down! Get a calendar of some sort—use your phone, an agenda, a planner, or buy a wall-hanging calendar so you can keep track of all important due dates and events. Calendars are a great visual and can show you at a glance whether your upcoming week is busy or not. That way, you can plan the rest of your schedule accordingly! Calendars also keep you on track and remind you of assignments or obligations you may otherwise forget.
“It helped me to have a huge wipe-off wall calendar so assignments never snuck up on me. I would see them weeks in advance.” -- Petrea, University of Arizona
Set goals and priorities. With so many demands on your time, it’s imperative to have clear goals and use those to set your priorities. One of your top priorities should be your education, so give that your attention. You should also be a top priority, so make sure you give yourself some mental breaks and have some fun once in awhile. Other (lower) priorities may include your job, sports team, club or organization membership, friends, exercise routine, meal times, and evenings out. Making a list of your priorities helps you distinguish between what you want to do and what you need to do to meet your overarching goal.
Make and keep a schedule. Once you set your goals and priorities, make a plan to achieve them and stick to it! The general rule is to allow six to nine hours for outside-of-class work each week for a typical three credit class. Knowing this, you can schedule in chunks of time for school first, and then fill in everything else around that. Don’t forget to schedule in time for you. Include breaks to help you de-stress and relax: reading, watching TV, painting, exercising, walking, or talking with friends.
“During volleyball season a bunch of girls from our team would go to the dining hall and then the library together after practice and it was a good way of setting aside time to get work done each day (and not be antisocial). I would also fit in small readings and assignments during my breaks in the day so it wasn't so overwhelming later on.” -- Pam, Franklin & Marshall College
“What worked for me was doing most of my studying early in the AM before classes, while my brain was still fresh. This would leave the evenings open for friends and non-academic activities.” -- Paul, Nicholls State University
Join a club or team or get a job. These are all scheduled activities, so they each provide structure in terms of filling your time, plus they offer great ways to meet people and be social! “Being social” is not all about going out and partying, rather it should be about building friendships through common interests and experiences.
“I got my best grades the semesters that I also had a part-time job. I was more productive and used my free time more wisely when I had less time available for goofing off. Plus, having a job allowed me to meet other people outside of the classroom, expanding my circle of friends.” -- Betty, University of Virginia
“I was better at managing my time and maintaining a school-life balance when I actually had more activities on my plate.” -- Pam, Franklin & Marshall College
Know the area you choose to live. This may seem odd, but different areas of campus can be known for different things. Are you in a quiet area that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic? Are you close to the main strip where most of the bars and restaurants are located? Is your complex known for hosting social events? Certain areas are known for being more distracting, which can negatively impact your focus, so do your research and find the best-fit place for you.
Be healthy. A healthy lifestyle is always important, but it’s especially important during college. Make sure you eat well and exercise, both of which will give you more energy in the long run. Exercise also helps lower stress levels, which may be high as you try to manage a balanced life.
What if I’m already unbalanced?
If you are currently feeling that you’re out of whack, here are some tips on ways to get back on track:
Manage your time management. Make an effort to track how you spend your time. This can be time consuming, but it can also be enlightening! Over a one or two week period, keep detailed records of what you do and how much time you spend on each activity. This will show you where most of your time is spent and allow you to prioritize and adjust your use of time. For example, you might realize that your lunch tends to last over an hour, in which case you can work to spend half an hour eating, and the other half an hour reading for class. This is a really effective strategy to use when you feel overwhelmed.
Know when or if it’s time to quit. Maybe being on the lacrosse team, in a sorority, volunteering at a youth club, and holding a part-time job is just too much for you. If you’re overwhelmed, you need to look at your obligations and make the decision to step back.
Be careful with this, though. If you have made a commitment for a certain amount of time, it is important to follow through, especially if the group is depending on you for something. Your best bet is always to talk to someone (your coach, group leader, etc.) about feeling stretched too thin. They may be able to help you come up with a plan to stay involved, but meet fewer demands. For example, instead of volunteering five hours a week, you may be able to reduce it to two. Most people are more than willing to work with you!
Say no. As you make and develop new relationships, you can count on being invited to many different events: dinners, parties, club meetings, speeches, and other happenings across campus. It is okay to say, “No,” especially if these events interfere with your schedule or would prevent you from accomplishing your goals. Knowing when to say, “Yes,” is equally important. Colleges offer many incredible cultural opportunities, and often for free! The chance to hear J.K. Rowling speak is not one you’re likely to come across again, so take advantage.
Make sacrifices. Sometimes you just can’t do what you want because you need to do something else. Maybe your best friend just invited you to a pool party, but you have a midterm tomorrow. Sacrificing the party so that you can study is a hard choice, but it’s the right one to make. This goes back to having your priorities set and making sure those always come first.
Note: If you’re really struggling or falling behind, talk to your professors, find a tutor, or reach out to any of the resources available at your school, like your academic advisor or counselors. These people are all there to help you succeed and can offer individualized advice to ensure your success.