How to Balance College, Work, and Social Time: Top 10 Do's and Don'ts

Classes, coursework, friends, jobs, naptime...there's a lot of stuff to juggle in college! Here's what you should (and shouldn't) do to balance your life on campus.

Time management is one of the most difficult parts of college. You want to do well in your classes, make memories with friends, earn some extra money, and make sure these years are as amazing as everyone says they’ll be. But if you start getting four hours of sleep a night and fall behind in class, the stress can build up and turn your college experience into a nightmare…Let’s avoid that, shall we? Instead of worrying about how you’re going to juggle everything you want to do, let’s focus on outlining some ways to organize your time. Doing is better than worrying, after all.

10 things you should do

1. Keep a planner

Remember in high school when your teachers made you use a planner to stay organized? (Well, my teachers did, at least.) Planners are a major help in keeping track of all the things you need to do in a day or week. You can personalize your planner so you feel inspired or simply obligated to use it. Using your phone to stay organized is fine too! The point is, having a tracker to record your assignments, due dates, social events, etc. provides a tangible reference that helps keep you grounded and feeling secure.

2. Set a sleep schedule (and stick to it!)

It’s incredibly easy to fall into an unhealthy sleep cycle in college: stay up late, get up late, miss class, sleep in class, take a nap, do homework until the crack of dawn… Do not do this! It messes with your body’s internal clock. Try to give yourself a bedtime. If you can’t set a firm one (like 10:00 or 11:00 pm), set a limit—be in bed by 12:00 am at the very least if you’re not done with what’s due the next day. Keep a consistent wake-up time as well. If you stick with a firm schedule, your body will thank you. (And try to get at least six hours a night, if not more!)

Related: Feeling Tired? How to Deal With Sleep Issues in College

3. Set goals

Setting short- and long-term goals will help keep you organized, motivated, and accountable. It will also make you feel a lot more accomplished once you’ve met those goals. Make a reasonable yet slightly challenging list at the start of the semester, with dates for each goal. Maybe for short term, you could try setting aside an hour of focused studying per day; for long term, you could strive to make the dean’s list. Feel free to add to your list, but make sure to check off your tasks when you accomplish them.

4. Go to (and pay attention in) class

Going to class is a no-brainer. Attendance is important, whether or not it counts for your grade. You are paying for every day of class; skipping means throwing away hundreds of dollars in tuition. If you go to class but zone out, that’s essentially the same thing. You are in college to learn. This is your future, and there’s no more hand-holding. So be responsible!

5. Plan ahead with your syllabi

Your professors provide syllabi for a reason. A syllabus is like a contract between a professor and a student. Put important dates from each syllabus on your calendar, and set alerts so you don’t get blindsided by upcoming deadlines and test dates.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Get Organized in College

6. Take care of your body

This is extremely important. Ever heard of the “freshman 15?” It’s a thing, because young adults just starting college will let themselves run rampant at the dining hall. Don’t convert your diet from home cooking to nightly pizza and fries—it’ll catch up with you and make you feel awful. Are you a coffee addict? Well, caffeine is a drug, so it will affect you in negative ways too. Try to limit yourself and practice moderation.

Also, it may be hard to find time for a solid workout, but do whatever you can. Just 30 minutes a day (heck, even just 10!) can help get your blood pumping. Eat healthy, live healthy. Take care of you.

7. Don’t forget about “me time”

If you feel guilty for taking some selfish time to yourself, let me relieve you of that guilt right now: me time is important. Especially if you’re an introvert, quiet time is essential to lowering stress levels. You can have a “spa” night, play video games, binge some Netflix—whatever you need. Save a solid bit of time for you at least once a month. You’ll thank yourself later!

8. Have fun with friends

Social time is also important to the balancing act of college. Yes, you can have study parties with classmates, but at some point you should spend time together without the books. If you’re too busy to “get away,” you can combine social time with things like meal time or study time to connect with other people. Otherwise, spend a few hours at a park, go get coffee, take a short road trip, or have a game night. Socializing shouldn’t overtake the time you set aside for studying, but it’s a major part of life at college, so take advantage!

Related: 13 Ideas for a Fun Night Right From Your Dorm Room

9. Take breaks

Listen to me: you can push yourself to the limit, but after you reach that limit, you will crack. Instead of getting to that point, take breaks—short breaks, long breaks, whatever you need. If you’re dying under a mountain of work but have zero time to spare, take just five minutes to recharge—it’ll be worth it. If you have an hour (or even a full day) to spare, do it. I’m not suggesting taking an all-day break every other day, but if your workload is stressing you out, taking a short one will help.

