Beyond College: Balancing Opportunity and Study

Originally published July 2013, online student newsletter.

Perhaps reading last month’s newsletter got you excited about all the possibilities before you!  You may have a job opportunity to consider or a friend who wants you to travel with them. Maybe you hope to carve out time to start a blog or go on that mission trip you’ve been thinking about for awhile.  Whatever the opportunity, I’m excited for you!  But you may be wondering… how can I do this and still keep up with school?

I’m glad you asked! 😉 Balancing opportunity with your studies is a vitally important goal. After all, you want to gain some great experience, but not at the risk of spending 10 years in college–right?  Here are three skills you will need to develop to make this work.

1. Be Realistic

As awesome as your resolve might be, I can tell you right now: without a realistic understanding of your schedule and a plan to make this all work, you will fail. The good news is that you don’t have to! Here are some things to consider as you develop a realistic plan.

First, is your opportunity short-term?  If so, don’t try to study. In the long run, 4-8 weeks won’t set you back significantly. You would most likely just stress yourself out and miss out on making the most of your opportunity if you’re trying to figure out a new, short-term schedule.

If your opportunity requires more commitment, determine how much time it will take each week. Now add in another 4-6 hours–you’re bound to have things come up and everyone needs “margin time.” How much time does this leave you for school? Based on the number of study hours, we can work together to estimate your revised graduation date. Is that date something you can live with? If not, don’t despair! Just go back to the drawing board and see what you can do. It is usually possible to pursue your dreams while studying–but it may require some hard decisions on your end.

What do I mean by hard decisions? Much as we’d like to be Superwomen and do everything, some things will probably have to go. (And it should not be your sleep!) Do you need to cut back on the number of hours you work? Will social activities have to be limited to one or two nights a week? If you’re used to keeping your weekends open, you may decide you need to study on Saturdays. The goal is not to totally eliminate all fun from your life. You need some fun as much as you need to study! However, if you’re serious about pursuing your dream, you’ll need to be serious about how you use your time as well.

2. Be Intentional

As you balance studies with this new opportunity, you will have less time in your schedule. However, that gives you a great chance to be intentional about the small moments. Find audios related to the subject you’re studying and listen to that as you drive instead of music. Flip through flashcards on your Smartphone while in line at the store. Ask a sibling to quiz you while you clean house or cook a meal together. You may be surprised at how much you can accomplish in the small moments.

However, those small moments probably won’t be enough to get you ready for testing day. Be sure you also set aside specific study time where you are alone with your books/computer.  Let family and friends know that you love them, but just as if you had a college class, you’re not available during certain times.  Eliminate distractions in your study area and make the most of the time you have. Even just 1-2 hours of focused study each day can get you far if you use your time well.

3. Be Flexible

As always, flexibility is vital. There will be days when your passion overruns your day and you don’t study. Days when family comes first or your friend is having a birthday/bridal shower/wedding.  Those are awesome things and they should happen.  Just know that they will come and give yourself grace. If you have to skip a day of studying–so be it.  It really is okay.  Yet always be ready to jump back in and give it all you’ve got.  The only time flexibility becomes bad is if skipping study time becomes a habit or you allow it to paralyze you (thinking “I haven’t studied in two days. What’s the good in doing it now?”).

Now that you have the tools, go think realistically about what it will take to be intentional and flexible in achieving your dreams.  It can be done… by setting yourself up for success now, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!

Image: “Castle Island.” by B4bees, CC