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Balancing College Life

Hannah candidly reflects on her successes (and struggles) with balancing college life.

Hannah candidly reflects on her successes (and struggles) with balancing college life.

It is eighth week of my first spring term at Carleton! Time flies incredibly fast here. When I reflect on the past academic year, sometimes I can’t even wrap my mind around it all. I’ve learned so much—not just academic topics—but how to balance all activities, classes, and opportunities I want to be a part of (honestly a lot of it happened by trial and error).

So much of my college experience was new: new friends, professors, location, team, academic level, sense of independence, and the list goes on. While I really struggled during my initial transition, this term feels like everything is falling into place. I am finally figuring things out! The best part is I know I have so much more to learn over my next three years here. So what have I learned?

College is not high school

I was recently talking with one of my friends about how different college is from high school. (At least for me it has been, everyone’s experience is unique.) You have plenty of people looking out for you. If you need help there are lots of resources: professors, the academic support center, SHAC etc., (it is a very long and wonderful list). Yet, you have more autonomy than ever. College is pretty much the first time I have had complete independence—I get to do pretty much whatever I want.

Now, it is incredibly fun that I can do whatever I want. However, sometimes I forget to do the things that I need. Shoutout to my lovely parents who always looked out for me while I was growing up, reminding me to get enough sleep, prioritize school, or eat vegetables. Of course I often get a text checking in to see how my week is going (thanks, love you mom).

I think the amount of independence I suddenly gained was something new I had to learn how to balance. One of my biggest (and constant) struggles is balancing all of my responsibilities. Getting enough sleep, studying, socializing, running track, and doing work study are all packed into my day.

Procrastination (the bane of my existence)

One thing I discovered is that my procrastination habits could not run rampant in high school. This was because assignments were due on a daily basis. College, on the other hand, is filled with longer term projects, with a week or more to complete assignments. This procrastination habit turned out to be bit of a nightmare. Sometimes I found myself pulling all-nighters during finals or staying up until 5am.

Not my best moment (this was in fact me getting ready to go to sleep)

Only this term have I come to realize why I put things off: often I don’t know when to say things are good enough and turn them in. If I have weeks to write a paper I could literally spend that entire time working on it until the product is the absolute perfect paper in the whole world. I have a hard time starting something if I don’t think that I can have it be my absolute best. This is because I don’t want to turn something that doesn’t reflect my best work.

So if you wait until the night before to write it, and that all you have is 12 hours, you are forced to turn in the paper when it’s due. This is a horrible habit to have but it made it easier for me to get started on assignments.

My Solution

Unfortunately, this process brings high levels of stress and inconsistent sleep. So how have I started to solve it? I am working on breaking it down into smaller pieces, and giving myself a time limit. I plan on working for 2 hours on a project and then I decide I will be done. This makes it easier to start when I don’t look at something and think I have an infinite amount of hours to work on it.

I had the same issue with studying as well. If I couldn’t learn and review everything from a class for an exam, I had a hard time studying at all. As silly as it sounds I had to tell myself that studying for one hour is better than not studying at all! If you never make time to have fun or take a break from academics, you can literally work forever. I have come to realize that it’s okay to do something just for enjoyment, and it doesn’t have to be productive!


I typically like to sacrifice my sleep which I have come to learn is a bad idea. It increases my stress levels, makes it harder to focus, makes track workouts more difficult, and getting everything done that I want to becomes that much harder. Because of this I often will stay up even later to catch up on the assignments.

Now I have found sleep to be the most important thing I can do while at college. If your sleep schedule becomes derailed, everything else does too. It is vital for your physical and mental health, as well as your academic performance. Increasing my sleep has made my whole college experience easier. I feel more ready for the day, more cognitively present, and I have more energy. If you can’t get 7-9 hours in during the night, try a nap!

Take care of yourself

If you are sick, there is no parent to call the school and let them know that you won’t be coming in. You have to make the decision that you aren’t feeling well and shouldn’t attend class. (Also you should probably go get a rapid COVID test.) Listen to your body and don’t drag yourself to classes. As stressful as it is to miss them, your health is more important.

Eat vegetables! Drink water! Eat fruit! It is incredibly easy to eat pizza and fruity pebbles for every meal (I would know), but that is really not great. If you really feel like you’re missing out on some key nutrients, a Target run is always an option.

fruity pebbles
fruity pebbles are a staple

Having friends + fun

In high school I didn’t live very close to any of my friends (that’s the rural Minnesota life). Most of the time I would have school, practice, dinner, and homework before going to bed at 11:00.  Despite being an introvert, I love hanging out with my friends. Conveniently, at college some of them live less than 60 seconds away! Instead of driving 20 minutes I can walk down one flight of stairs and I am at their door. Or, I just have to walk across the Mini Bald Spot.

I have made such close and wonderful friends at Carleton. They are very fun, interesting people. Often, throwing a frisbee with them or having long chats in the dining halls seems better than doing my latin drills. Because of the joy that I find in my friends, my 11:00pm bedtime started to become 2 or 3am.

What I’ve Learned

Doing things for fun is a balance that takes a bit of tweaking before you get it right. If you never give yourself a break you can get burned out. However, if you disregard coursework too often you can get behind, which is equally stressful. I have been on both ends of the spectrum (fall and winter term respectively) and neither are optimal. I have learned that sometimes its okay to drop what you’re doing to get ice cream at Blast. But sometimes you have to miss frisbee tossing to get a take home exam finished.

Alternatively, sometimes I’ve chosen to sacrifice an hour of studying or sleep to help out a friend who is struggling or needs someone to talk to. In the end, the relationships I have in my life are more important to me than a couple more points on an exam or quiz.

Besties 4 life (my friend Audrey)

Work study + Athletics + Extracurriculars

I am not required to be a varsity athlete, but track is important to me and I’d like to continue to do it as long as it remains manageable. That being said, it takes up a large portion of my week. I typically have practice and lift for 2+ hours every weekday. Meets take up pretty much my entire day on Saturday.

Work study usually takes up 8 hours per week as well, but it helps me afford school as well. It also exposes me to the community of Northfield and gives me the opportunity to write for prospective students. So I find it to be worth my time. I also recently took up flute, and I love it a lot. It is of course one more thing I have to add to my schedule because I need to practice.

If you want to be a part of things, you have to find a balance. Sometimes if you can’t give 100% to everything, you have to find out what is most important to you. At various points while I was learning how to adjust I considered dropping certain activities because I didn’t think I could do it all. Now, I have started to find a way to make it work with a reasonable amount of stress that the joy of my activities outweighs.

Some of my wonderful teammates


Wow! That was a lot, and if you made it this far I have one more paragraph for you…

I have come to realize that college is so much more than just letter grades on a transcript. Sometimes an experience is worth more than academic perfection, because learning happens in a multitude of locations outside of the classroom. It can happen in the arb, on the track, in a dorm, on the side of a highway looking at Platteville limestone (geology), during work study at an elementary school, in Covid quarantine, or in another country (stay tuned for next year’s possible study abroad adventure). Though it has been hard, I am truly grateful for the ups and downs that got me here.

Hannah is a freshman interested in Political Science and learning as much as she can about whatever she can. Born and raised in Minnesota, she considers herself somewhat of an expert on MN winters. She can’t wait for ice skating on the Bald Spot and Nordic skiing in the Arb, along with exploring all of the other amazing opportunities and activities on campus! When Hannah isn’t in class, she can be found reading, running for the Carleton Track team, watching TikToks, and tutoring with the Northfield Read and Counts Program. Meet the other bloggers!