How to Balance Freedom and Responsibility in College

Many students are pumped for the freedom that comes with going to college. It is exciting! It’s a time when you start making decisions about:

  • what classes to take
  • when to take them
  • when to study
  • whether or not you want to work
  • and how you want to spend your free time.

It will be up to you to find your classes and get there on time, make sure that you’re eating well, and hold yourself accountable overall. All this freedom can be exciting and all the responsibility can be daunting and stressful. But your time at college shouldn’t be all one or the other!

Finding a balance between freedom and responsibility is necessary if you want to do well in college and leave your school with amazing memories. The lessons you learn now will help you later in life, too. We want you to succeed, so we’ve come up with some ways to find that balance and what to do when you feel that balance is slipping.

Tips for Balancing Freedom and Responsibility

Finding a balance between freedom and responsibility may take some people some time. And it’s important to note – a strategy that works for your friend or peers may not work for you. These three tips, though, can sincerely help.

1. Learn to Manage Your Time

Balance your freedom and responsibility by managing your time. After figuring out your class (or work, volunteering, internship) schedule, go through your calendar and set aside a specific time just for studying and homework. Print this out or make a copy on some scrap paper and hang it up where you’ll see it every day. Put it on your phone in case you need to refer to it when you’re not at your dorm room, too. The calendar is a good way to help remind yourself how you need to be spending your time, but it’s up to you to stick with it.

We also recommend:

  • Determining what’s important to you – what are your goals in college? This will help you find time for these goals.
  • Make to-do lists to track your work, study time, and homework. A planner isn’t a bad idea.
  • Prioritize your most important tasks.
  • Take breaks. Even when you’re studying or completing homework, it shouldn’t be staring at paper for 3 hours. Walk around, snack, and take bathroom breaks on occasion.

Learning to manage your time now will also help you better manage your time in the workplace when you set off on your career!

2. Relaxation & Self-Care

In addition to setting aside times for schoolwork, set aside time to hang out alone and with friends. These times can be more flexible. You can use them to practice self-care, catch up on TV shows, hit up the local fro-yo shop with your floormates, or even explore campus with friends. Whatever you feel like doing!

While you need to work hard to get good grades in college, it is still important to have a social life to help balance things out. You could be heading for burnout if you simply focus on classwork 24/7.

It’s also essential that you

  • Get enough sleep at night. That means 8 hours!
  • Eat healthy. Don’t skip meals or eat junk food. It will take its toll.
  • Practice good hygiene.
  • Always take time for you.
  • Learn stress and anxiety relief techniques including breathing exercises and meditation.

Learning self-care during your college years will pay off big time as you get older and can make huge differences for your well-being, health, and mental health.

3. Stay On Top of Things

Procrastinating work has a serious way of creeping up on us. Before you know it, you’ll have a mountain of work ahead of you that you can’t possibly get done by the deadlines. That’s why it’s so essential that you keep on top of things as they come up, rather than waiting until the last minute. Failing at this can really ramp up your stress. Managing your time can help, but it’s truly up to you to not procrastinate.

In order to not face that mountain of work, you should

  • Pay attention in class.
  • Ask questions.
  • Go to office hours if you need to.
  • Complete your homework and assignments as they come up.
  • Not cram the night before a test (this can actually have worse results!).
  • Keep to your schedule as well as you can. Sometimes you will deviate and that’s usually okay, but getting off track too much can have disastrous results.

What Should You Do If You Are Struggling?

If you’re struggling balancing freedom and responsibility, it’s important to seek help now rather than when you’re faced with situations that can’t be solved. If you notice halfway through the semester that your workload is too much to handle, don’t plead with your professors after your final!

You need to take action as soon as possible. Colleges know what their students are facing and they usually have resources to help. If you’re struggling in your classes, in your dorm rooms, or at college in general, you should:

  • Visit a mental health counselor. Most colleges have these right on campus!
  • Talk to the professor about your problems with the class during office hours.
  • Talk to your RA about dorm room issues.
  • Visit your doctor for advice on your health and well-being.
  • Revisit your schedule to see if you’re overdoing it or not giving yourself enough time to get work done.
  • Visit with your advisor to discuss your problems and go over solutions.

In some cases, you may have to do one or more of these things in order to solve the problem. Professors will sometimes not care if you’re struggling, believing you should be able to handle the work, for example. In this case, you should talk to your advisor or a mental health counselor to explore other solutions. Or an RA is unable to solve your roommate problem. In this event, you may want to talk to the housing department.

Know Yourself, Know Your Balance

Not all college problems can be solved, however, especially if you wait too long. It’s important to always know your responsibilities ahead of time so you don’t fall too far behind and can recognize right away when you’re struggling. Don’t wait for burnout to happen before you seek help if you can help it! Making sure you know and understand yourself – habits, personality traits, etc – can help. In fact, try taking a free personality test to better understand yourself.

Balancing freedom and responsibility can be tough, especially during your first year of college. It’s definitely a new experience. However, by following these tips and learning to recognize stress and burnout, you can take appropriate actions to have an amazing time at college with good grades to boot.

Certain college majors can be tougher than others. If you want to know a bit of what’s expected of you before you start on these classes, be sure to use our College Major search tool for more information on a variety of areas of study!