Finding the Right Balance

Catrina Rateb ’18 provides a “cheat sheet” for success for the overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted college student.

As I round the corner on my junior year, I find myself asking, “If I were to write anything to my younger self just starting college, what would I say?”

Thinking about this question has inspired me to write a page long “cheat sheet” that consists of tips, pieces of advice, and friendly reminders. Although every college student probably already knows everything on it, I hope that bringing up these sentiments will help everyone get through this (or any) semester relatively unscathed. I also hope that my younger brother, who will be applying to colleges next year, will see it as more than sisterly advice, but as a reference and guide to thriving in college.

To the overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted college student:

First off, how are you holding up? Do you feel like this semester picked up before you were even able to order your textbooks? As you are no doubt aware by now, college is not easy. It is as challenging and stressful a time as it is exciting and fun. There are so many competing things vying for your attention and time: your academic workload, your friends and family back home, your expanding social circle, your involvement in campus activities, your physical fitness (be prepared: Freshman 15 is real), your spiritual well-being, and the ever looming question of your future career and education. I know it feels like there is so much to do, and no time in which to get it done. You may wonder how you will ever manage college and get through the experience with a head still on your shoulders, let alone with your mind still intact. You might be looking for specific steps to take to overcome stress and use your time wisely.

If that is the case, let me start by saying: overcoming stress and perfectly managing your time is nearly impossible. But, don’t let that depress you! Finding a manageable work-life balance is an ongoing process and a critical skill that you will continue to perfect throughout each stage of your life. At least that’s what my Goodnight mentors who work in professional industries and academia have told me. Sometimes, I still think that the elusive perfect life is out there. But, until I find it, I plan on taking their advice to prioritize goals, manage my time, stay organized and find a routine that works for my schedule. In addition to that sound advice, here are some other things to keep in mind that I have learned along the way:

Study effectively & efficiently

No matter whether you’re an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner, you can still learn productively. You may have a unique way of processing and retaining information. But, if you take the time  early in the semester to figure out what study habits work best for you, you will be able to prepare for exams without cramming material or burning out after countless hours of studying.

Ask and you shall receive

I cannot emphasize enough that wherever you are, there are a variety of resources available to help college students get academic and emotional support. Such resources include individuals like professors, advisors, counselors,  and teaching assistants. There are also groups and centers available for you when you need them such as the Women’s Centers, Multicultural Student Affairs Centers, Counseling Centers, study groups, and tutoring sessions. However, none of these resources will help if you do not recognize when you need help. So, never be afraid to ask for help or forget that many before you have experienced similar challenges and felt overwhelmed. Reaching out to others for support at such times is not a sign of weakness, but rather an indication of your strength and resilience. On that note, I highly recommend attending your TA’s and/or professor’s office hours until they know you by name. Getting to know and building a rapport with your professors will help you succeed in the course(s) they are teaching that semester, potentially find a research position in a lab, and ask for recommendation letters later on.

Just do it!

Ahhh procrastination: the eternal beast that causes the most distress in a student’s academic career. Do not wait until the deadline to start an assignment, paper, problem set or lab report. Although easier said than done, if you constantly procrastinate, you will not be able to finish everything by its appropriate deadline. You will save yourself more than a few gray hairs by the time you graduate, if you start working on assignments when they are given.

Develop time management skills

Some people keep an agenda, some swear by Google Calendar and some do both!  Whatever you prefer,  find or make a system for managing and prioritizing time before starting a new semester. Doing so will help you set the rhythm for each day and hold you accountable for meeting your weekly goals. If you set priorities, then you can enjoy the satisfaction of crossing things off your list. However, when managing your schedule, remember to allocate time for eating, exercising, studying, and socializing. Everyone needs some time just for themselves.

Frankly speaking, I find that sometimes I can get so wrapped up in grades that I lose sight of the underlying purpose of why I’m here at college: to get an education.

Eat healthy, sleep well, and exercise regularly

These are the fundamental basics of refueling your body, keeping your energy levels high, and your stamina going. No matter what you have going on, your health and wellbeing should come first, and this includes eating a balanced diet, working out to help reduce stress, and getting a goodnight’s rest to recharge your brain.

Think positive thoughts

I have found that it is difficult not to succumb to negative thoughts when taking a daunting class, working on a demanding problem or facing failure. When in such situations, remember to have patience with yourself and believe in your own capabilities to fulfill your goals, overcome problems, and meet personal and external expectations. Do NOT compare yourself to others, let anyone define you, or fear failure. Always recognize that you are your own unique person and that any mistake is really an opportunity for growth.

Don’t stretch yourself thin

College is a never-ending buffet of options. You can easily overindulge by joining too many organizations and taking on too many responsibilities before realizing it. Choose one or two activities that you feel fully invested in and with which you are most engaged. Gaining a holistic experience is important, but don’t try to put your fingers in every pie. If you do that, you won’t have any fingers left with which to eat.

Learn for the sake of learning

Frankly speaking, I find that sometimes I can get so wrapped up in grades that I lose sight of the underlying purpose of why I’m here at college: to get an education. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back to get a broader perspective and recognize that it is a privilege to be attending a university, when in some countries, people are still denied the right to an education. College and the education you are receiving should not be something taken for granted. Too many college students take classes, and don’t care about really learning the content of a their courses as long as they get an “A”. There are no grades to becoming truly erudite and acquiring the ability to think clearly, critically, and analytically. Grades are merely a byproduct of becoming competent with the material of a given class. The goal of learning should simply be to enhance your understanding of the world and to seek truths while pursuing knowledge that will make you a better person and member of society.

Now, by no means am I claiming to have mastered all (or really any) of these tips. But by struggling to practice what I preach, I learn, and grow with each new experience. I hope by now you understand that as a college student, you’ll face a multitude of challenges and will be presented with many opportunities. But, don’t let that intimidate you. Recognize that college is a chance for you to strive for and achieve balance in your academic and personal life, so you can excel in your classes while still experiencing all that it has to offer.

I hope this helps you along your journey. Good luck!