College Workload 101

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August 16, 2022 by

It’s practically a joke online how often high school teachers tell their students college will be so much harder than high school. After all the preparation you’ve done for college applications, you’re probably wondering how much will be expected of you during your college education. Were those teachers right to warn you about college? Well, there’s good news and bad news for you. 

First, the bad news (always the better choice, by the way) is that college is tricky. There’s a new lack of outside accountability when you’re living on campus. Professors won’t make you show up to class and parents can only check up so often when you’re out of the house, so you’ll have to make more of an effort to get everything done. 

But there’s way more good news than bad. College comes with the added benefit of getting to choose what you study! That makes motivating yourself a lot easier. And you’ve likely chosen a major you have talent in. So as long as you’re willing to study and ask for help when you need it, college really isn’t as daunting as those high school instructors made it out to be! 

Still, handling a college workload takes intentionality, and it’s helpful to go into your freshman year with a game plan for how to handle this transition. Here are a few general principles that will help you get into the groove of college-level work in no time! 

  • Start Slow (But Explore!)

Your freshman year is an excellent time to explore new activities. Especially during your first few weeks, events like the Involvement Fair will show you just how many options you have on campus. 

During your first year and especially your first semester, though, take it slow. There’s no harder introduction to college than overcommitting to extracurriculars only to find out you don’t have the time and energy for all of them. Instead, try out as many things as you’d like (most orgs and activities don’t require an upfront commitment) but commit to just one or two of your favorites for the rest of the semester. This will ensure you have space to establish good study habits and see how much you can handle on top of your course load without burning out. 

If you find that you have extra time and space, there’s time to add more activities in future semesters but start small and work up rather than starting big and having to drop things.

  • Work Ahead

When I was in high school, I flourished under pressure – procrastination was how I finished a lot of my work!  In college, this won’t go well. Sure, you’ll meet people who will loudly proclaim how long they waited to get their assignments done. It’s almost a badge of honor. But that lack of planning also takes a toll. 

I’ve also never enjoyed my work less than when I had to do it. While you probably enjoy the subject matter you’ve chosen to study, there won’t be any joy in it if you’re stressed about your upcoming deadline. When you give yourself plenty of time to do your work, your motivation is no longer fear of missing a due date, but interest in the subject. 

So check your syllabi early, take one step toward doing that final project during the first few weeks, or study one chapter for your test as soon as it’s announced in class. Usually, the big tasks that loom over a semester become a lot less daunting when you break them down and accomplish something, no matter how small, toward your end goal. 

  • Use the In-Between Times

College schedules are really odd. My first semester, I didn’t have any classes until after noon. Some of my friends have taken night classes that start at 6 or 8 p.m. What your schedule looks like each semester depends on which classes you’re taking and what times they’re available.

This often leads to a lot of in-between class times. When you have a 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. class and then a 3 p.m.to 4 p.m., what are you doing with that middle hour? A lot of times, it’s hard to think about studying during that time since an hour doesn’t feel like enough time to get much done. 

Understanding how to use your in-between times, whether it’s the hour between classes, 20 minutes between a class and a mealtime, or your morning before classes start, is vital. Figure out what kinds of studying work well for these times. Do you have a book you could make another 10 pages of progress in? Could you study notes for the class you just left? If you use these times well, you’ll have the added benefit of freeing up much more of your evenings and weekends to enjoy yourself and spend time with friends instead of studying! 

  

So, in a way, your high school teachers were right. College is a big step up from the rigid structure and external motivation of high school. It becomes your responsibility to manage your time and remind yourself of the things you need to get done. But so long as you take that responsibility and establish good habits for yourself early on, college should be a time where you enjoy your studies more than ever before.  

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