A Delicate Balance: How To Enjoy Your Education
My first week at UCLA, I was told that there were three things students needed to make time for: studying, sleeping, and partying. Not only that, but you also had to make a choice. You only had time for two, so you would have to neglect one, at least if you planned to succeed while at UCLA. Just under five years later, however, I would argue that the person who said this couldn't be more wrong.
One of the biggest obstacles college undergraduates face is leaving the trivial concerns and pursuits of adolescence behind and becoming responsible adults both aware of and a part of the world around them, all whilst staying on top of reading often dense books, writing research papers, studying for midterms, and for many, working part or even full-time jobs. Not helping is the fact that the aforementioned trivial concerns and pursuits of high school - that is, friendships, intimate relationships, and cultivating a certain image of one's self in the eyes of others - are hard to leave behind. I myself distinctly remember zoning out in one of my classes freshman year, stunned by the realization that I had nothing in common with one of my high school crushes and thus no real grounds for a relationship with her. I glumly dwelled on this state of affairs the whole class, briefly putting my morbid meditation on hold when called upon by the professor, mumbling the answer to his question, and quickly returning to my inner pity party as soon as he moved on. I cannot bring myself to believe for a second that I am the only person who has had an experience like this, that no one else has gone through something similar. On the contrary, I think that many college students at some point find themselves beset by both growing pains and rigorous coursework, and it is for you that I write this.
It goes without saying that you must stay on top of your academics. In my experience, the surest way to do this is to keep up with the reading. Some people might groan upon hearing this advice. They might say they don't need to read the book because they go to lecture everyday, making the book redundant (I would like to point out that I actually have met people over the course of my college career who said this). It is true that lectures cover the same material as the books, but this position ignores one very important fact: while books provide a wealth of information about a given topic and can be accessed at any time once you acquire them, lectures are finite discussions that condense all of that information into two or three hours, requiring you to write down every little thing the professor says, lest you miss something important. The mere act of learning, which should be an engaging and rewarding pursuit, becomes laborious and stressful. Students mindlessly scribble "Michel Foucault: neoliberalism" into their notebooks without knowing, much less understanding, who Michel Foucault was, what neoliberalism is, and what one has to do with the other. With increasing numbers of professors posting their lecture PowerPoints online for review and even podcasting their classes though, notetaking is becoming less and less vital to mastering course material and, indirectly, giving students more time to wrestle with the ideas discussed in their books. This is something students should take advantage of, as reading a writer's work and becoming acquainted with their ideas, in their own context, is a more involving, more intellectually stimulating activity than having someone you know only peripherally talk at you about said writer's work and ideas in an abridged, usually bowdlerized fashion. If you can remember and analyze not just the ideas and facts but also their contexts, you will be well equipped to ace tests and write excellent papers about them and by extension, pass your classes.
Of course, one shouldn't forget about the good things of life just because they're a student. Studying at a university provides you with copious chances to attend interesting and exciting happenings, like film screenings and Q&A's, lectures by visiting notables, and musical performances. You get a student discount for a reason. Use it. In some cases, you might even get to go to such events for free, which is a bargain as many are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. There are also less cultured but equally enjoyable activities to partake in, such as dinners with floormates, club and group meetings, and partying, for those of you who are into that. In short, there are plenty of opportunities for you to learn and interact with others outside of the classroom. It's even as simple as ordering a pizza and watching a movie on your laptop with your roommate. You just have to make time for it, which admittedly can be a hard task. Sometimes, you can get so caught up in schoolwork that you can't bring yourself to take a two hour break and go see the student production of And Then There Were None, or you might find yourself at the opposite extreme, staying a few more hours than you originally planned at the frat party even though you have a biology midterm to study for. It is for this reason that you must plan in advance when you decide to go to a particular social gathering. Determine if you can stay as long as you want or if you need to be back in your dorm or head out to class by a certain time, and allocate homework and study time in such a way throughout the prior week that you have the least amount or hopefully none to worry about when the big day comes. It requires a lot of forethought, but the opportunity to have time for both education and entertainment should be incentive enough to start mapping out one's social plans in advance.
Last but definitely not least, you need sleep. You need it, and you can get it, if you budget your time wisely. The conventional wisdom that young adults need approximately eight hours of sleep is a source of woe to some students, as they view those eight hours as valuable time in which they could be fine tuning their final paper or hanging out with frat buddies. It is thus not surprising that many students go without a goodnight's sleep, forcing themselves out of bed the day of finals after a week of sleepless study nights and gulping cup after cup of bad coffee on their way to class. It doesn't have to be this way though. As I mentioned before, a little planning can go a long way, and the best way to get enough sleep is to pick a particular bedtime and a time to wake up. These times don't necessarily have to be the same for everyday. For example, if you have a morning class one day and no class the following day, you can wake up earlier the day of the morning class and sleep in the next day. It is consistency, not uniformity, that we are concerned with, as it will facilitate not only healthy sleeping habits, but also recreational activities and academic pursuits.