Tips to Balance Academics and Social Life
So you are settling into life as an undergraduate. You are living away from home in or near a campus filled with your peers. Balancing academics and social life becomes harder than ever. You are preparing for your future in lectures given by pioneers of the field. You walk the halls and feel the ambition and optimism of a forward-thinking generation. You spend afternoons and evenings with your friends and classmates, taking in the brilliance of each individual’s unique perspective and background, and you bask in the collective experience. Whether you’re sharing in academics or social events, you’re surrounded by things to do from parties to projects. This is college—this is all the hype was about. But now, you need to consider how to balance academics and social life.
With all its greatness, college comes with many firsts, like your first time having to manage your own schedule. You can pick your courses, so you can opt to take 7am lectures and be done with your classes by noon, or you can choose to sleep in and have your first class at 2pm. You can devote your weekends to relaxed study time, to volunteer engagements, or to campus activities. You can spend your summers and holidays back with the family, traveling with your college buddies, or pursuing internships and making post-graduation plans.
Identifying your priorities
Making a schedule implicitly requires making many choices, namely: how do you want to prioritize your time? You have several activities available to you (coursework, friends, volunteer experiences, campus organizations, research, internships, sports, greek life, work, etc.). What do you want to accomplish with your time?
Well, you need to decide what you want the most. Do you want to pursue a competitive field or career after graduation, or do you want to live a comfortable life working less than 45 hours per week? Do you want to form many relationships, or are you happier with a few close ties? Do you want to explore new hobbies and career paths (think programming, business, politics, international travel, dance, a capella, film, literature, vegan cooking), or are you fulfilled with the things you already do? Is your future career something of less interest to you (maybe you’ll go into a family business, inherit from a trust fund, etc.), and you rather spend your college years reveling in the partying and socializing with new friends?
Scheduling your time
At its crux, college is a time when you have an abundance of options and a need to schedule wisely. You have to figure out what works best for you, but, my advice? Work hard play hard. While there is no perfect answer to the exact hours spent on academics vs social life, it comes down to your priorities. This means devise for yourself a routine, and stick to it. On weekdays, know when you are going to go to sleep, wake up, and get ready. Know your course syllabi. Know how much time you are going to need per class per week. Know how much time to dedicate to each of your extracurricular engagements.
If you are able to anticipate how much time each of these activities will require, planning like this should leave few surprises. It will be a good exercise in self-awareness: learn how much to push yourself and how much you can accomplish, and learn how to manage your time to get done the things you want to get done.
Treat these core goals (doing well in class, building your extracurriculars, preparing for your future, etc.) as overhead. This is the work hard. And then make use of whatever time you have remaining to play hard. Find activities and organizations you enjoy participating in that are flexible (dining with friends, partying, exploring new hobbies, etc.). If you are clever, you will find a friend group that encourages you in both. For instance, become buddies with kids in your classes that subscribe to the work hard play hard mantra. They will be studying hard at the same time as you, you can support each other through your classes, and then you can unwind and party together.
People who are driven know the value of their time regardless of how it is spent. Learn to value your time and to surround yourself with people who do too, and you are sure to make the most out of your college experience.