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Six Strategies for Avoiding College Burnout

Dec 3, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

College isn’t easy.  Even an online program, which allows more flexibility than a traditional school, requires a big investment in time and effort.  It’s easy to feel overworked and under-rested - especially if you're working a full-time job and taking care of family in addition to attending school.  However, burnout can be prevented with proper planning.  Here are six tips for keeping healthy, alert, and motivated—no matter how many responsibilities you’re juggling. 

1. Don’t take more classes than you can handle

Are you piling on the classes in the hope of finishing your degree early?  If so, be careful not to bite off more than you can chew.  Most colleges have a standard number of semester hours—anything from four to six, depending on the college—that stands as the average amount recommended for a full-time student.  If you’re worried about burnout, keep a reasonable schedule that doesn’t exceed this amount. 

In addition, don’t pile on too many lab-heavy or difficult classes in one semester.  Try to spread out your most challenging classes across several semesters so you don’t get slammed all at once.

2. Avoid procrastinating

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It might feel like you’re alleviating stress by putting papers and assignments off until the last minute.  But you’re only postponing the inevitable.  Staying up all night to complete an assignment is far more stressful than finishing it a little at a time over a period of weeks—and when you procrastinate on all your assignments, it can be ten times worse. 

Instead of putting your assignments off until the night before, break them down into small, manageable chunks spread out throughout a period of time.  Do a little bit every day, and you’ll be relaxed and worry-free the night before they’re due.

3. Eat healthy foods

Bad eating habits can lead you to burnout more quickly.  Without the right fuel, you won’t have the energy you need to get through the day.  You won’t feel or look your best—and the inevitable skin problems and weight gain will only add to your stress.  Avoid unhealthy snack foods like chips and soda—snack on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other healthy items instead.  Take the time to prepare meals instead of buying fast food or packaged dinners, and never skip breakfast.  These good eating habits will make a positive difference.

4. Don’t skimp on sleep

Many high-achievers think of sleep as optional.  It’s not.  Too little sleep leads to difficulty concentrating, irritability, forgetfulness, and other impairments.  Your mind doesn’t function at its best without an adequate amount of sleep, and sleeping a lot over the weekend doesn’t compensate for missed sleep during the week.  Make sure you plan your day so that you can go to bed at a reasonable hour. 

5. Know your priorities

It sounds wrong to say it, but some classes are more important than others.  If you’re on the verge of burnout, it may be because you’re trying to achieve a perfect score in every class.  Instead, be realistic.  Work hard at the classes that employers would probably care the most about: your core classes.  Take fun electives that won’t be a lot of work, or accept that you may not be able to pull straight A’s in everything—especially if you’ve got work and family responsibilities to juggle.  As long as you keep your grade point average within an acceptable range for any scholarships you have, you should be fine—even if your GPA isn’t perfect.

6. Ask for help

Need to get the kids out of the house so you can concentrate on studying for a test?  Ask a friend to help.  Have trouble finding time to cook dinner, get the kids settled, and log on to class? Maybe a family member could bring over a casserole.  Nobody can do it all, and you’ll be much less stressed if you have a support network of people you can go to when you need help.  If your family and friends can’t help out, see if you can find or start a network of online college students in your town. 

College can be stressful.  But with the right strategies, you can do a lot to reduce the stress.  Avoid procrastination, eat well and get enough sleep, and seek out a network of people you can rely on—and you’re much more likely to achieve your goals without going through burnout.




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