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The Best Ways to Balance Academics and Socializing as a College Freshman

Starting college and settling into a new life and routine can be a lot, but finding balance is a huge part of the process. Here's some advice for freshman year.

Going to college is one of the biggest life changes incoming freshmen will experience thus far. With all this change comes the additional challenge of balancing your time—particularly the time you spend studying vs. socializing. You’ll find there are higher expectations when it comes to studying outside of class than there were in high school; many college professors subscribe to the “two hours of homework for every one hour of class” rule. That means if you have a class that meets for three hours each week, you’ll be looking at roughly six hours of homework or studying. With four or five different classes per week, this can add up fast! And while studying will take up a significant portion of your time, socializing is also a key component of freshman year. You aren’t in college just for the degree but for the life experiences and newfound friends you’ll make along the way as well.

Most colleges offer tons of activities for students, from clubs and intramurals to concerts and sporting events—not to mention Welcome Week, an extravaganza of icebreakers, free food, and school spirit. In short, there’s plenty of ways to get social during freshman year. If you’re already stressing about how to get it all done, you’ll most likely discover that you have more free time in college than you did in high school, even after all those added hours of studying. So the question becomes, how do you divide your time between studying and socializing without neglecting either one? Here are some practical tips on how to manage your time as a brand-new college student.

Develop a routine

A simple way to balance your time between socializing and studying is to create a routine. But don’t worry—this doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous. In fact, I believe having a routine can make you more spontaneous, as you’ll have fewer mundane details to figure out, leaving room for more uninhibited adventures. To create a routine, start by thinking about when you’re most productive. For me, it’s the morning hours; for my roommate, it’s much later in the day. Recognize when you’re at your peak level of focus and set aside those hours to dedicate to schoolwork. In turn, this will free up time to spend with others rather than worrying when you’ll have time and energy to get that assignment done.

Related: Make the Most of Your Time With a Great Study Routine

Plan ahead for the semester

If you want to lead a full life divided between your academics and social life, you’re going to need to make a long-term plan. Start by writing down major dates for the semester: deadlines for big papers, projects, and exams as well as key social events like formals, weekend trips, and anything else you’re interested in attending. Now that you have a calendar, you’ll be able to budget your time more effectively. Additionally, spread out time to work on major projects; you don’t want to start a huge research paper the night before it’s due! If you plan out your schoolwork, you’ll be less at risk for missing out on (or stressing during) social events you’ve been looking forward to all semester. If you can learn how to plan your time and spread out responsibilities, you’ll be well on your way to finding the sweet spot between school and socializing.

Set boundaries

It common to want to spend all your time in college with your new friends, particularly if you’re an extrovert. It’s likely the first time you’ve lived with a bunch of friends, and there’s nearly always someone ready to hang out. However, you still need time to recharge. As an only child, I had a lot less alone time than I was accustomed to when I started college, so I planned one hour of uninterrupted me time into my week, which made a huge difference. That’s just one example of a boundary—you’ll have to set the ones that work for you. It might be forcing yourself to step away from schoolwork for at least an hour a day to socialize or something completely different. Learning to identify and set boundaries that allow you to thrive will help you to find a healthy balance in college and maintain your mental health.

Related: 12 Great Ways to Have a Stress-Free College Life

Learn to say no

You’ll meet so many awesome people at college, and a lot of them will invite you to do things or join groups. While you may have been able to say yes to everything in high school, you shouldn’t continue that habit in college. This is a good time to practice politely declining things you just can’t add to your plate. It’s also a great time to explore what you actually enjoy. There are a variety of opportunities to try different things and determine what you want to continue long-term. And remember, saying no to an offer isn’t rejecting a potential friendship; it’s stewarding your time to work best for you and what you’re passionate about. This is a skill that’ll serve you well throughout your adult life.

Make the most of small pockets of time

Have you ever met someone who never wanted to make plans because they didn’t have an entire day free of tasks or responsibilities? Perhaps that person is you. Either way, a lot of college is learning to balance multiple events and tasks in a single day. The best way to do this is to learn how to utilize small pockets of time. Do you have 50 minutes between classes? Get a head start on your reading for that night or grab a snack with a friend. Don’t believe the lie that anything shorter than an hour is wasted. When you use the small periods of time life offers you, you’re taking advantage of more opportunities to study and socialize, even if it’s in small chunks.

Avoid distractions and multitasking

Jim Eliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” This applies well to college life. Whether you’re studying or hanging out with friends, strive to be present in all situations. This means avoiding distractions like texting or scrolling through social media. Of course, distractions can be internal sources as well, such as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and other things on your mind. While some distractions are easier to control than others, do your best to stay focused and not multitask. (Did you know multitasking doesn’t actually exist? It’s more accurately called task-switching and has been shown to make us less efficient when continually redirecting attention between different things.) Instead of trying to do everything at the same time, center your attention on one thing at a time to maximize concentration.

Related: 6 Tips for Dealing With Distractions in Online Classes

At the end of the day, you’ll forge your own path when it comes to establishing a healthy balance between schoolwork and socializing in college. Some of these tips will work for you while others won’t, and you’ll figure out good habits that are uniquely tailored to you. No matter how you feel about the changes coming at you as you head to college, do your best to maintain a well-rounded life as you transition to this new stage—and enjoy the journey!

For more great advice on making it through freshman year, check out the tag “college freshmen” to read about friends, academics, clubs, and more.

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