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Tips for Balancing a Heavy Course Load

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Manhattan chapter.

By Amy Kohli

We’ve all heard this saying before: having a full-time class schedule is like having a full-time job (I know, I’m sorry to remind you, fellow students). Sometimes our already-full-plates as students can overflow with just one extra class, a part-time job, a healthy social life or an independent hobby (like a penchant for traveling, in my case).

The good news is that a heavy course load has been done before, and it’s been done successfully! The key is trusting yourself to take on certain habits and, more importantly, being flexible with yourself. If you find yourself taking on extra classes, you’re probably an ambitious person. You want the best for yourself, and chances are you already have routines and structure embedded into your life in one way or another. So, a full rewire of your habits is probably not ideal. But, you can slowly work some of these habits into the ones you already have, see if it works for you and pluck and filter until you find a groove going! 

So without further ado, here are my tips for dealing with a full plate of classes. 

  1. Make sure at least 2 of your classes are ones you really want to take. We all have general degree requirements, and these are added to by our specific program requirements that make a lot of decisions for us. But, by choosing specific class sessions, professors and elective options that you prefer, and customizing your schedule to your needs, you can work up the motivation to follow through with the goals you set out for yourself. 
  1. On days you feel particularly busy or even overwhelmed, write down everything you are doing! Seriously. On a row at the top of a page, I write down everything I must do. On the bottom, in a separate section, I write from top to bottom everything I know I can do right now. This creates a roadmap of your short-term goals that can help you place different tasks into stages of your workflow. You obviously don’t have to get everything on the top of your page completed, but it’s visually essential, not to mention super helpful to see the things that will require your attention soon. 
  1. Pick either early mornings or late nights to be designated “no-work allowed” hours. You need this to solidify feelings of truly allotted break time. If you don’t, I suspect you might use your free time to just check one more email, or read one more chapter. Make no mistake, this is totally fine a lot of the time, but if this is an overwhelming habit, you need to make sure you counteract it with free time. It’ll also make you appreciate both crucial parts of your day even more! I’m personally someone who keeps late nights to myself for downtime and uses mornings for work. It helps me keep the momentum going in my day!
  1. Mark out the biggest performance weeks throughout the semester. The traditional ones are midterms and finals week. If you’re anything like me, you are all too familiar with the absolute chaos that is the two weeks leading up to finals. No matter how much you’ve prepared, it never seems to be enough. The last week before finals is (in my experience) usually spent with a series of all-nighters and random study locations where I’m producing work at a panicked 2x speed. It’s honestly scary. I always end up not having the time to reread at least one or two of my projects enough, and I always look back wishing I had appropriately apportioned my time better. Make sure you do work that feels complete well in advance. It doesn’t have to be everything. But, take at least one or two classes, set aside a few days maybe a month or two before your finals, and just research research research. Compile an outline with only good and relevant information that makes sense to you when you reread it and is coherent. After writing this, you can forget about it for a while. When finals week is approaching and you feel like everything is hitting you all at once, you can happily revisit these outlines you made and feel very thankful for your past self. 
  1. Find productive non-academic activities to do. Free time doesn’t just have to mean nothing time. Again, drawing from personal experience, I tend to find it difficult to find an inbetween. Either I’m furiously working on projects or napping myself into oblivion. Something helpful for me is the idea of productivity in outside activities. For example, turning activities into events on their own. If I’m cooking breakfast for myself in the morning ahead of a busy day of classes, it’s sometimes really nice to not just whip up a crusty sandwich that I chow down in about 30 seconds. I like to sometimes work my way up to breakfast, treating it as an event that gives me a sense of momentum and accomplishment that encourages me to keep it going and gives me strength for my pending day. Let me paint you a picture. I *sometimes* thoroughly wash and wrap my basil, spinach and kale in paper towels, and store them in pretty jars in my fridge. The day I’m making this breakfast, I play music, pull out all my pans and make a really nice egg frittata or hot wrap. Because I enjoy the idea of novelty and luxury sometimes (who doesn’t) I open up my Monin White Chocolate syrup, steam some milk and pour it all into my favorite coffee mug. After I enjoy my meal, I feel good about whatever is to come because I just had a really nice and arguably productive breakfast. 

And lastly, remember you have help available to you! Writing, counseling and tutoring sessions are just an email away, and this trained personnel from various departments wants to help you. If you ever feel truly overwhelmed and don’t want to go through it alone, don’t be afraid to reach out to your school administrators! At the end of the day, academia exists to equip you with the tools to become a better version of yourself. You want to end up with the skills to self-regulate, self-motivate and push the envelope to forgo the career and life for yourself that you want.

This process is going to look different for every student, and it takes time! The guarantee, though, is that you are going to get better and better at it every day. With consistency, routine and confidence, you’ll absolutely find ways to navigate challenging responsibilities like a heavy course load that honor your unique circumstances and perspectives. 

Amy Kohli

Manhattan '23

Full-time overthinker, woman, and student, and part-time writer at Hercampus!