How to Balance College, Work, and Play?

If college is a giant store of opportunity, time is your currency. Spend it all on extra stuff, and you’ll walk away without a college education. Spend it all on classwork, and you’ll miss out on the fun component of being away at school. Just as you can feed a family on a budget if you make wise choices in the supermarket, so can you do manage school, work, and a social life if you stick to your time budget. Before you ever get to school write down a schedule allowing for classes, study time, work, fun, and sleep. Keep the schedule where you see it every day: on your computer, pasted in your closet; or over the mirror. Review this schedule weekly and make adjustments until you find the perfect balance.

Here are some tips:

1. Class work first

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the temptations at a big university especially if you come from a smaller town where Saturday night consisted of the one movie in town or driving the two-mile downtown Main Street. Suddenly, there are parties everywhere, movies, concerts, bars, and a sea of new friends. Remember what you’re here for. On your schedule put your classes down first and block in study time for each. If it’s possible, the hour after a class is often the best time to do homework or reading as the lecture will be fresh in your mind. Try to group your classes in clusters early in the day. The ideal schedule would be classes from 8 to noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; a lab or other class on Tuesday and Thursday. If you can arrange that, your afternoons will be free, and you can easily arrange a part-time job. But, don’t take up all of your free hours with a job or you won’t have time to study.

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2. Spend your evenings wisely

When you make your schedule, set aside which evenings will be for studying for which classes. If you keep up with your school work and your job work, you should be able to have Friday and Saturday evenings free. However, you can’t do everything and just like eating a light supper when you’ve had a big lunch, you must juggle your social life, too. If you spend all Saturday afternoon at a football game, you may not be able to go to the party after or if you do, then spend Friday night and Sunday afternoon studying.

3. Break up big assignments

If you have a class that involves a lot of reading, you may need to spend time each day. If you’ll be writing term papers, make a schedule. If you wait until the last minute, you’ll be stressed, and the result will be poor. Make a schedule to do the research. Start writing the rough draft a couple of weeks before it is due so you’ll have time to proofread. Make time.

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4. Don’t get into debt

The biggest side rail to getting an education is getting into debt. Whether it’s car payments, expensive concert tickets, a fancy wardrobe, an exotic spring break trip, or any number of things, running up a credit card will guarantee that you have work longer hours and study fewer. Take the case of Mark, a true story, although that’s not his real name. He spent too much money his freshman year, so he got a job at a local paint store in town. All went well, until he had an accident while delivering paint in the owner’s truck. The owner didn’t want his insurance rates to be raised, so he made Mark pay for it. Suddenly, he was working twice as many hours as before, and he failed two important classes.

5. Find enjoyment in simple things

Entertainment doesn’t always have to be a top name concert 100 miles away. Instead, getting together with friends for pizza once in awhile can be a welcome break from studying. Going for a bike ride and a picnic on a Sunday afternoon, especially with a date, is romantic and a lot less expensive than a fancy restaurant. Even an occasional coffee date can give you a lift during the week. A word about television. Serious students don’t have time to watch their favorite shows during the school year. If you’re spending time in front of the tube or playing games on the internet, ask yourself if your time could be better spent studying. A sobering book to read before going to college is Hearts in Atlantis, a short novel by Stephen King in which several Vietnam era students couldn’t give up their addiction to the card game of Hearts even though it meant flunking out of school and being drafted.

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Make your time budget work in college, and you’ll be set for life. Learning how to prioritize and make a workable schedule is one of the most valuable skills you can learn in college. So plan it, write it down, adjust it when necessary, and takes satisfaction in a job well done.