We sought out some professional advice on how to maintain a balance during your freshman year. The three recurring themes we heard? Organization time management and prioritizing. Of course we threw in something about a balanced diet (lima beans vs. jelly beans? No contest!) a good night’s sleep (impossible in a dorm?) work exercise and relationships — just to keep things well-rounded!
Hitting the Books vs. Hitting the Town
Justin G. Roy, Vice President for Communications and Social Media Marketing for William Peace University says that maintaining a balance at college at times is one of the biggest oxymorons you will hear today. “Life at college changes like the wind in Chicago. Sure you might know when your classes are scheduled you might estimate homework and you even know when activities and sports are. But can you anticipate when your friends think it’s a good idea at 11 p.m. to head over and get some ice cream?”
In reality ice cream may be the least of your temptations. As a freshman you’ll be faced with more options for fun and more invites with no parent-enforced rules can easily equal bad choices. Your best bet? Get organized so you can use your time wisely.
“I suggest making a spreadsheet or something similar that outlines your classes sports and activities schedule … and remember to fit in meals!,” suggests Roy. “You’ll be surprised at what you see — probably some gaps of an hour of so. … Why not take that hour in the library to catch up on some reading head over to the tutoring center and have a second pair of eyes on a paper that is due next week? By filling your small periods of free time with homework and studying you’ll notice more time [and less stress] to head over to late night breakfast.”
Without your parents’ direction it’s up to you to make academics a priority. As Troy Miller associate dean first-year admissions and scholarship at New York Institute of Technology puts it: “A lot of kids think parties and social activities are competing priorities with academic responsibilities. They’re not. Don’t let these things get in the way of your ultimate goals. You have to plan your social events around your academic responsibilities not vice versa. There’ll be another party but you may not get another opportunity to take a test.”
Academics vs. Extracurriculars
With activities like sports practice drama club and the school newspaper partying is far from the only distraction at college.
“Time management is one of the critical skills that all college students MUST master if they are going to be successful,” says Daniel Sullivan Ed.D., Director of First Year and Transitional Programs at Nova Southeastern University. “I advise my students to view college as their ‘full-time job’ and number one priority.”
Sullivan says that a trap that many freshmen fall into is that they have lots of free time early in the term that gets filled with extracurricular activities (some positive some negative). Then when exams papers and projects hit at mid-term they experience major stress and poor performance that can jeopardize their academic future. Plus many students have additional pressures such as:
• Athletic practice training travel and competition
• A job to help pay for college
• Commuting to campus and finding parking
• Student clubs and organizations
“I teach my freshmen to use their planner (many schools publish their own with important dates and other information) and to make lists,” says Sullivan. “Having a system helps keep them on track with exams written assignments projects important meetings and other commitments. With a time management system they are better able to stay on top of their school work and reduce the stress of college life.”
Peas ZZZs and M&Ms
Just because you know what NOT to eat (Twinkies for breakfast) doesn’t mean you necessarily know what you should eat to maximize your brain power and energy.
Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research and Development for national brain-training company LearningRx recommends these top foods to keep your brain at peak performance: beans olive oil walnuts blueberries and Omega-3-rich fish like salmon mackerel and tuna. As for energy do your best to combine proteins that contain healthy fats (like peanuts almonds yogurt low-fat cheese soy nuts or cashews) with complex carbohydrates (pretzels whole wheat bread whole grain baked crackers or rice cakes). You’ll fuel your body for longer and without the crash that often comes with sugary foods or caffeine-laden drinks. Mostly importantly stay hydrated. Plain water is always your best bet but if you choose something else avoid soda “energy” drinks and bottles labeled “drink” “beverage” or “cocktail” terms the FDA requires for beverages that are not 100 percent juice.
If you find yourself reaching for caffeinated soda coffee or “energy” drinks on a regular basis consider addressing the problem instead of treating the symptoms. “Students who are heavily active in extracurricular activities might be too alert to fall asleep after a late-night basketball practice” explains Mitchell. “Or maybe they’re staying up late to finish homework because they’re overscheduled in the evening. Whatever the cause it needs to be addressed. Sleep deprivation is known to decrease everything from attentiveness and response time to short-term memory and performance.” In other words if you have to cut back on something it shouldn’t be sleep!
For someone who has to work while they’re in college getting enough sleep is easier said than done. “To the extent you are able seek work through federal aid programs,” advises Miller. “If you’re doing that you’re on campus and your supervisors have a better understanding of your needs and academic responsibilities. You may be able to have a more flexible schedule that suits your needs.”
Look for something with some down time rather than massive amounts of responsibility (which will add to your stress level). And while a low-traffic desk job might sound boring consider how much homework you could get done. It’s like getting paid to study!
Sneezy Sleepy and Grumpy
In addition to poor nutrition and lack of sleep the major contributors to getting sick in college are stress not getting enough exercise and sharing germs.
Stress is probably the hardest one to avoid but you can do your best to lessen your stress by staying current on your homework papers and studying. Finding an emotional outlet (friends family or a college counselor) and a physical outlet (regular exercise intramural or elective sports martial arts etc.) can help keep your mind and body strong.
As for germs you certainly can’t avoid them (and some germs are good for you!). But with the flu strep throat pneumonia and meningitis making their rounds it’s important to take matters into your own hands. This means getting your flu shot staying up to date on other vaccines washing your hands regularly and carrying disinfectant gel for the times you can’t get to a sink. And while we’re not here to lecture you about “swapping spit” we will point out that putting a fraternity ping pong ball in your mouth is dumb for A LOT of reasons.
Friends With Benefits
Whether you left your high school sweetheart in the dust or followed them to college you’ll have relationship drama of some sort. Besides dating there’s your roommate professors friends RA and parents. Some will be drama you can’t avoid (your parents’ divorce) some you’ll create (did you really think your roommate’s goldfish could eat pizza?) and some will leave you daydreaming (that cute history professor!). And luckily for every level of drama (or trauma) you’ve got resources: your RA your academic advisor your friends or if necessary the college’s mental health counselors.
“Avail yourself of on-campus services,” advises Miller. “Talk to them about the situation and let them know what’s happening. Let people who can have an impact know about the situation and get people involved in helping you to find a solution.”
Remember college isn’t just about learning and growing it’s also about getting steady on your own two feet. You want to succeed academically but also have a great time and meet new friends. In other words: strive for balance!
Wendy Burt-Thomas is the editor of My College Guide.