Written by Isabela Motta, University of Virginia, College Contact Counselor
Without balance, striving for strong grades in your classes while investing in extracurricular activities can lead to serious burnout, both academically and mentally. Below are some time-honored strategies I formed in high school and still use as a college student to help me manage my time and workload:
1.) Get Organized
The first step to maintaining strong academic rigor and being involved is to know what is expected of you, and when. Know, remind, and organize your assignments and events. Whether this looks like using an agenda, Google calendar, or Post-it notes, you (not your parents) should have at least a general understanding of important dates and deadlines.
Once you know the what and when of your assignments and extracurricular responsibilities, you need to prioritize. Specifically, prioritize academics and then extracurriculars. College, though abundant in fun clubs, events, and activities, is firstly about academic education. If you are not serious about your studies, colleges won’t see that you’re serious about them. A practical tip for prioritizing academics is to schedule your studying and homework. Block off time each day and weekend for a fixed, recurring period of studying that cannot be moved. By committing your academics to schedule, you’re less likely to procrastinate.
2.) Say No to Say Yes
Especially in the later two years of high school, there are a lot of exciting things going on. Maybe you’re hot stuff with a new license and Mom and Dad’s car, and your friend is hosting a bonfire Thursday and there’s a party before the Friday night football game. You really want to go to both, but you have a lot of homework and a packed weekend already.
Sometimes, duty calls and you actually can’t write that paper in one day or plan that club’s fundraiser last minute. Sometimes, to say “yes” to bigger things later on, you need to say “no” to smaller things in the moment.
By investing in your studies and actively participating in your extracurriculars, you’re increasing your chances of saying “yes” to colleges in the future. Be sure to balance your “yes” and “no’s” to match your priorities and goals after high school.
This tip also nods to extracurricular activities. Gutcheck your involvement. Are you involved in too much? Determine your interests and goals and file down your involvements accordingly. It is usually better to say “no” to joining a lot of clubs at the beginning of the year so that you can join one or two that you can actively invest and participate in. Colleges want to see how you make a difference, and it’s better to do that for activities and causes you’re passionate about than joining a myriad of clubs you’re not interested in just for the resume.
3.) Manage distractions
You’ve been working on your English essay for an hour and you reach for your phone, considering you’ve earned yourself a 5-minute TikTok break. Suddenly, you look at your watch and realize an hour and a half has passed, and your English essay still isn’t complete.
To effectively use during your homework time, and be completely dialed in during your volunteering, you need to manage distractions. Turn on do-not-disturb, stop the FOMO scroll, move to a controlled location, focus on one task on your to-do list, and knock it out.
Once you’re in college, there will be even more distractions because you’ll likely be living on your own, with friends, surrounded by thousands of other people your age. Identifying what distracts you from specific tasks the most, and learning how to remove those distractions to complete required tasks, is good preparation for your college years.
4.) Rest up
Bouncing from extracurricular activities while bearing the grind of academics often leaves minimal time for rest. However, to ensure you are physically able to perform in any of those spheres, you need to be getting rest.
Consider what makes you feel rested and when you might need each type of rest. Do you need to actively rest after completing those stats problems? Take a quick walk. Do you need to passively rest after lacrosse practice? Set a timer for a power nap.
Schedule time in your calendar for rest so it can’t be interrupted, set a bedtime alarm, and once again, set boundaries on things you know distract you to maximize your time and energy for what comes next. A mantra I’ve been using throughout college is “rest to work, don’t work to rest.” To achieve your goals, you need to have the energy and health to do so, and that only comes from resting in the ways you need.
Sometimes, between the long days and even longer page requirements, it seems impossible to manage both a strong academic record and all your extracurriculars. Know that millions of high schoolers preparing for college have gone before you, struggled with the same challenge, and survived. You’ll be one of them. Keep your head up, and ask for help when you need to. College Contact exists to help students like you get into the college of their dreams. When you need help beginning your college applications, figuring out how and what to list for your extracurriculars, or polishing your resume, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll tackle it together!