When I received my acceptance letter from my alma mater, the congratulatory email came with digital confetti and a life-changing award: an academic scholarship that made attending my university financially possible.
Of course, I was thrilled with the news; going to college in New York City was something I’d dreamed about since elementary school. But attending college on a scholarship came with added stress: If my grades dropped below the scholarship’s GPA requirement, I knew I might not be able to stay.
During my first semester, I found it difficult to balance my newfound personal freedom with my academic responsibilities. To make matters slightly more complicated, I’d been homeschooled my whole life, and for the first time, my English papers were graded by someone other than my parents. But over time, I discovered a few academic life hacks that helped me make time for both school and fun.
If you’re trying to navigate college on a scholarship—or just looking for ideas on how to balance your academic and social life—here are four tips for keeping up your grades and enjoying your college experience at the same time.
1. Make a detailed weekly schedule that includes time to relax
Like many of my friends, I kept a weekly schedule with my classes, clubs, and work hours tacked to the wall above my dorm-room desk. But my schedule also included (a) study hours and (b) fun time. Who says you can’t put one-woman karaoke parties on your calendar?
I rarely followed my weekly schedule perfectly. But when I (mostly) stuck to my study schedule Monday through Friday, I could let myself relax on weekends without worrying about falling behind on schoolwork.
2. Finish your essays two days earlier than everyone else
Okay, hear me out: I know essays are one of the least-fun things about college. I also recognize many of my friends are totally okay with writing an eight-page term paper the night before the deadline. But with a scholarship on the line, it never seemed smart to risk it.
Finishing drafts two days early gave me time to reread my writing before submitting. And way more importantly, the night before a major assignment was due, I could watch Netflix while my classmates were pulling all-nighters. I binge-watched a million YA novel-to-film adaptations this way. (If you wonder where I found the time to deconstruct “To All The Boys” cinematography scene by scene, my secret is now revealed…)
3. Find friends with similar interests and goals
It took me a few semesters to find folks I really clicked with, but eventually I met people who shared my interests. I found music friends through Songwriting Club, writing friends through film classes, and theatre friends by basically just talking about “Dear Evan Hansen” to anyone who would listen.
I mostly hung out with the self-described nerd crew (surprise, surprise), and I loved learning from friends whose fields of study were totally different from mine. It was also amazing to know at least one other friend who was also up late studying whenever I had to work extra hard on a Friday night to keep up my grades.
4. Socialize at department events
You know all those posters you see around a college campus that say stuff like, “Math Department Board Game Night – Free Pizza”? While I may seem like a total nerd for saying this (you’ve been forewarned), if your major or minor departments host events, they’re actually worth checking out. Not only can you meet students and faculty who share your interests, you might accidentally learn something you can use for class.
As a TV major and math/theology minor, I had an amazingly fun variety of department events to choose from. Theology Jeopardy! Night brought out my inner James Holzhauer and inadvertently helped me study the Protestant Reformation. (I also got free doughnuts out of the deal.) And in case you’re wondering, mathematicians are highly competitive at board games, especially ones that involve rolling dice.
Looking back, I now realize that my GPA requirement helped me keep my focus during school. Yes, it brought some added pressure. But keeping up my scholarship also gave me a crash course in being a mostly responsible semi-adult. And isn’t that what college is all about?