Balancing College School Work and Social Life

Question: I’m a college student who wants to know if there is any way to truly balance academic life with social life.

Some students seem to have little trouble juggling schoolwork and socializing. In many cases, this is because of who they are. Some of us are better than others when it comes to resisting temptations or saying no to peer pressure. Some students, too, worry more about grades and class performance than others do, and they work hard to make academics a priority.

To a great degree, this is an acquired skill. Freshmen aren’t accustomed to a typical college schedule which can mean only one or two classes on some days (or even none on others) and deadlines that may be weeks or months away. While their workloads are often gigantic, their free-time periods seem so too, and it’s easy to procrastinate. It often takes a semester or two (or three) to perfect the fine art of knowing how much work to do and when to do it.

The college one attends can make a big difference as well. Some places are renowned for their 24/7 parties, while–at the opposite extreme–are schools where strict rules keep socializing to a minimum and pose serious consequences for alcohol use. Some colleges have such an intense academic atmosphere that students wisely confine partying to the weekends. Students at these schools find that peer pressure can mean hitting the books, not the bars.

However, if you’re already in college, don’t plan to transfer, and fear that your schoolwork may not survive, here are a few suggestions:

1. Work in the library not in your dorm room. There are fewer temptations there. Some colleges even allocate library carrels to those who want them, so you can have your own home away from home.

2. Select your dorm thoughtfully. Often “theme” dorms (e.g., foreign language, vegetarian cuisine, “Great Books”) attract more serious students than those earmarked for the general population. “Substance Free” is, in fact, a common theme. Some dorms or dorm complexes have resident faculty members who oversee mini-courses available only to residents. These dorms, too, are usually popular with a more academic crowd than the high-rises with satellite TV in every lounge. Even campuses without theme houses or mini-courses tend to have some living areas that are reputed to be far more sedate than others. Similarly, off-campus housing can mean more solitude and study time or it could put you smack dab in Party Central, if you land in an apartment complex full of students or stuffed in a bedroom with mulitple others. Choose wisely.

3. Join a club or organization (or a few). Social life doesn’t have to mean sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Many students bond with their fellow staffers on the school newspaper or have a great time on Outing Club expeditions. You don’t have to sign up for the Campus Crusade for Christ to find a group of friends who prefer to direct their energies to more worthwhile ventures than tapping a keg.

4. Get outside help. If you’re really struggling to keep your focus on your academic commitments, you might want to talk to either your faculty advisor or a member of the college counseling staff. He or she may suggest setting up regular check-ins to chart your progress and can offer advice that is specific to your campus and situation.

The fact that you’re asking this question in the first place indicates that you do want to make the most of your college years and not waste your time–or a huge amount of money–on experiences that are far more frivolous than fruitful.

It is possible to balance academic and social life, but if it continues to seem totally impossible for you, in spite of your determination to do so, then it may be time for a transfer.