Week Two of SSC Academics

Balance 101

Group photo of students.

Dear Marauder,


I hope you enjoyed your weekend! This week, SSC Academics Online will build on last week’s posts to help you manage your time and find balance. We’ll cover balanced engagement, scheduling, saving money on campus food, and procrastination. We hope you see the connections between your studies and your life balance!

Before we talk about balance – what are you spending your time on? At minimum, you’re probably thinking about how to balance

  1. Your classes/studying (academics)
  2. Relationships on campus and at home, which might be very far away (people)
  3. Activities and commitments at the University (events)

To actually manage your time between these areas, it will be helpful to look at the student mental model. The Education Advisory Board published a field guide in 2016 which broke down student engagement into the three above categories. The EAB suggests that “[…] a successful level of engagement comes from balancing all of these areas by communicating, managing time, and growing through self-awareness” (3).

You’re probably thinking: “What does that even mean?”  Hang in there! We’ll tell you.

Three free-standing circles each with one of the following: "Academics," "People," and "Events." "Academics" is described as "course selection, grades, and major declaration." "People" is described as "family, and friends/peers." "Events" is described as "college entrance, graduation, grad school, and post-college/career."

Figure A. Primary spheres of student engagement. From A Field Guide to the Student Mental Model (pp. 2-6), by Education Advisory Board, 2016.

Looking at the bubbles, you might think that the ‘academics’ sphere should be the biggest. Actually, we want all of the bubbles to be both equal AND connected. If you distribute your focus as evenly as possible across these associations between academics, people, and events, you will find yourself closer to balance! This means that the opposite is also true: too much emphasis on one area of engagement isn’t sustainable and can lead to a lot of imbalance.

Don’t worry—we’ll get into ways to work through your schedule in tomorrow’s post! Today, let’s use this mental model to think about your own tendencies.

Here are three common types of imbalanced engagement (and how to deal with them):

The profiles below also come from A Field Guide to the Student Mental Model (pp. 2-6).

The Social Butterfly

The Academic Burnout

The Homebody

This person spends too much time hanging out with people for non-academic reasons, and going to non-academic events, and they’re worn out by these activities. You need social engagement, but you will find that integrating academics with social time is really important (think study groups), and you need to moderate how much time you spend hanging out. Try to make friends with people who keep you on track with your studies! Stay connected with those party animals, but don’t get sucked-into a carefree lifestyle.

This person focuses nearly all of their time on academic work and they might neglect other opportunities for growth. Remember, the path to success is not made solely of academic work—you also need to prioritise social and personal development! Those who find themselves prioritising academics over everything else can actually see a reduction in their scores because they’re isolated and burnt out. If you identify with this, consider joining a club! McMaster has over 300 of them, so you can shop around.

Like we discussed last week, the transition to university brings a number of new challenges. It is natural to want to emphasize family ties, especially if you’re dealing with distance. Remember that there is a huge network of support waiting for you here too, though! Engaging with some of these resources early on can help lessen the stress you feel as a first year. Also, having ties in the academic community can help you in your studies.

I know that finding balance isn’t such a simple task. Like I already mentioned, I recommend starting with a bit of reflection to ease you into the process of managing your time. This way, you will be able to assess what you want to focus on instead of tackling feelings and scheduling at the same time.

Let’s start small: which aspect of finding balance do you find most challenging?

Scheduling doesn’t come naturally to me

I have too many commitments to balance

I overestimate how much free time I have

I get it! I also find it hard to set deadlines and be rigid with my own free time. I have found that using to-do lists has really helped with this. A list feels slightly less intense than a daily schedule broken down by the hour, even though sometimes you’ll need that too. I also find it cathartic to lay out everything that I need to get done. Once I have this visual reminder, I feel more motivated to finish things so that I can cross them off!

This is a tough one. At this stage, you have to determine how much involvement is too much. Because your academic career is technically the reason you are here, keep in mind that you you should engage as often as you are comfortable without putting your academic performance in jeopardy. This might not be obvious at first; it might take a few really busy weeks for you to realise which priorities you need and want to give your attention to.

I know what it feels like to want to take on a million responsibilities. Being as aware as you are that university will come with a new set of challenges, you have to reflect so that you are prepared to meet these challenges. If you have the instinct to take on a lot of responsibility in all that you do, remember that over-committing yourself can be overwhelming. I recommend monitoring your free time so that you know how much of it you actually have to play with.

I hope that the Student Mental Model and these reflection prompts encourage you to think more about finding balance. Tomorrow’s post will go even deeper into scheduling tips so that you enter first year better equipped to manage your time. You can do this, Marauder!





Education Advisory Board. (2016). A Field Guide to the Student Mental Model (pp. 2-6). Washington DC: EAB.

Join the conversation: Is there anything about finding balance that you are worried about?

What makes balancing your engagement with academics, people, and events difficult? How can you do it? Read more about this in Balance 101!

How should I approach scheduling? What do I need to include? Are to-do lists actually helpful? Scheduling 101 has the answers!

Should I buy all of my food on campus? What can I make for myself that will actually be quick and easy? Is it worth it to make some of my own food at all? Get answers to these (and other) questions in Food for Thought 101!

2 thoughts on “Balance 101”

  1. I’m worried about finding the time to do all the things I want to do. I always seem to have too many responsibilities, mostly because I love getting involved in as many things as possible but I find it hard sometimes to prioritize.

    1. I am the exact same way! I found that I made better use of my time when I started using a calendar because it gave me a visual representation of how I spend my time. When I know that I will be very busy during a particular week, laying things out on my calendar is sort of therapeutic because it also lets me see the moments that I will have to myself.

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