How to Have a Meaningful University Experience Without Burning Out

by Alexandru Huțu, Class of 2020 | Sep 13, 2017

College shouldn’t be the most stressful period in your life. Still, many find themselves drowning in work, behind on assignments, anxious about missing important social events, and feeling like they simply cannot keep up. After my first year in Minerva’s rigorous undergraduate program, I have five tips that are easy to integrate into your lifestyle and help give you the breaks you need to not go crazy in your first year.

Take a Day Trip

On your day off, or during your downtime, try exploring your city by bus, penny board, bike, or car. I frequently borrowed a car from one of many hourly car rental services with no clear purpose, other than to leave the city for a few hours. You can even do this on school days in the afternoon and get back to the residence hall in time to do your readings. Alternatively, you can study on the beach while the sun is setting in front of you. Regardless of your mode of transportation, short day trips are a great way to get away from your usual environment.

Hang Out with Someone You Don’t Really Know

Another great way to break out of your routine and potentially start a relationship you’ll cherish is to reach out to a classmate you haven’t interacted with outside of class and go for lunch. Or coffee. Or game night. Whatever it is, getting to know someone new is a valuable experience you can learn a lot from. Even if you don’t become best friends, they may say something that changes your perspective ever so slightly, or show you their favorite reading spot in the city. Every human interaction is a learning experience, after all, and you should appreciate that.

Explore a New Neighborhood

A change of scenery definitely helps when you’re stuck in a rut and it feels like you’re working nonstop. If you don’t have time for a full day trip, simply walking fifteen extra minutes to check out a new coffee shop that’s featured on Yelp for having fast Wi-Fi might be worth it. And who knows, you might find your new favorite bubble tea flavor. Seeing a slightly different street out the window might be the catalyst you need to get a fresh start and get your work done.

Choose a Weekday for Yourself

This has by far been the most valuable tip I received during my first semester at Minerva for balancing my work and life. I remember telling my academic advisor that I felt as though readings and other schoolwork were never-ending, and he suggested choosing a day on which I didn’t do anything school-related. You’ll find, as I’ve found, that a day off can be a surprisingly effective way to reset your mind and prepare yourself for the tasks ahead. Just make sure you also identify a time for you to get your work done. That way, instead of feeling bad for not working, you can relax knowing you’re sticking to the plan. (More on this later.) I chose to take every Saturday off, since I had all of Friday and Sunday to do my work, and thus it was never too much to handle. It worked like magic. And if it’s a really hectic week and you can’t afford to disconnect for a full day, take the afternoon off instead.

Make a Study Schedule

In order to take days off for yourself, it’s important to set specific times of day to study and get your work done. For instance, you may feel too tired after two morning classes to be productive, so it might be better for you to take a break, walk around, get lunch, watch some Netflix (or do another activity of your choice), and then start to study. For me, having more frequent, shorter sessions helps. I often work for one hour right after class, take a lunch break, and then do another two or three hours of work. You just need to find your recipe. Don’t be afraid to change it up and fine-tune it until you find what works for you.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and you shouldn’t see the tips I’ve shared as a recipe for guaranteed success. These were just some of the day-to-day practices that I developed to help me during my first year at Minerva, and they can serve as a rough framework for you to build on. The main thing to remember: intentional routines — those that are not a product of inertia—can help you avoid stress and burnout, and ultimately lead to a better college experience.