10. Surround yourself with support

You need to build a support system for yourself at college. This includes friends, family, neighbors, classmates, tutors, and counselors. Don’t hang out with people who bring you down. Instead, surround yourself with those who will hold you accountable, be there for emotional support, and encourage you to better yourself. This includes you! Make sure that you are there for you—it’s the first step in becoming an independent adult.

Related: How to Ask for and Get Important Help in College

10 things you should NOT do

1. Don’t procrastinate

This sounds like another no-brainer, right? Wrong—it’s so easy to push things off until the last minute, but it never turns out well. Review your planner, plan ahead, and be responsible. Do not (I repeat, do not) procrastinate, especially on things like essays, lab reports, presentations, speeches, and studying for major exams. That kind of dangerous living may have flown in high school, but it won’t in college—and the consequences could be severe. Too many crappy reports? Fail the class. Cram the night before and bomb the test worth 60% of your grade? No retakes. Your degree is on the line, and fails or withdraws look bad on your transcript. Professors are a resource, but some may be less-than-willing to work with you if you are consistently behind, and they can easily tell if you put little or no effort in.

Related: Top 10 Ways to Avoid Procrastination

2. Don’t pull all-nighters

Again, this is easy advice, yet at the same time, very difficult. If you procrastinate, you may have to do schoolwork into the late hours of the morning. (Bad idea.) If you think it’s better to study all night and morning instead of sleep, you’d be wrong. It doesn’t help to study over and over again and never give your brain a chance to sleep on that new information. All-nighters will leave you without a foundation and total exhaustion. Not good.

3. Don’t cram

Cramming, during an all-nighter or otherwise, is also bad. It’s better to complete practice tests, quizzing yourself on your handle of the material, rather than study over and over again and not retain anything. By cramming, you pile a massive load of information on your brain, but without understanding it, it’s just memorization. And without repeated memorization, you’re really just wasting your time. Study in advance, then complete practice tests. This will help a lot more than cramming the night before.

4. Don’t “wing it”

Avoiding cram sessions and all-nighters does not mean you should “wing it” when you’re not prepared for an exam. (Again: This. Is. Bad.) Luck can only take you so far, and when your degree is on the line, it’s not worth the risk. This goes back to planning and taking responsibility. You need to prepare ahead of time so you’re never in a situation where you need to “wing it.”

Related: 5 College Study Tips That Will Make Your Life Easier

5. Don’t let everything become a mess

This applies both literally and metaphorically. If you let your living area, your notebooks, or your planner become a mess, it will translate over to your mental health. Your drawers are a mess? Your head may also be. If you let your clothes pile up, there’s a good chance your mental list of tasks has also overflown its container. Clean your room and clear your mind.

6. Don’t skip work

If you need a sick day, take a sick day. But, otherwise? Don’t be that employee who is always late, leaves early, and skips frequently. If you work a job, be committed. Employers will be useful references in the future, and if you plan on building a career in that field, it would behoove you to have an established reputation for reliability.

Related: Summer Jobs, Internships, and Volunteering

7. Don’t slack in class

Professors don’t appreciate this at all. If you don’t participate in a discussion-based class, or if you goof off during lectures, or if you fall behind in turning in work—they won’t hold your hand. It’s your job to not slack off. Don't be lazy!

8. Don’t shut yourself away in your dorm

College can be a little much at times—intimidating, even. Yes, take those short breaks, take some time for yourself, but do not—I repeat—do not shut yourself away from the world. You don’t want to look back on these years and realize they were spent inside a dorm room or in a corner of the library. School is your full-time occupation, but you have a life too. So don’t hide from the world!

Related: 5 Freshman Dorm Mistakes to Avoid

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Use your campus resources! Go to tutoring, meet with professors, and stop by the health center for anything from physical to mental health tips and appointments. Universities have support systems that are there to help you! Learning/writing/tutoring centers are all happy to provide academic support across a variety of subject areas. Professors appreciate students who put in extra effort to attend office hours too. And health centers are paid for with most student fees. Faculty and staff want to help you out—you just have to ask.

10. Don’t be afraid to branch out

This is college—it’s your time to try new things! Go out for new cuisines (I don’t mean fancy high-class restaurants—try diners and food trucks). Wander about town (safely). Try out new sports and activities. Travel to new places. Play around with your wardrobe. Decide who you want to be. This is the time to build your identity, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

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