For most of us, going to University or College is our first move away from home. We have to figure out how to manage our Class Schedules, Take Lecture Notes, Sort out our reading lists and most importantly How to shop on a budget.
At University we’re often on a very tight budget. Some of you will be lucky enough to have the funding behind you to not require student loans, others will be under very tight financial pressure and will need every scholarship or bursary you can access.
It’s very common for students at University to find part (or even full) time work – in fact a 2011 U.S census found that 71% of undergraduates were in employment and an N.U.S survey in the U.K found that 57% of students had part-time employment as of 2013.
So, whilst it’s not unusual for students to work, it’s important to remember that you’re at University to study not just to work, you have to learn as well. Balancing these two worlds, and still finding time to enjoy your life as a student can be difficult but with a little planning and preparation it’s possible.
In this post we take a look at some tips to help you manage your college work, part-time work and social life balance.
Don’t Start Work Straight Away
It will take a little while for you to get into a routine, find your feet and figure out how much free time you really have.
Your first term is when you figure out where all of the lecture theatres are you need to get to, how long it takes to get there, what extra-curricular activities you want to take part in (sports, drama etc.)
Once you’ve settled in you can then figure out how much free time you truly have, and when it is so that you can fit your work schedule around everything.
Get Your Schedule Organised A.S.A.P
Once you’ve got your class schedule sorted and figured out when your work time will fit in with everything you’ll need to get your schedule sorted.
Make It Portable
There are many ways to do this. You could use Google Calendar, Excel or a paper-based solution (Check out my downloads page for my paper solutions). Which ever solution you choose, it should be easy to update, and easy to access from anywhere so that you can check not only where you’re supposed to be but whether you can commit to new things.
You don’t want to find that you’ve scheduled work when you’re supposed to be studying for an exam. You also need to make sure you have time to do things we usually take for granted like eating and grocery shopping.
Items to remember to include are:
- Food times (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)
- Lessons (duh!)
- Study Time
- Extra-curricular activities
- Grocery Shopping
- Some free time for socialising/relaxing
- Exams and associated revision
- Travel time to and from work
- Work hours
When you’ve done this you can then see what free time you really have available
Colour Coding Is Your Friend
It’s easier to check a packed schedule if you have a colour for each event type; you can quickly see what you’re up to next plus it helps to break up what could seem like a daunting list of things you have to do.
Get To Grips With Your Tasks
If you’re going to be able to stick to the shcedule you’ve drawn up you’ll need to have a system in place in order to manage all of your tasks such as homework assignments, chores, reading etc. All of your actionable tasks need to be stored in an easily accessible system that is quick to add tasks to.
It’s important to remember that tasks shouldn’t really go on your calendar or schedule (but scheduled events can be a task) – I won’t go into depth in this post but you can check out The Simplicity Post for a really great explanation why putting to-do’s on your calendar is a seriously bad idead.
Don’t be afraid to change your task management system – you need to make sure it works for you and that you can keep track of everything.
Fogetting a task – such as some homework that needs to be handed in tomorrow can have a severe impact on your work schedule. What do you do? Call into work sick so you can complete the assignment? Don’t attend class and hope the lecturer won’t give you a bad grade? Keeping track of all of these things helps ensure that you don’t miss something and get yourself into a stressful situation.
Look After Your Health
You can’t possible hope to burn the candle at both ends and hope to come out of it without some problems.
It may seem silly to put items such as “breakfast, “lunch” and “dinner” into your daily schedule but when you’re super busy it’s all too easy to forget these little things, or think “I have plenty of time, I’ll grab a sandwich later”.
Forgetting to eat properly, not getting enough sleep or getting yourself into stressfull situations is all a recipe for a massive burnout that could affect not only your work life but your university life too.
Make sure you schedule allows for enough sleep time or, if you’re so inclined, afternoon nap/relax time too.
Learn The Importance Of “Me Time”
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
Sure, you may be earning enough money so that you don’t have cripling student debt when you graduate but if you’re making yourself ill (see above) or aren’t fully enjoying the student experience then I think you’re missing the point of College altogether.
Schedule in even the smallest amount of time for you so you can do something that’s not work or college related, whether it allows you to read a fiction book, spend time looking at cat photos on Tumblr or go out to the local bar it’s an important break that will really help you mentally.
Have Room For Flexibility
Things always crop up at the last minute – a surprise exam, extra homework, or the chance of overtime at work.
Hopefully your schedule is flexible enough to accomodate these things. If not then…
Have A Contingency Plan
You should always have some backup plan for when things go a bit pear shaped. Maybe you’re running late from work to get to a class because traffic was really bad, maybe the lecture over-ran and you’re going to be late for your shift.
Hopefully if you’ve followed the rule above you have some flexibility built in but hopefully your boss/lecturer will understand the issue and not mind too much – unless it’s a serial occurance and then you should really have another look at how you’ve worked your schedule out.
Be Choosy About Your Job
Don’t just grab the first job out there that you see. Sure, it may be tempting to get the money rolling in straight away but take a moment to think:
- Will the job fit into my current schedule?
- Are they flexible enough if I need to change a shift at the last minute because of an exam/extra homework assignment etc
- Will this benefit me in my studies or personally somehow?
- Does it’s location/pay make sense to take it on financially?
Additionally, if you take on a job and it just doesn’t fit in with your school life then don’t feel like you have to stay there. There’s no harm in moving to another job, or quitting for a while before you take on another role.
Learn To Say No
In any job, they will ask you to do overtime or extra shifts “just to help out”. Only say yes to these if they don’t have a negative impact on your schedule.
It’s all too easy to say yes to an extra shift because you’ve got that time marked down as “me time” but do that too often and you’ll have spent no time at all on yourself and you’ll burn out really quickly.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
If you’re really struggling, speak to your boss to see if you can cut back on your hours or have a day off. Most bosses aren’t evil (despite what you might read on the internet) and should be happy to help as much as they can.
Similarly your lecturers should have your best interests at heart and may be able to give an extension – if the circumstances allow.
Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence as you’ll only make matter worse in the long run.
My Personal Experience
I was fortunate enough to attend University at a time when all tution fees were covered by the Government. My parents covered my food and rent but I still needed to find money for other bits and pieces like photocopying and books (and beer!).
I left it until my second year to get a job (in my first year I’d had money saved up from several part time jobs I’d been doing before I left home). When I’d gone home over the summer I’d been able to get a job in a fast food restaurant for the 3 months I was back and they then arranged for a transfer to a branch in my University town when I went back. I have to say, I only lasted a couple of weeks at that branch, the hours were awful (I got the 8pm to 4am shift and even for a night owl like me it was bad) so I quit. I was then able to get a job in the student union bar working in one of the kitchens thanks to my fast food experience. As I was working for the University they were really good about scheduling shifts around studies, swapping them with other students as necessary.
This job also allowed me to do a couple of shifts behind the bar which, years later would stand me in good stead when I ran a pub, and working in a busy bar where I could get a queue of upto 100 people at a time, or kitchen where I could get 100 meal orders and hour really helped in later life to get organised, stay on task and not get flustered when you’re being rushed.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it fits in with your classes and study time – after all, that is why you’re at university! And whatever you do, make sure some of it is fun.
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