7 tips to acing your time in college

Going back generations, many college students have decided that the best time to begin a project is “later.”

But if you’re entering or returning to college, you know procrastination is like a pint of ice cream. Eating an entire container of double chocolate brownie might seem like an excellent idea in the present, but it spells disaster for the future. 

Students these days have more distractions than ever. Smartphones, tablets, Pokemon Go and Snapchat offer a quick escape from the realities of studying for an exam. Add in all the clubs, sports, social groups, new friends and parties, and it’s a wonder any work gets done.

But college has the potential to bring about change. It is a transition from childhood to adulthood, where students must take responsibility for their actions and for the choices they make — and that includes the consequences of wasting time. 

Below are seven tried-and-true tips to keeping organized, taking care of yourself and generally making the most out of your college experience.

1. Don’t ignore your faith life

Let’s get the most important piece of advice in first. It is tempting to let your prayer life slide during the busyness of college life. Without family support, maybe you mumble a hasty Hail Mary as you fall asleep in your dorm bunk or miss Sunday Mass. But if your faith life isn’t fertile and peaceful, nothing else will fall into place. It is like trying to make cement without the water. But a fertile prayer life doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in a chapel. 

Sign up for Magnificat, which offers short daily prayers and meditations and is available in print or in app form (us.magnificat.net). Another time-manageable (and free!) prayer app/website is iBreviary (ibreviary.org), which lists the daily prayers of the Church, called the Liturgy of the Hours. They only take a few minutes and include Scripture verses, too. Also, don’t forget the importance of the sacraments. Stay on top of your examination of conscience with “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” (littleiapps.com/confession), which will helps you regularly examine your consciences. Schedule a monthly confession in your cellphone’s calendar. Most importantly, get to Sunday Mass.

2. Stay sharp and strong

Take care of your mind and body. Similar to minding your spiritual life, taking care of your physical life is vital. If you aren’t feeling well, you won’t perform well. To the best of your ability, eat healthy meals with fresh ingredients. Go to the gym if you like to work out or take a walk around campus. If a 20-minute afternoon snooze refreshes you for evening study, take a nap! College includes emotional roller coasters, so if you find yourself lonely, depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, a lot of campuses offer counseling and therapy in their student centers. Don’t get weighed down early on. Get help and be your best self.  

Time management and prioritization become even more crucial if you are involved in extracurricular activities, such as collegiate sports or drama. Early and late practice hours become excessively burdensome unless one is passionate about the pursuit. “The key to success is determining what is important and then pursuing it wholeheartedly,” said Richard Hutyra, who rowed on the U.S. Naval Academy crew team. “By adhering to a regimented training schedule, I was compelled to prioritize my remaining time or risk not meeting other requirements.” Don’t waste time pursuing something you aren’t passionate about.

3. Know your strengths, weaknesses

Get to know yourself. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you procrastinate, or do you complete tasks immediately? There is no right or wrong answer. Rather, as you test the waters of your new semester and new classes, be honest with yourself about your strengths and shortcomings.

Not sure how to figure that out? Take an online personality test like the one at 16personalities.com. It only takes a few minutes and will give you keen insight on yourself and how you deal with the world around you. It also gives you tips on how to correct any habits you may wish to address. (Hello, 10-page paper due tomorrow that you haven’t even started yet!)

4. Get hands-on experience

Do as many internships as you can and early in your college career. Internships give you an opportunity to see your prospective field in a real-life setting. They usually can be done for credit and give practical insight into potential careers. They are also valuable résumé boosters. If you’re an incoming freshman or sophomore, you might think you have plenty of time in your last two years to do internships, but doing them early can save you time scrambling as an upperclassman, especially as you are sending out résumés and finishing up senior projects and thesis papers. Internships with a pleased employer can also lead to a job offer after graduation. Do yourself a favor early on and don’t procrastinate on this one.

“(What if) you wanted to be a nurse and decided to partake in a medical ... internship in your sophomore year, only to learn that you’re far more squeamish than you realized?” said Gina Fleck from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. “The medical field may not be for you, but you wouldn’t know that if you only flipped through your anatomy textbook. Since you did your internship early on, there’s time to switch your major and go into a field that’s better suited to you.”

5. Keep yourself (and others) accountable

Study in groups. Scheduling a time with a group of other people forces you to to stay accountable. Instead of hitting snooze on your phone during that refreshing afternoon nap you decided to take, you are forced to arise and trudge to the library at the risk of being branded a flake by your classmates. 

Or, create a tradition with friends. “My best memories at grad school were: the local bar, 25-cent wings ... flash cards and 15 friends with the same goal,” said Emily McFarland, a graduate of King’s College in Pennsylvania. “The program was intense, and the only social life we had was each other.”

6. Work smarter

Find a system to keep you on time and on task that works for you — whatever it may be — and experiment until you’re happy you’ve found a solution. A system that works for a sociable extrovert is not necessarily what will work for a studious introvert. Smart devices, like most things in this world, can be used for good or for evil. Be sure you use them for good! Google calendars, phone alerts, budgeting apps can all keep you organized and on time. 

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If you know you tend to leave later for class than you should, program a series of annoying ringtones that force you to check the time. Or, some alarm apps make you complete a math problem before it will shut off. Set your alarm on the far side of your room so you’re forced to put your feet on the floor. Resist the temptation after your morning shower to lie back down on your cozy bed for “just a few more minutes.”

If you’re a person who learns better with hands-on learning vs. technological life hacks, you can go old-school with good old-fashioned human contact. “Utilize the services of librarians, who sit there just waiting for students to ask for assistance and can save endless hours by pointing you to perfect source material,” said Dennis Poust, who went to NYU in New York. “Also, free tutoring services aren’t for dummies. They are how smart students master a concept quickly.”

7. Don’t procrastinate

Do your homework as soon as possible. It may take discipline getting used to a routine, but it will leave your nights and weekends mostly free for friends and social activities.

“Study for a few hours on Saturday morning when no one else is up to anything,” said Caitlin Bootsma, a graduate of the University of Dallas. “You’ll be ahead of the game and you won’t miss anything social.” Or, if your French class ends 10 minutes early, stay in your seat and do your homework immediately. It may be irksome in the moment, but your tired 11 p.m. self will thank you.

Mariann Hughes writes from Maryland.