College can be hard, but with these helpful tips, we can help you have a vibrant social life while still acing the college experience. Seriously, you don’t have to sacrifice having a life to build one.
Hi there! Can I tell you a secret? College is hard.
There's no punchline. Here's why:
Between choosing whether or not to go, choosing what to study, or managing your time between your social life and academics, there are a lot of lessons to learn on the way to a Bachelor’s.
I learned just as many lessons in college as I did outside of it, and they stick with you over time.
On top of all of that, one going theory is that you're either going to have a social life or you're going to achieve high levels of success.
What if we told you that you can do both?!
For what it's worth, I went to Andrews University, a small Christian university in Michigan.
While I was there, I studied English literature, even though I chose Communications at first. For me, it worked out great, because now I'm a full-time freelance writer and journalist. I’m working in fields closely associated with what I learned in school, and I get to use that knowledge.
But one thing's for sure:
I both had a lot of fun in college and achieved things I'm proud of.
There are a million ways to succeed and fail at your university. If you listen to these helpful tips, we can help you ace the college experience.
How to Choose Your College
Do you hate it when people ask you where you're going to college?
Here's the deal:
The decision can be fraught with stress, including from your parents, teachers, and fellow classmates.
You may not know how to answer, or the question might not even make sense for your life. And if and when you get there, one of the hardest questions to answer is how to balance academic achievement with a social life.
There's good news:
Many people have done college before you, including me.
The most helpful thing for my college experience was listening to my sister and her husband, both of whom went to the same college I attended. I would advise you to do that with people in your life and connect with other students, current and former, of universities you're interested in.
In 2016, the United States had over 4,360 higher education institutions. — Statista
Your major matters: But not the way you might think
I'd be the first to defend people studying the humanities if that's what they'd like to do. I'm a writer! But often, prospective college students think they can have it all, and you just can't.
It's important to remember:
Some programs take more time and effort than others, or they take different energies.
You might be able to pull an all-nighter writing a paper in your dorm room, but you can't break into the chemistry lab at 2 a.m. to force cultures to grow in a petri dish.
When choosing your major, you should consider how much time you enjoy working on schoolwork, and how much you enjoy spending on your social life.
Anything else is a recipe for disaster.
At my school, I met students in the seminary, architecture, and physical therapy programs that I was surprised to learn even attended our school. It was worth it for them.
Make sure it's worth it for you, too.
Consider your home life when making a decision
Every student carries a different burden.
By the time you reach the average age of a freshman, 18, you've got some life experience under your belt. You might even be going to college at a later age if life events have prevented you from doing it up until now.
If you have unsupportive parents or your parents can't pay for your college, you might spend time working jobs that others don't.
Divorces, sick relatives, long-distance significant others, and plenty of other life experiences can really eat away at your mental energies.
You'll have to take these factors into account when deciding what to study.
Perhaps a demanding major like biochemistry might be appealing to you, but if you can't keep up and flame out of the program, it will be less valuable than a less demanding concentration that you actually complete.
Knowing how to not bite off more than you can chew while pursuing the life you want can be tricky.
That doesn't mean that it's impossible.
Don't sell yourself short, but be realistic about your expectations and aspirations.
"The only kind of debt that surpasses student debt in America is mortgages." - Forbes
Don't let yourself get distracted
Some people meet their best friends in college. In other cases, you might bring your friends with you.
At my small Christian university, people you went to college with could be some of the same people from your high school — and that can pose a problem for students with poor time management skills.
Especially if you remain in a small radius or a similar geographic region, you might find your learning hampered by focusing on friends too much. If you don't know how to say no to an impromptu trip to the theater when you should be studying for the big test, switching regions can be good.
There's an upside to your friendships, though:
However, in difficult programs, it can be good to have a like-minded and studious gang available for study groups or late-night cramming.
Making your choice of college should be tempered with an understanding of your best learning environment, whether that's with or without people you know close by.
School culture is a big deal
Seriously. It's going to affect a lot of how you act at college.
