Balancing Academics with Co-Curricular Activities



A college education extends beyond classes, books and research papers; some lessons are learned in the choir, on the basketball court or in residence halls. Co-curricular activities offer students a chance to develop leadership, communication and time management skills.

The secret to maximizing your college experience is finding the right balance between academics and activities, says Dr. Tami Eggleston, associate dean and professor of psychology at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.

A significant number of McKendree students are involved in athletics, music, theater, debate, student government, sororities and fraternities, honor societies and a wide variety of clubs and organizations. Eggleston believes they are an integral part of campus life. 

“Students gain important experiences when they are involved in campus activities or community service,” she said.

She leads teamwork and performance enhancement sessions with several McKendree sports teams so she knows first-hand the challenges that student-athletes face in balancing studies with activities. Eggleston believes the challenges are worth it, however, as students who are involved in at least one co-curricular activity tend to perform better academically and enjoy their college experience more than those who do not get involved.

She offers active students the following advice:

Manage your time. In high school, parents, teachers, coaches and band directors were more likely to remind you when assignments were due and help you manage your time. In college, you must learn to do this yourself. Ideally, you should schedule regular daily study times. If you are involved in an activity that takes up a lot of time, such as sports or music, it is essential to plan ahead. Get a digital or paper planner and use it! 

Don’t procrastinate.
Most people procrastinate to some degree but a busy student has to work on avoiding this. Procrastination will lead you to be more stressed than necessary, fall behind in your work, and turn in less than desirable projects. Take big projects and break them into smaller pieces. Rather than cramming for an exam in one night, spread your studying in smaller time frames over the week.

Get organized. “Work smarter, not harder” applies especially to busy students. Save time by using a separate notebook for each class and keeping note cards, highlighters and other resources easily available. Don’t waste valuable minutes of study time trying to locate a book, notebook or highlighter. Organize your book bag and desk to maximize your study time.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Some students come to a university primarily to study, go to graduate school or pursue their dream job. Others come primarily to play soccer or the trumpet. The most successful ones take their classes seriously yet find time to discover and participate in other activities, Eggleston said.

Taking part in a variety of activities and opportunities helps you not only learn and grow as an individual but also builds your resume for the future. Consider what you want your resume to look like after you graduate.

“A basketball player who maintains a 3.5 grade point average looks very impressive and can talk about the valuable social and personal skills gained by being on a team,” Eggleston said. “An even more impressive resume would show this same basketball player served as past president of a club or organization, or did some research with a professor.”

Learn to say “no” and “help.” Be honest with what you can handle. You may not be able to go out with friends on Friday night if you need to do homework. 

“A student who is an officer in three clubs may not be able to write for the school newspaper as well, even though they would enjoy the opportunity,” said Eggleston.

“At McKendree we have many resources for students, such as a writing center, career services, tutoring, counseling, study groups, spiritual activities and other support services. However, you have to be willing to ask for help. If you feel like you are falling behind in your classes, you need to ask for help – and the earlier, the better.

“The skills students learn in college to balance academics with co-curricular activities will help them balance their lives after they graduate.”