At times, university can feel incredibly overwhelming. There are a bunch of new experiences you want to try, a whole slew of people you want to meet and befriend, and at the same time, a course you have forked out a lot of money to attend.
Another stress lies in the fact that the results of your university career could very well affect the rest of your life. That final grade might be the difference between getting into the graduate program of your dream profession and explaining to your friends and family why you can’t hold down a job in a struggling global economy.
As a result, it’s easy to feel like the pressure is engulfing you in one of two ways; either you become the harried student with notes and laptop spilling out of your backpack, you never have time to hang out and can always be found in the library with stacks of books lined around the borders of your desk like a Do Not Disturb sign; or, you decide not to let the stress touch you at all, hanging out with friends all the time because you’re desperate not to miss out on the university experience, and you have the best party stories, usually with an improbable ending like, “And I woke up in a tree,” and sometimes you wander into the lecture hall smelling like stale beer.
These are two extremes of student life. The former focuses on an impeccable university transcript, while the latter is keen on making friends and unforgettable memories. But there really is no reason why you cannot have both…
The most common myth bandied about the student life is that you have to choose just two out of these three: good grades, a great social life and a sound night’s sleep. Many students feel there isn’t enough time in a day to be able to accomplish all three. But unless when you consider that Mark Zuckerberg has enough time to do all this and lead a global tech company, or that Eddie Izzard has enough time to make us laugh and run a marathon a day, it’s clear that the myth of not having enough time in the day is exactly that: a myth. As the popular Internet quote says, ‘You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé.’
So, if you’re keen to make a success of student life but have fun at the same time, follow these simple rules…
1. Make friends
Isolating yourself in the library with nothing but your lecture notes is never going to be much fun. And it’s really not enough to just stick with the group of friends who has followed you to the same university from your pre-uni days. If you want a memorable university career with new and exciting experiences, it’s time to break out of that familiar, comfortable bubble. University is supposed to be a time when you discover more about yourself, and making new friends will really help with that.
Freshers events are an excellent place to meet new people, and are often held within the first week of semester. Now’s not the time to be shy – in fact, feel free to attend every single one! The first week’s workload is bound to be the lightest so take this opportunity to scout the social scene at your university. If you’re not a fan of parties, try inviting the student sat next to you in class out for a coffee. Ask them if they’d be interested in forming a study group, a fun, social activity that will make those exam-cramming sessions more bearable, and the post-exam celebrations sensational!
If you’re feeling up to it, explore different social groups until you find one that suits you. The saying that the friendships you make in university last a lifetime is true – but you don’t necessarily meet your next best friend in the first week of class, and you don’t have to stick with the first group of people you meet. Determine what kind of social life you’d like and then befriend those who have the same ideals.
2. Figure out your social life
A good way of ensuring your social life doesn’t overwhelm your academics is to avoid spreading yourself too thin across different activities. It’s not advisable, sustainable, or physically possible for a person to be active in a sports team, a couple of societies, and work a part-time job while studying full-time for a degree. University sports teams and societies usually schedule their meetings on the same day and often at the same time, so even if you’re interested, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to attend football tryouts and attend the introductory meeting of the Harry Potter society in one sitting.
University is commonly the first environment where you find yourself bombarded with so many appealing choices, and you soon realise that picking one means foregoing the rest. But this also makes it a really good place and time to work out your priorities. So, why not write down what you want to achieve and when according to your preference? These can be anything – studies, hobbies, friends – as long as they’re important to you, and can be in any order. Just be sure that you’ve clearly outlined exactly what this is.
According to Dunbar’s Number, a person is capable in maintaining only five close friendships at any one time, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn says these five people help shape who you are. Therefore, you need to design your social life in accordance with the lifestyle you hope to lead. This way, you won’t have to go out of your way to fulfil social obligations as your friends will most likely be chasing after the same things as you.
But wait – what about those people who seem to have loads of friends and are involved with everything and still manage to get good grades? If this is what you want, you have to be even more calculative in choosing your extracurricular activities. Pick things that require little time, like being a student officer, or activities that have deadlines for your commitments, like participating in a play.
3. Start strong, or just start
Your parents paid good money to make sure you got an education, or at least someone did, so you’ll want good results to show as a return for their investment. But during this whirlwind of new experiences, where would you even find the space of mind to squeeze in good, effective studying?
There’s no better way to do it than to start early and strong. You’ll never be as gung-ho about your studies as in that first month of a new semester. That’s when everyone is buying new notebooks and highlighters because they’re determined to do well. To maximize this energy and keep up momentum, it’s important to take good notes.
Everyone has their own way of processing information, whether it’s audio notes, scribbling on paper or typing on a laptop (though research has shown that you retain more information if you write on paper). For tips on note-taking, check out the Cornell Note-Taking System.
It’s also a good idea to peruse your course details before classes start, but most professors will print this out for you during the first class, or will indicate where you can find it online. Find out what the module requires of you and commit it to your schedule. Get comfortable with your professor and/or your seminar tutor. It’s better to ask stupid questions than to remain confused. After all, you have paid to learn what they know so you might have well ask.
As an added bonus, it’s easier to get a good reference from your professors after you graduate if you have a good working relationship with them. And most importantly, schedule time to study. Make it a regular thing and not an ‘I’ll-do-it-tomorrow’ thing because you’ll then most likely say ‘I’ll-do-it-tomorrow’ all the way to your exams.
If you fall behind, ask for help. Ask your friends to lend you their notes. If they’re confident enough, ask them to go over the important points with you. Ask your professor for recommendations on how best to catch up. If you are mid-way through the semester, do not go all the way back to the lecture notes from week one. The time for that has passed. If you start from the beginning, you will most likely feel overwhelmed by how much information you need to cover. Unless you are completely lost, start with the topic you are least confident with and work your way forward.
4. Schedule everything
If it wasn’t clear before, it’s essential to schedule, schedule, schedule. If you want to have time to study, to write your assignments, and have an active social life, it’s imperative that you plan. To-do lists only work half the time since it’s so easy to procrastinate. The best way to make sure something gets done is to assign a time when you’re free to do it. Plan your study time, your social commitments, and also plan your sleep. You need seven hours of sleep to function properly. When people talk about having balance in their lives, what they mean is determining what they can afford to do with the time; energy and money they have outside mandatory obligations, whether it be work, or in this case, classes and assignments. It’s impossible to achieve balance unless you know what time you have and how to spend it in accordance to your priorities.
There’s no one solution ensuring a fulfilling student life and getting still achieving good grades. What constitutes a ‘perfect’ student life differs from person to person, as does individual academic adroitness. A good place to start, however, is knowing what you want to gain from your university experience, as well as what grades you hope to receive, and then make a solid plan to do it.
This article was written by Wei Li from iPrice Group.