School tradition is going to have a lot to do with it, too.
My university has partner schools all over the U.S., and we were known to be more studious than our sister schools in California.
I don't know if it's true, but people thinking it was had an effect.
Another big factor was living in southwest Michigan, where the people are nice and the winters are not.
At some point, there's nothing to do but study!
If all you want to do is to party, there are (affordable) school options for that.
And if you don't want your roommate coming back at 3 am, make sure to check up on the reputation of a school before signing up.
Choosing a school that aligns with your style and values will save you a lot of time.
You must consider your plans for the future
Your social life in college is not the only consideration when choosing a college and concentration.
Think about it:
Do you think high-powered attorneys have a bunch of time to just hang out?
Medical students are notorious for not having time to date in college, and that continues well after college into their profession.
If you know that you'd like to be a father or mother one day and you anticipate wanting a lot of time to spend with your kids, the time-vacuum of labor-intensive majors may not be for you.
If it is for you, know that in order to achieve those things, you may have to sacrifice or at least postpone those life events you want.
The point is:
It's important not to think, "Just gotta graduate, and then it will be different."
Start planning for the social life you want to build in the future, because, as my high school teacher used to tell us every day via a banner plastered on the front of his office desk:
"The choices I make today will determine the rest of my life."
Maintaining Your Social Life While Avoiding Common College Traps
You just hugged your parents' goodbye and watched their red 2014 Nissan Altima drive away from your dorm.
You look around and some guys are playing Ultimate Frisbee on the lawn, while others relax by a tree with a good book.
In a few hours, you'll have an orientation ceremony to attend, but for now, you realize that the moment everything in your life has led to for your past four years of high school has finally arrived.
You. Are. At. College.
How does it feel?
You have decided you wanted to go to college, and you have chosen the best one for you.
Even though it won’t be necessary until a little later, you’ve thought about the area you might like to study. You have chosen a college you can afford, be it a community college or a university where you qualify for financial aid.
Most importantly (and this might not come until later), you feel at home.
SO ... WHAT NOW?!
Well, after the chaos of getting into college, getting organized is much, MUCH harder.
But if you want to avoid the most common college pitfalls and mistakes, by first, managing your time.
Make sure you are working hard
College is harder than high school, and your grades might suffer your first year in college. Mine did. You won’t be able to put in the same amount of effort and get the same results. For me, that lesson came my first semester of college, when I got all Cs and even an F!
Don’t worry — this can be normal:
High school students just have to learn the right amount of effort for their new environment, and you can keep those grades high. Sometimes, it does mean you're slacking off and prioritizing your social life too much.
However, there are many facets to academic performance, including a new atmosphere, a language barrier, or culture shock.
The best thing that you can do is to get help right away.
If you are struggling in a class, don't wait until the end of the semester to tell your professor.
If you rush in before the big test to ask for extra credit to up your grade, that's far less persuasive than a student who approached them early on, saying, "I like this class, but it's confusing for me and I'm finding it hard to keep up. What can I do to keep pace?"
College professors aren't demons in Dante's Inferno looking for a reason to punish you, but they don't enjoy getting played.
Be honest and ask for help right away, and usually, they have all sorts of solutions waiting for you.
About “DOING ALL THE THINGS”
Some people have not yet developed the art of prioritization.
When you know how to rate and judge tasks, you know that not everything needs to be done right now.
Keep in mind:
There are some things that must be done now, soon after now, and later.
Some things have to be done well, and some things have to be done.
Knowing the difference can really save your life in college.
With elevated responsibilities and everyone wanting a piece of your time, you might feel like everything is critical. And sometimes when you feel like that, you should just take a nap instead.
We're not through yet:
Of course, you're 100 percent going to make someone mad or disappointed at some time, because you are one person and you can't accomplish everything.
If you have two identical deadlines to meet, you'll have to choose which one demands your attention and which one can wait. I can almost guarantee you that the difference between those two exists in those two choices, every time.
