Making the transition from high school to college can be difficult. It was for me.
Before coming to USC, I never had to worry about managing my time, because I was never that busy. I could spend all day doing nothing with friends and ignore my homework if I wanted, because high school was easy. But, college isn’t. It’s a completely different animal. Success in college – both academically and otherwise – requires effective time management skills. Unfortunately, most college freshmen don’t have those skills, leading to struggles in their first year. I struggled a lot as a freshman.
My time management skills were limited to scribbling the day’s homework assignments into a notebook. I had no experience with scheduling or setting goals, and I was entirely unprepared for the difficulties of finding time to maintain my health and happiness along with my grades. And as a result, all three slipped: I stopped exercising and eating healthy, my optimism and motivation began to dwindle, and I failed a class. If I’d had the skills to manage my time, I would have had a much better freshman year experience. Instead, I became overwhelmed with stress, constantly worrying about how to fix these different problems in my life and exacerbating them by ignoring the root problem.
I’m here to help you avoid going through what I did. Effective time management really isn’t that difficult – it just comes down to how you frame everything in your mind.
Nika Kermani is studying psychology at USC. She has extensive experience analyzing and writing on the difficulties of time management for college students and making the transition from high school.
Kermani: Time management takes on a new meaning once a student enters their college environment. Back home, students typically have a strong support system that allows for easy balancing of priorities. In college, those same students often have to build a new support system for themselves, along with learning new skills (like cooking and cleaning) required for living away from home. And this is all before even entering the classroom.
The most overlooked component of effective time and stress management is the importance of living happily. When a student is feeling depressed, it can spread to different aspects of their life and make things that should be easy more difficult. In order to successfully make the transition from high school to college, students need to live healthy – both physically and psychologically.
Students need to have a balance of different activities that they find fulfilling in order to keep themselves feeling happy. Without that happiness, the weight of new responsibilities and increased school workloads can keep a previously successful and highly motivated student stuck in a rut of depression. It happens to a lot of people. But, there are many things you can do to maintain a balance of managing time and stress along with living healthy and happy in order to be successful in college.
The different components of effective time and stress management can be broken down into five categories: scheduling, making goals, studying, living healthy and relieving stress.
The most important aspect of time management is making a schedule that you can stick to. Either in a physical notebook or a digital calendar, you should block out times that you can dedicate to completing specific homework assignments, studying, reading, exercising, attending class and meetings, going to work, interning, going on dates, cooking, cleaning, shopping – basically anything that you know is going to take up time. This will give you an idea of how much free time you’re going to have – understanding precisely how much room there is for downtime in a given week is crucial to appreciating those rare moments when you can just relax and unwind.
Furthermore, color coordination can help make scheduling an easy and intuitive process. Digital calendars tend to be a better and more organized option than using a planner (or the cutely named “binder reminder”) because they are easily modified and can be accessed on different platforms. I use a calendar through my Gmail account that links to my emails and can be conveniently checked from my phone or computer, and it’s awesome.
Additionally, I keep a word.doc on my computer’s desktop listing all of my upcoming homework assignments that I can quickly check or edit without going through my calendar.
Students need to find ways to remain motivated, especially as the semester trudges along and ever-inviting apathy says hello. The best way to stay motivated and power through a busy day or week is to not look at it as a chore, but instead as a challenge. Setting goals can help you frame potential stressors in a different light. Once you set a goal, you can view the time required for its completion as a personal challenge. This turns tedious homework assignments from a source of stress into a potential source of accomplishment.
Successfully completing goals is a great feeling that builds confidence, so you should set as many realistic goals for yourself as you can. You can break it down into long-term, monthly, weekly and daily goals, keeping a log of each. And goals need not be limited to academia – some of my goals for this month are to qualify for the playoffs in my fantasy football league, to meet some new and interesting girls and to stop shamelessly plugging stories I’ve written (well, two out of three ain’t bad).
Along with setting aside specific studying times in order to avoid distractions and framing it in your mind as a goal in order to stay motivated, there are many ways to get the most out of studying or completing homework. Instilling a self-reward system is a great way to ensure that you will study your hardest. Find something you love – chocolate ice cream, videogames, sex, whatever – and make a rule that you can only indulge once you’ve finished studying. It will increase your motivation, and your indulgence will be particularly sweet because you put in work to earn it.
