More Freedom, Less Free Time

 A recent graduate‘s advice on time management in college.

By: Ryan C. Meyer

less free time more freedom

Throughout a student’s career, most scheduling is done for them: school starts and ends at the same time every day, parents tell their children what time homework is to be completed and when chores are to be done, and curfews even suggest what time he or she should go to sleep. That is, until one graduates high school. Those who continue their education after high school do so with the freedom to choose not only what they learn but where, when, and how they do it. College offers independence and with that comes the ever-present task of time management.

Managing your time can be one of the most difficult parts of getting through college. Before college most of us went to each class in the same order, had some free time after school, ate a dinner that was provided for us, and then did homework; rinse and repeat. There is no such routine upon entering the life of a college student. Instead, schedules differ from day to day, you must obtain food yourself, and most work must be done on your own time (all in the face of momentous distractions). The shock of leaving an environment in which your days are largely planned for you and arriving in one where you choose when you do everything is not an easy one to cope with, and there is no simple solution. In my experience, the most effective strategy is to understand how you learn best and act accordingly.

It may not be clear at first what works best, coming from an environment in which you didn’t have much control over your educational process. My advice would be to do everything by the books, for the first semester at least. Don’t schedule the bare minimum credits, nor the maximum; plan to arrive to class five minutes before it starts; take notes; do your homework the same night it’s assigned; and spend at least as much time studying out of class as you do in. Which part of that makes it click? Maybe extra studying doesn’t help the material sink in and it’s the lecturer’s explanations that help most. Perhaps it’s the other way around and you learn more figuring it out for yourself. Whatever helps you learn best requires extra focus, while the things that aren’t as effective can receive less of your attention—there are only so many hours in a day.

Balance and moderation are important in all aspects of life and college is no exception. While we should never lose sight of the fact that education is a student’s primary goal, we must also understand that without relaxation and time to unwind, one will quickly become overwhelmed. Having fun or resting at the end of the day and on the weekends is important. Stress is a serious issue for college students and finding a way of relieving it is essential. Without self-control, though, social life and recreation can quickly overshadow the reason you are there: to learn.

Self-discipline is required to uphold your schedule and keep recreation in balance. It is a quality that is important to maintain, but doing so does not come naturally to everyone. When it is challenging to compel yourself to focus, making a detailed schedule can help a lot. Setting up a specific time to study or finish homework makes you much less likely to put it off until the last minute. Planning to study or work with a friend or classmate is another effective method of making sure you finish your work on time (one is far less likely to procrastinate when another person is counting you to be there).

There is no easy answer to the problem of time management. What works for some may not work for others and vice versa. Finding your own successful method of dealing with distractions and ensuring you do what needs done is the most important part of managing your time. Once you establish a comfortable routine or pattern that allows you to be productive, you are in the clear.

Ryan Meyer attended St. Mary’s Area Public High School and is a recent graduate of Penn State (where he majored in English). He harbors a love of the outdoors and experiences the grit and grandeur of the world first-hand.