Hanging with new classmates and roommates, staying motivated, and even budgeting your finances can throw you off balance. But to succeed, you have to feel in control! (at least somewhat)
You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re treading water in order to get an education. So here’s how to get a handle on the back to school challenges you’re facing:
1. Meeting new roommates
Every student has different routines and schedules! Some of your roommates will keep things sparkling clean, and some will be fine with leaving the place filthy.
Living with other people reveals everyone’s pet peeves and annoying habits (including your own).
Remember that not everyone grew up the same way you did! People have different ways of cleaning, cooking and sleeping, based on what they grew up with.
The solution to this is compromise and clear communication. Try meeting during the first week of school to set expectations – a roommate agreement is not just for Sheldon-type goody-goodies!
Discuss sleep schedules, set ‘sleepover’ rules, and maybe even make a chore chart, so that everyone is on the same page.
2. Staying motivated
Whether it’s your first year or fourth year, staying motivated for classes is tough. Going back to school, you feel fresh and excited, but soon enough, responsibilities pile up.
The stress can make you feel so overwhelmed, that you burn out, becoming lethargic and getting nothing done.
Combat these sluggish feelings by staying organized from the beginning – and avoiding the pileup of responsibilities. If you start to feel overwhelmed, try cancelling your end-of-week plans and dedicating a whole day to catching back up.
If you know you have a big exam coming up, try taking care of chores a few days before you start cramming. You’ll feel like you have double the brain space.
Just like you can fall behind on work, you can also fall behind on rest (which can make it harder to keep up with work). Remember, once you’re done with exams, make sure you give yourself time to rest and recharge before charging back in.
3. Dealing with finances
Most college students are on a tight budget. Financial aid may be dispersed late, and new expenses pop up often. Work can be hard to balance with school. And balancing food for groceries and going out with your friends can be a new stressor too.
Allocate money in order of importance. Groceries and textbooks come before buying accessories or games, and keep track of everything you spend.
You can also explore new ways to have fun without spending money. If you can plan low-cost get-togethers for yourself and friends, everyone will appreciate your creativity.
Have a potluck in the park, queue up everyone’s favorite YouTube videos for a fun night in, or even try something like a campus scavenger hunt.
4. Getting involved on campus
Most schools have a variety of clubs and organizations you can join to get involved on campus (and to make friends, and to build your resume). These can range from cultural clubs to business fraternities to volunteer organizations.
With so many activities to choose from, it can be hard to pick which ones you have time for.
We suggest the whittling approach. You can always start by joining a few that you are really interested in – more than you’ll actually be able to keep up with.
After you go to a couple meetings for each, you’ll find one or two that you really like. Drop the rest, so you can devote more time to the ones that feel fulfilling.
If you feel like a club isn’t a good fit, that’s okay! You can always join other clubs mid-semester or next year as well.
5. Connecting back home
A little bit of homesickness is normal. You might miss your parents’ cooking, or your town’s hangout spots. You may find it harder to stay in touch with your old friends.
Or maybe your challenge is being too connected to home – you want to set boundaries with your overbearing parents, who call you every day.
If you’re feeling either lonely and disconnected, or controlled and smothered, you’re not alone! These feelings are really normal the first couple months away from home.
To feel less isolated, force yourself to try new activities and talk to new people on campus.
To feel less smothered, try flexing your ‘diplomatic adult’ muscle. This is a good opportunity to practice setting adult boundaries, which means suggesting a firm compromise with your parents based on both your and their needs.
6. Making enough time for sleep
Pulling all nighters while cramming is a stereotypical student practice, but so is getting C’s. You don’t need to deprive yourself of sleep to do well and have fun experiences.
Sacrificing your sleep for academics and a social life can add up. Sleep debt will start to make you feel lethargic and irritable. And a lack of sleep will impact your appetite and memory, which in turn will affect your academics.
In addition, sleep research shows clearly that sleeping gives your academics and memory a concrete boost – in some cases, more than even just studying.
Recognize your sleep needs and set a schedule to meet these needs. For college-age adults, contrary to what you may have heard, at least 8.5 hours gives you the best chance at feeling good and performing well.
This means finishing your work before it gets too late, or adjusting your schedule so that you’ll get to bed on time. If you’re a napper, consider looking into nap pods or cots that your school offers on campus.
7. Going to parties
No matter what school you go to, parties exist. Whether it’s a huge rager or a kickback, going out and drinking feels like a quintessential college experience.
This is a big chance to let off steam and hang out with friends, but it’s best reserved for after exams — too much partying when you’ve just come back to school sets you up for falling behind.
Going overboard isn’t that fun in the moment, and almost always leads to next morning regrets.
If you’re going to attend a kickback, be mindful of your limits and STAY SAFE! Have a friend with you, set a limit to how much you’ll drink before going, and build in some next-day recovery time, so you don’t have to cut study time due to hangover.
Another important tip: have a backup friend to get home with, in case your intended buddy gets caught up. Almost everyone gets abandoned at a party at some point – don’t let it be you, trying to get home on your own.
9. Eating well
Despite what most college students attempt to do, you can’t survive well on a diet consisting only of instant noodles, granola bars, and chips.
Busy schoolwork and having to buy your own groceries may mean you don’t get sufficient nutrients. If you have dietary restrictions, school cafeterias may have limited options.
Consider meeting with a school nutritionist or talking with your parents about a grocery budget. Protein, fiber and, yes, carbs are all important in providing you with the energy you need to power through your schedule.
Once you know your needs, go grocery shopping with a list, so you don’t get tempted by the snacks you see.
10. Exercising enough (or at all)
As busy as students are, adding exercise to your schedule will make it easier to deal with everything else. Any bit of exercise (even daily light walking) burns off stress hormones and clears your brain.
You’ll think better, feel happier, and feel more in control of your life. When you feel good about yourself, physically, you also appear more confident, which helps you connect with new people!
If you’re worried about exercising alone, grab a buddy who’s also looking to stay fit. Most campuses also offer recreational sports or clubs for those who are looking to participate on a non-professional level.
11. Maintaining your mental health
You may already be struggling with mental health before going back school. Then coming back multiplies all your symptoms! Your first step could be to let it out online, in a safe space, so that the anxiety doesn’t build up.
Or maybe your stressors are solely based on academics. Whatever the reason, it’s important to prioritize your mental health, and work with a professional to develop a plan to manage it.
Look into your school’s counseling and psychological services. Many institutions offer a certain number of counseling sessions for free. However, appointments can book up fast.
If you know this will be a struggle, start early and call in to make an appointment. The people on the line are trained to make you feel comfortable, walking you through the process.
It’s hard to dial the number, but you’ll feel relief after you’ve done it.
12. Making room for fun
With all these other priorities, you may wonder if you’ll have a chance to go out and have fun. Going to cool events, eating out, or watching movies with friends are all great ways to let off steam.
The key to this is balance! Juggling academics, work and a social life can feel impossible. Stay organized and know your own limits, physically and mentally. And most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself for slipping once in a while.