Another tool you can use to stay focused while studying is listening to music. It helps shut out any distractions and can keep you from becoming tired. Instrumental music is best for this because, especially if you’re reading or writing, song lyrics can weave into your work: The Austro-Russian-Turkish War was ended by I WOKE UP LIKE DIS, I WOKE UP LIKE DIS the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739.
There are three types of instrumental music I would recommend to anyone for studying purposes: new-age jazz, down-tempo electronica, and videogame soundtracks. Jazz (like BadBadNotGood) and downtempo (Bonobo) are perfect for studying because they don’t have the overbearing intensity of EDM, but they still hold an engaging beat and build to crescendo. Video game music is also excellent for studying. It is designed to keep you focused and motivated during gameplay. And, if you choose a game from your childhood, the added nostalgia factor is awesome. Some of my favorite video game soundtracks for studying are from Kingdom Hearts and Halo.
One of the most commonly neglected aspects of time management is making time to maintain your health. This can be divided into three sections: exercising, eating right and sleeping.
Exercising regularly releases endorphins, which can help motivate you and keep you energized after you’re done working out. Eating right helps regulate your overall health and reduces the likelihood of you getting sick or succumbing to the “freshman 15,” which itself isn’t a big deal but can sometimes lead to depression. And sleeping eight hours a night gives you the energy you need throughout the day, along with a host of other health benefits. Ensuring that you have time to exercise, eat healthy and get a full night’s sleep is a huge part of managing your time and stress in college, but, for whatever reason, many students don’t realize its importance.
Lastly, students need to find things they enjoy and can help relieve stress. Build fun and relaxing activities into your schedule, and make sure you don’t neglect them! College isn’t just about studying; it’s about making friends and having an amazing experience overall. If you spend all your time in the library you’re likely to develop stress and angst over your lack of social life. Balancing academics with your social life can be tricky, but it’s an essential part of managing your time in college.
While some might recommend you avoid partying while in college, whether because of the day-after effects or some other reason, don’t listen to them; if you like partying, party. Have as much fun as you can! You don’t want to look back on your college years and regret not having more fun. Partying and socializing with friends is one of the best ways to blow off steam and relieve stress at the end of a long week, mentally preparing you for next week’s battle.
Along with partying and hanging out with friends, there are a number of things I do to relieve my stress: watch good movies, cook dinner with a friend, go to the beach, play basketball, watch bad movies and make fun of them, listen to music, re-read one of my favorite books, meditate, sing in the shower, drive around Los Angeles, look at art, wonder what makes it “art,” cuddle with someone, play with a puppy, laugh, write, sleep.
Find out what works for you, and then find time to do it. There’s no point in getting straight-A’s in college if you’re constantly stressed and unhappy.
My lack of time-management skills as a freshman infected nearly every aspect of my life. I’m someone who has dealt with depression throughout my life, but it was never as bad as it was my first year in college. In attempting to transition from high school, I fell into a cycle. While classes in college are definitely harder than in high school, that wasn’t the main factor that made my transition difficult. It was the fact that the overall social structure at college was far different from what I was used to.
In high school, I didn’t have much trouble making friends. But as a freshman in college, I felt like I was completely alone, thrown into a situation where I didn’t have the answers or tools to get by. I had some “friends,” sure, but I wasn’t developing those close friendships that everyone needs, especially when living away from home for the first time. It seemed like everyone in my freshman hall had joined a fraternity and already had their group of friends, and there was no place for me. I became extremely closed off. Where before I was outgoing and confident, as a freshman I was insecure and unmotivated. And it caused me to stop caring about everything – grades, health, all of it.
Eventually, though, I was able to break through the walls I’d been putting up. I went outside my comfort zone and found friends in places I had never previously thought to look. By the time my sophomore year started, I was back to my old self, enjoying college life and having fun, plus getting some good grades and taking care of my health. But I’m lucky. Not everyone finds happiness in college. Though I began this story writing about scheduling and time management, the first, most important aspect of successfully making the transition from high school is simply being happy with yourself and your new environment, different as it may be.
College can be a weird place. The classes are huge. People are crazy judgmental about your appearance. Drugs are everywhere. Books cost hundreds of dollars. Social media is way too important. You can get drunk on campus on game days, but you can’t have a beer in your apartment at the end of a long day. The weirdness goes on and on. But, if you’re able to be happy with yourself and develop a support structure, and use the strategies outlined here to manage your time, stress and health, then you’re going to be just fine.
These may not be the best years of our lives, but they can be – if you manage them right.