By Megan O'Connell, Student at University of Wisconsin – Platteville
It’s Thursday night. All your friends are going out, and you have an exam tomorrow. Your friends are getting all dressed up, listening to music and … let's face it … they’re having more fun than you are studying for your exam.
When we’re placed in situations like these, it can be difficult to convince yourself that you are making the right decision by staying in and studying. It’s even more difficult when you are first starting college because you haven’t exactly figured out how to effectively balance school and a social life and you want to make friends, but you also want to do well in school. This is a predicament that many of us have been in, and one that many of us still deal with.
There’s no magic formula to help you find the perfect balance, but there is a solution. I've found it's best to make decisions based on yourself and your goals, make sacrifices both ways and do what makes you comfortable.
Whenever I’m faced with tough decisions between a night out and a night working on homework, I always think about my long-term goals. After doing this, I realize that while I might be missing out on a night of fun, I’m confident that my college career will end with a diploma in my hand.
This being said, sometimes after several strenuous weeks of study, study, study, a night out is definitely needed. Stay in on a Friday night and finish all your homework – that way, you can go out on Saturday night and spend the day to yourself on Sunday.
"If I plan time for fun, I will have an incentive to get more homework done right away. Also, I pick my fun. If I know that there is something I can't miss, I will go, but if it's just another house party or another dinner or another time at the bars, I may not because there will be more opportunities than I can count for stuff like that," said Alyssa Bloechl, senior at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, who is also an editor for her school paper, jockey for her school radio station and works two part-time jobs.
All decisions you make about going out or staying in should be your decisions. Don’t let your friends talk you into going out if you don’t feel comfortable going out. If you have a big test the next day, stay in and study for your test. There will be more social events, but you only get one chance on that exam.
"I always use my planner and color code everything and certain colors mean higher priorities. Homework is always the highest, but I also try to get involved in intramurals because it’s always at a set time so I can plan ahead for it. I always make time for my friends, but they understand that my future career is my main priority," said Casey Carignan, senior at the University of Wisconsin-Plateville, who works on campus, plays intramural sports and is the president of her campus’s Public Relations Organization.
Finding a Balance: Advice from a Student Success Coach
If you’re still feeling complacent about finding a balance, I’ll offer you some insight from one of the biggest role models in my life. My brother Jordan O’Connell now works as a student success coach at Odessa University in Odessa, Texas.
Megan: How many hours a week should students spend on homework? How many hours a week should students spend socializing, hanging out with friends, playing video games, etc.?
Jordan: I tell my first-year students that there's no definitive answer to that question. A bigger challenge for first-year students, I think, is learning exactly how to study. If a brand-new student can overcome her initial shyness and form study groups, ask professors questions, seek out tutoring on a regular basis (including writing help) and utilize Cornell Notes, she'll be invested enough in her success that she'll make good use of her time.
M: How do you suggest students focus on their homework when they know their friends are out having fun?
J: It's all about priorities. Students who take a long view and consider the amount of time and money they're spending in college will always put their academic responsibilities before short-term fun. Using a planner and making effective use of your time (working ahead in your classes, for instance) can help keep your balance.
M: How did you balance a social life and schoolwork while you were in college?
J: Working as a resident assistant and serving on Student Senate much of my collegiate career, I had to learn early how to effectively schedule my time. I used an old-fashioned paper planner and trusted my life to it. It was the first thing I looked at in the morning and the last thing I looked at before bed! You won't have to choose between your social life and your academics if you've budgeted your time effectively.