How to Balance School, Work & Social in College

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College is a time of excitement and change for young adults. Unfortunately, it can also be a season of unexpected stress as students try to balance their new lives. Learn to balance school, work, & social in college.

College is a time of excitement and change for young adults as they spread their wings, gain independence, and pursue higher education.

It can also be a season of unexpected stress as students try to balance college classes while holding down a job and enjoying the collegiate social life they’ve heard so much about.

Consider this—according to the American Institute of Stress, 3 out of 4 college students report experiencing a feeling of overwhelming anxiety. Additionally, the American College Health Association reports 40% of college students feel inadequately rested for five days out of the week.

So, what’s the answer? How can students find balance in college and actually enjoy the experience? The answer is found in 6 steps.

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School Comes First

At the end of the day, your education is the whole reason you’re at college in the first place, so you must make it the top priority. Everything else—like your job and social life—should be scheduled after school and study time.

Learning time management skills is vital to your success in school—but many students enter college ill-prepared in this department. Start by writing down your schedule for each week and making a to-do list for tasks that you must accomplish. Break larger tasks into smaller components. Do you have a large project due on Friday? Break that down into more manageable pieces and build those “small bites” into your calendar. Perhaps research happens on Monday, organizing an outline on Tuesday, and writing your paper happens on Wednesday and Thursday.

Schedule study time for each class in addition to attendance. It’s important to remember you won’t have class every day, so you should have time to build study sessions into your schedule.

Making friends with other students who prioritize school above work and social life will provide you with a built-in support system of people who appreciate your choice to put school first and might hold you accountable when you’re considering ditching study time for a last-minute party invite.

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When You're In Trouble, Ask For Help

Having trouble with a college course is just part of the journey—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help. If you find yourself falling behind, reach out to your professor sooner than later. Struggling isn’t a sign of failure, and it doesn’t mean college is the wrong choice for you. You may just need a bit more support while you wrap your head around a new concept or mathematical formulation.

Your professors want you to succeed. Once they know you’re having trouble, they can provide information about tutoring sessions and opportunities for support through the school’s Student Services department.

Communicate Clearly With Work Managers

The best way to stay on top of your job without feeling overwhelmed is to communicate clearly with your boss and, at times, your coworkers.

Ideally, you will have built your weekly schedule, with classes and study time allocated, before taking on a job. Then, when you apply, tell the manager exactly when you are available to work. Your supervisors will appreciate your decisiveness, and the fact that you’re organized will help them see you as someone who takes school and work seriously.

Once you have a work schedule set, stick to it. Depending on your job, there may be opportunities to pick up extra shifts or trade shifts with coworkers. Do this only if it does not conflict with other priorities, like school and study time. It’s not always easy to tell someone no but learning to stand your ground is a life skill that will serve you well into adulthood.

Schedule Social Time

We get it—college is all about last-minute, unexpected invitations to parties. But you’ll also have plenty of parties you’re aware of well in advance. Add those to your calendar or list of “to-do’s” for the week. You may want to use a late-week party as an incentive to get early-week tasks completed on time.

And remember, social time doesn’t have to mean attending every frat rager you hear about. Grabbing coffee or dinner with friends, going to the movies, or enjoying a quiet evening binging Netflix with your roommate can all serve as social time that refuels your reserves and offers a much-needed break from school and work.

Monitor Your Stress Levels

No one wants to feel stress, but denying it’s there or avoiding it altogether does you no good—and can cause serious damage to your health. While some stress is a normal part of life, living in a prolonged state of stress can cause headaches, jaw, and back pain.

The best way to manage stress is to determine the cause of your stress. For example, are you worried about making a 4.0 for the semester? Do you feel you have too many classes and not enough downtime? Are you feeling pressure to work more hours but can’t fit it in your schedule? Rather than avoiding, root out the cause of your stress and create a plan to deal with the issue. And remember, most college campuses offer free counseling services for students.

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Take Care Of You

Make self-care a priority during college. Schedule time each day to get outside and soak up some fresh air and vitamin D. Get in a bit of exercise each day, even if that exercise is nothing more than a walk; move your body.

There are plenty of indulgent options in college cafeterias, but there’s also plenty of nutrient-rich food. So take care of your body by feeding it healthy food options and save the lasagna or mac and cheese for occasional treats.

College is a big, exciting experience. But it’s easy to become overwhelmed when responsibilities begin to add up. The key to success is to plan early, keep a weekly schedule, and allow yourself time to enjoy the experience while taking care of yourself.

Yes, college is a lot of work. But it’s also an amazing, life-changing experience and one you’ll never forget once you learn to make all those moving parts work in your favor. Let us know your favorite tips and tricks to balance school, work, & social in the comments below!

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