The college Joneses
College is not about other people.
I will repeat that:
College is not about other people.
It is about you and your own education.
We all know the student that seemingly never studies but gets very high grades or the A student who can’t seem to nail a foreign language no matter how hard they try.
If you try to waste time like other people or learn faster than others, you’re going to have a bad time.
Instead of spending your time worrying about other people, do what’s right for you.
Stay in and study instead of going out with your friends if you have a difficult class.
Or if you study too hard, take a break, even if you’re surrounded by workaholics.
The only thing that matters is how you make college work for you.
However, if your friends care about your social life and your success, planned dates can be a lifesaver!
Every single Thursday, my friends gathered with a car outside the science complex around 9 pm. We waited for our compatriots to escape the jaws of the engineering department, and headed off to Buffalo Wild Wings! It gave us an opportunity to be with each other, but in a way that didn't interfere with our academic duties.
Sometimes you're the student with more time or less time.
Be sensitive to your friends and maybe bring them a pizza if they're studying late, or plan a date when you know you won't have to work.
That full moon
If you only watched movies like "SuperBad" or "American Pie", you might be convinced that a college social life wholly consists of drinking and partying.
But guess what?
Studies suggest that it’s the opposite.
Don’t turn into that party animal!
Incoming freshman is much more likely to over-estimate the amount of time their peers spend on at-risk behaviors like smoking, drinking, partying, and yes: sex.
So they try to match what they think others are doing, not knowing it’s not what their peers are really up to.
If you remember nothing else, remember this:
That student who's always hosting frat parties may actually be hitting the books way more often than you think, and the mousy study-holic might just goof off with their friends while they're in the library instead of working on their term paper.
If you take people at their word for an accurate account of how they spend their time and the results it gets them, you might get a skewed picture of what it takes for your social life to survive and thrive in college.
Don't forget to get some life experience as well as an education
You could read the books from your university at home. You could get the knowledge you need from Youtube and Encyclopedia Britannica.
Well, not really, but dedicated and driven students have been able to piece together educations outside of the educational system.
The focus of schooling is much larger than that. My university's motto was "Corpus, Mens, Spiritus" or "Body, Mind, and Spirit."
That's why one of the worst things you can do at college is nothing but schoolwork. You are there to network! You're there to learn!
You might be there to find a future partner!
So you should go to some football games, get involved in student government, or work with a friend on a podcast.
Ride a unicycle to class, play guitar in the campus center, or model for a photo shoot.
Fill your social life to the brim.
It can't be stressed enough that a college is a place where you can fail freely and in an upward direction. Within reason of course.
Don't go commit a crime and think you can get away with it.
If you need a more cynical or pragmatic reason to leave your dorm room, remember that experience counts just as much to employers as education.
This dynamic can even be heightened in certain fields in the humanities, where employers genuinely don't care about your education if you have all the skills to do the job.
Having a background in writing helps me every day, but for the most part, what matters is whether or not you can write, not what your pedigree is.
Maintain a productive schedule
The most productive I ever was in college was when I had three jobs. Productivity was great for my grades, as it turns out.
I managed my time much better when I thought I was less free.
This means that if I had an hour to work on an assignment, I did it because I knew I wouldn’t have time later.
Staying busy had a dramatic impact on my organization in college, and helped me prioritize what was most important to what was least important. Contrary to popular belief, staying busy also helped enhance my social life, because when I was busy, I was doing more things and meeting more people.
How School Resources Can Enhance Your Social Life
The school that I attended cost roughly $30,000 a year.
While that’s a pretty penny, it came with a lot of resources available to students.
The only problem?
Most of them never use any of it. My advice would be that if you are in a place where your meals, room, and board are taken care of, check out the other resources your school has to offer!
Don't be that gross guy who randomly tells university employees his tuition pays their salaries, though.
Remember, your social life can't be complete if you're not taking care of yourself, and some school services can help with that.
