December 19, 2010

Reading in College

I recently received a question by e-mail:

I had a question. I don't know if you ever addressed this before on your blog but I was wondering how do you find time to read while in college? I am also a college student and I love to read YA, but I find that between having to read required reading for school and studying for classes I have absolutely no time for leisure reading at all. So, I was wondering if you could tell me how you found the time to do so and if you had any tips for balancing reading for fun and school work.

As of last Monday, I am a college graduate. I did it in three and a half years instead of four, and managed to receive a variety of honors.

Reading in college made that achievement easier.

"Balancing" is an excellent word for college life. But it doesn't fully encompass it. To me, balance implies equal parts. It's more a game of prioritizing the parts.

I believe that number one in anybody's college career should be studying. Yes, it can be boring. But it's what you're paying for/getting paid for. Treat it like a job. Attend your classes and take notes on the lecture - it will help you remember the readings. (For that matter, read your texts.) Professors are not out to get you. If you do your assignments and pay a bit of attention, you'll find that there aren't any surprises on the tests. As for essays, do a bit of prep work. Ask the professor about his or her grammar pet peeves. (Believe me, every professor will want something different from your writing. Adapt.) Finish essays with enough time to revise. If you're bad at revising, go to your campus's writing center.

Take classes that interest you. Every major has some dud classes that you have to take. (Honors Physics for Nonmajors is the devil.) Spread them out. Don't be afraid to drop a class during add/drops if you can tell that you and the professor aren't a good fit and you take something else for that requirement. Take classes that you'll honestly learn something in. If your entire course schedule bores you, change your major. Be flexible.

Sometimes it feels like you don't have time to do all of your assignments. The work will go faster if you enjoy it and don't feel like you're wasting your time. It helps to have habitual study times. Wednesday was my catch-up day. I didn't make plans on Wednesdays, just made sure I was up to date on my work. Sunday was get-ahead day. If you do all your reading for the week on Sunday, then you practically have a free week.

Note: you will always lie and say you'll do work when you visit home. No one really works when they visit home. Do your work before or get back in town in enough time to do your work.

My number two priority was socializing. It can be easy to become a hermit, absorbed by classwork. Humans are social creatures, however. But you should socialize smart. Getting drunk every weekend? Not smart. You lose a night and a morning when you could be functional. Eating with friends (at home, in the cafeteria, at a nearby restaurant) is smart. Why? Because you have to eat anyway, might as well do it with company. I highly recommend rotating between people's apartments and rotating cooking duties. You can get a variety of wonderful homecooked meals, save money by buying food in bulk, and be responsible for cooking and cleaning only part of the time.

Note: make friends with people who can cook and/or bake.

Like study days, it helps to have a social day. Mine was Thursday - dinner and a (rented) movie with my roommate, her brother, their best friend, and another friend, as well as any hangers-on that week. It helped us chill at the end of the week and made sure we had our acts together by the end of the week.

It can also help to study with other people. They don't have to be in your classes. Just spend an hour or two with friends, in a quiet place, with your books. Hold each other accountable.

Finally, I devoted time to certain individual pursuits. For me, this meant at least thirty minutes a day devoted to reading. The routine helped relax me and helped me sleep better (if I did it before bed), ensuring that I was more proactive the rest of the day.

Doing things you love makes you happy.

Do not structure your life so that you are miserable. Taking a small portion of your day, everyday, just to make yourself feel good is worth it. It isn't wasting your time. It's making sure you have the attitude you need to handle everything else going on in your life. It's combating stress. It's raising your self-esteem.

Read because you love to read.  Or sew because you love to sew.  Or dance to bad pop music because you love dancing and bad pop music.  We need love in our lives, and your hobbies won't dump you right before finals.

Note: if you have a roommate, find out if you share a hobby.  If he or she really dislikes your dancing to bad pop music, however, try to do it when he or she isn't around.  But sharing the hobby can ensure that you take part in it regularly.

I'm not saying you should spend 10 hours playing World of Warcraft. Moderation, people. I'm saying just a bit of you-time makes other-time more productive.  Quality relaxation time matters more than the quantity.

Don't dread endless days of studying. Enjoy learning.

And for heaven's sake, sleep eight hours a night.  What is this four hours of sleep nonsense I hear about?  Falling asleep during lectures, getting sick more often . . . yeah, that's the way to get ahead.


  1. You make college life sound almost relaxing. It wasn't that way for me.

    I had a part-time job + a couple of school related activities that ate up my time.

    I spent hours at the library researching (no reliable internet when I was in college).

    I barely had time to socialize or sleep.

    But I did get a 4.0 GPA.

  2. This is really nice advice. It's different for me for various reasons as well...but not everyone has the same type of college life either. I'm still in college right now though...I read between classes if I don't have to study or do work or something. I seem to read better when I'm on campus. I try and read some at home too though when I can.


  3. @Lenore: I wouldn't call it *relaxing*. It was stressful . . . but less stressful than it could've been.

    I did spend hours in the library whenever I had to do primary research. If only I never had to decode someone's handwriting ever again.

    @Lauren: I used my own life, but tried to make it adjustable for different kinds of life. The main thrust is just to prioritize and make time for your top priorities, which I think can work for everyone.

    I did read quite a bit on the bus trip between campus and my apartment.

  4. This is very good advice for college and beyond. Personally I floundered during my freshman year but hit my stride in my junior year (kinda late but I'm a late bloomer anyway).

    I think another key word to apply is "flexibility." You learn in college that things can change dramatically from one week to the next (nothing due this week? everything due next week!) so being able to shift with the tides is a good quality.

    Congrats on finishing early!!!

  5. Hi there, great blog!! Just wanted to let you know that I have linked to you in a new post :-)


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