This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
My second semester has brought a new set of challenges because my academic course load is very different than the load I carried in the fall. Last semester I took four courses for a total of four credits. (If you are wondering why so few credits, it’s because Yale does not measure credit hours like many other schools do. So, although this may seem like very few compared to students who take 15-plus credit hours a semester, most undergraduate students here take between 3.5 and 5.5 credits a semester.) In any given week, I was in class for a total of nine hours, and my classes were all scheduled for Monday through Wednesday. That meant I had a four day “weekend” every week. The reason I put “weekend” in quotes is that while Thursday and Friday were technically my days off, they were also my work days: It was then that I worked to make money so I could spend it on things like social outings and watching a movie once in a while. A three-day week was a great schedule for adapting to college.
New Skills For a New Schedule
In the last weeks before winter break came around, I made sure to enjoy my long weekends because I knew that when I came back to campus, it would be an entirely different game. For one thing, I’d be starting to learn a foreign language, and the class I had tested into meets Monday through Friday at 9:25 a.m. In addition, last semester I took three political science courses and one English course; but this semester I figured that I’d drop the political science and try new things before committing to a major. That is why I’m currently taking courses in astronomy, philosophy, French and English. In essence, this semester’s schedule is the polar opposite of last semester’s schedule.
My academic work this semester is not more challenging per se; it just requires a different set of skills. Last semester three of my four classes were seminars, two of which met for two hours a week. That meant that I was reading almost 24/7. Instead of tests, I had papers due on average, every other week. This semester that changed. French requires at least an hour or two of work every day, and that’s in addition to the other classes I’m taking and the tests they require. I’ve always liked the humanities more, but choosing to stay away from an all humanities course load has proven to be really rewarding. I won’t say that it’s been easy, however; I don’t usually use my left brain by default, but now it’s what I’m being forced to use. Even though it’s been a challenging experience, it’s been fun to learn about different disciplines.
Catching My Breath
Now that spring break is practically here, I’m more grateful than ever for this opportunity to catch my breath halfway through the semester. I know people will probably say “You should’ve known” (and I did); but, I have to admit that I still burnt myself out. It’s not as bad as it might seem, but I didn’t have much time to just relax during this first half of my second semester; the whole time it seemed I was going from meeting to meeting or from assignment to assignment. I even had meetings on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Now that I have time to look back, I realize that what made it worse was that when I did have the chance for a break, I’d ask myself, “Play now or work now?” Every time, I’d answer “work now, play later.” It’s what has always worked for me, but this semester, for first time, it didn’t. That’s because this semester there was really always something to do. If it wasn’t a paper I was writing, it was a test that was coming up or an assignment for an extracurricular organization. The to-do list was never empty. I talked to my freshman counselor about it, and he said that even seniors that have been here for more than three years have this problem.
Procrastination Can Be Good
College is really about stopping and analyzing as much as we can. It’s hard to find that happy medium, but it’s even harder to maintain it. I managed to find it last semester, but this semester was just different.
The great thing about breaks is that colleges do a great job of strategically placing them so that if we do burn out, we burn out right before a break. Regardless of whether or not you think you’ve burned yourself out, you should be constantly stopping and asking yourself if there’s anything you can do to make your experience more enjoyable. It’s true that we’re in college to educate our minds through academic work, but it’s equally important to remember that we’re not computers created to learn things 24/7. There is more to life than always studying.
We know we need to relax, but it’s so easy to forget to do so when there’s always something to do. Here is where I’m going to say that procrastination can be good. Sometimes it’s okay to put off something, especially if the task list doesn’t ever seem to end. We all need breaks.