Mental health services
When I took an education class, I was required to visit the counseling services of my school and even get counseling myself. However, the experience was so great that I would recommend going without being forced!
People in the mental health field will tell you about how many people go undiagnosed when they shouldn't, and college students have an opportunity for built-in mental health care.
That is important, because:
Going to the counselor can help you organize your mind, get things off your chest, and grow personally while you grow academically. It can also help you deal with the stress of college in a way that talking to your friends might not.
The world is waking up right now to the increased importance of watching your mental health.
Every year, a common joke around college campuses is the mental toll that final exams can take on students, but it's not only a joke.
Statistics suggest that students are at much higher risk than other populations of things like depression, anxiety, and suicide.
That also means:
If you leave yourself mentally unwell, you won't have much fun enjoying your social life — even when you have the time.
Even if you don't make it a habit, it's worth it to visit your school's counseling services to see if they are right for you.
We promise it is a good thing.
One of my favorite jobs in college was working at my Writing Center.
I helped students there get their grades up by improving their papers.
All you had to do was make an appointment, and then a tutor, like me, could sit down with you.
We worked with students for 30 minutes to an hour, going over their paper while giving them tips and advice.
During my time there, I saw many students' grades and their English improve as they learned how to properly write term papers and even Master's theses.
The best part?
It doesn't take that long. It's provided under your tuition. And it can really help you out, so I advise you to check it out, even if you're not currently struggling.
The library is a haven for college students.
Yes, you read that right:
Whether it's deciding a place to meet up before they head off-campus, or a warm place to escape the soul-crushing winds of winter, your school's library has so many resources to help you succeed.
What many don't know is that the library has a social life of its own.
Often, you can build a rapport with the workers, who may let you stay late if you need a place to work, or you might get in with more introverted students who are less likely to approach others.
Libraries are QUIET.
Using your school's library can uncover school history, old yearbooks, and feel like a whole
different world than your campus in general.
You should absolutely be spending some time there!
If you need a prayer mat, an imam, a rabbi, or a pastor, chances are that your school can connect you with those people. How can you beat that?
College can be a scary place, and if you’re religious, maybe you’ll want to talk through your situation with religious professionals who understand your spiritual journey.
Even if your school isn't religious, they most likely have resources to make religious students more comfortable.
Your student advisor
Aside from the professors in your major or concentration (when you declare one), one of the most important pros at your college will be your student advisor.
Check it out:
They are the custodian of your educational experience, and they can help you get where you need to go.
How do you know how many credits to take?
Which classes are necessary and which ones aren’t?
How do you structure your schedule if you want to change your major?
Here’s the thing:
Talk to your advisor.
You’re paying money to your college for those services, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t use them! They are exactly the kind of person who can help you manage your class load, and they can give you tips on how to sneak a social life in there, too.
Enjoy Your College Experience
The point is:
If you learn how to prioritize tasks, focus on your own educational path, and stay busy, you’re going to succeed at college. It's not always easy to tell your social life apart from your academic one, but that can help you in the long run. Friends can become colleagues, and colleagues can become friends.
The most important thing to remember is:
You don't have to sacrifice your social life to do well in college.
Not only that:
Your social life is integral TO you doing well in college!
Employers will want to see a student who lived a vibrant college experience much more than they want a credentialed know-nothing.
It’s a time when the pressure’s on you, maybe for the first time ever, but you don’t have to go it alone.
Pick a major you can live with (it doesn’t have to be your passion, but it shouldn’t make you lose all hope).
Avail yourself of the services that you are paying for.
And above all:
Know that you’re going to fail to hit the target sometimes.
Don't beat yourself up.
Even if you don't always perfectly balance a social life with an academic one, the attempts you make will empower you to be more organized in the future, and they will help you learn how to prioritize tasks.
In this case, as with many, the only way to learn is by trying.
If you try, you'll probably be able to strike a balance between partying non-stop and never leaving the library.
You probably won't find balancing socializing and college will not be easy, but if you follow our tips, you’ll definitely be headed in the right direction.