Libby Leffler is more than busy. She's serving her second term as president of the Delta Delta Delta sorority at the University of California-Berkeley. She's also competing for the Miss California crown, mentoring elementary school students and maintaining a nearly perfect GPA in the prestigious Haas School of Business.
Leffler's day starts at 6:30 a.m., when she hits the gym for two hours. After classes, homework and serving on five Tri-Delta committees, Leffler saves socializing for the end of the day when all her work is done. "It has taken me a lot of time to develop the crucial skills of time management," she says.
Her schedule may seem packed, but Leffler says she's actually picky with her time. "I don't involve myself in every activity I can get my hands on," she says. "Everything I've been involved with has meant the world to me."
For some students, being involved is a crucial part of the college experience. Some students play sports for their schools; others work part-time to finance their educations. About 72 percent of college students have a full or part-time job, reports the Third Annual Back to School Survey from Capital One.
There are many responsibilities claiming chunks of your time. And then there's the social factor. Students commonly make the mistake of majoring in fun. Developmental psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, Ph.D., estimates that about half the students who enter four-year colleges do not graduate.
"Drop-out rates in college are high in the first year. I think that's because there are a lot of young people who find the transition difficult to manage," says Arnett, a professor at the University of Maryland and author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from Late Teens Through the Twenties.
Take charge of your schedule
College freshmen are responsible for their own schedules, and that can be a first for some flustered students. "When you're in high school, you spend most of your day in class," Arnett says. "Once you go to college, you have to structure your time yourself. Your parents aren't around to tell you that you need to be at band practice at 7 p.m."
Students who skip structure for a fun-filled schedule usually notice the disappointing results quickly. "Most colleges are demanding enough that you can't neglect your studies or you'll be kicked out soon," he says.
Don't forget the fun
While some students live for leisure, others focus too much time on work and don't incorporate a social balance. Stress is exciting for some students, but others might react by feeling exhaustion or depression. And overworking might not lead to higher grades or increased production.
"There aren't many people who are too productive if they are working all the time," Arnett says. "You might put in more hours and get less done."
Living in a sorority house with 60 other women allows Leffler to seek social activities when there's a break in her schedule. During the day, she eats lunch with her friends at the house and sometimes watches TV with other girls in the community living room. "There is always someone hanging out in the house or someone going out," she says. "Everything has a balance."
Deal with stress, don't ignore it
Students who must work to support their schooling might feel stressed when the balance tips to the work side and leaves little time for a social life. "The consequence of overworking is mainly stress," says Arnett. "A lot of people in college do experience high stress because of the things they have to balance."
Work and academics can't be cut, but your semester hours can be reduced. Emmett Turner, a senior at Augusta State University in Georgia, is taking an extra semester to graduate.
He says the extended schedule allowed him several semesters during which he only needed to take four classes.
A social life can also be squeezed into daily activities.
Turner says grabbing lunch with a friend is both a social activity and a daily necessity. "There's not a lot of free time in the day," he says.
The end of the day and weekends can also leave openings for a social schedule. During tough weeks, Turner says he'll often ride out the week and wait until weekends to relax and hang with friends. Leffler also leaves socializing until after 9 p.m. during the school week. If she doesn't feel like meeting up with friends, she reads a novel or enjoys alone time.
Cutting back can be a way for students to have more time for social or solo activities. Leffler encourages incoming freshmen to only get involved with activities they truly enjoy. When the work-life balance gets out of whack, she says students should just make cuts. "Take a break," she says. "There is no need to be miserable. This is a really big time in your life."
Quick time management tips
- Only join activities you're truly interested in. Don't do something just so you can add it to your résumé.
- Talk with your adviser about the consequences of dropping a class from your schedule.
- Schedule your friend time during the week around things you need to do anyway, like running errands, studying or grabbing a meal.
- Don't be afraid to turn down invitations. It doesn't mean you're lame, it means you're prioritizing.
Take it from me
I was homeschooled, so managing schoolwork with my extracurricular activities was sometimes challenging. During high school, I played several instruments, was involved in my church choir and other vocal groups, and was a leader in several drama groups. It wasn't always easy, but I always tried to set aside time every day to do my school work so I wouldn't fall behind, and tried to assign a time limit to each subject so I wasn't bored by one particular topic. I will be going to college this fall, and I know the study skills I learned will definitely come in handy! -Heather Strange
Student-athlete Emmett Turner has a lot of hours to put in. He's a senior accounting major at Augusta State University in Georgia and a member of the golf team. Regular practice schedules can average about 30 hours a week. During tournaments, Turner can be plucked from class and absent for three school days.
Unlike most sports, college golf has two seasons-fall and spring. "There's no time out," he says. "It pays for school, so I guess you can look at it as we're paid to practice and play golf."
His day begins early with an hour session in the weight room. After classes, he practices golf for four hours in the afternoon. Discipline, he says, is the key to fulfilling his academic and athletic responsibilities while still leaving room for a social life. "It's about understanding the work and structuring the day accordingly," he says. "If someone asks me to go get something to eat, I'll say 'I can't. I have work to do tonight, but I'll go with you this weekend.'"
"It's best to actually produce something with the information you are trying to remember. This can be as simple as writing notes as you study or verbally explaining the concepts you are studying to someone else. Once you've taught the information to someone else, you tend to remember it better yourself. Writing notes in your own words is a form of teaching it to yourself."-Dr. Michael I. Niman, author, ethnographer and professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College
"When I study, I like to concentrate on the main points of the reading. This is what teachers usually expect you to know. It also helps to go over the notes a couple times to solidify the information that you have just learned. As far as cramming goes, let's just say it's something I've experimented with. I am a true procrastinator at heart, but I don't do it anymore. I noticed that my grades went up dramatically ever since I took it upon myself to study in advance."-Diane Barun
"Since you are paying for college to learn something, it only makes sense not to cram for tests and cheat yourself out of your tuition. Read over your notes every day. Take five minutes-FIVE minutes-before falling asleep at night to close your eyes and 'see' the information you studied. Read the textbook for enjoyment. You pay a ton of money for your books, so you might as well read them. Don't worry so much about getting every single piece of information that seems important; that's what going to class is for.
Any information found both in your notes and the book is probably pretty important. Take all the important information from both your notes and the textbook(s) and make a study sheet. By creating a study guide or study sheet, you will also make use of multiple learning styles!"-Anthony Thomas Fischetti, 22, senior at SUNY Geneseo
"How I study depends on what type of test I'm taking. If it's in a subject I know I will do well in, I usually just look over notes the night before. I don't think I've ever 'studied for hours on end' like I've heard some college students say, but that might change in my upcoming years."-Katherine Head, junior at SUNY Brockport
- Some interviews by Michelle King