When I was attending university, graduating with a good mark was my primary hope and focus. After all, I didn't want to load up on student debt and not be able to build a career with my degree. After that though, socialising and enjoying the student life was the most important thing for me to spend my time on if I wasn't sleeping off a hangover...
But is there a way to maximise both studying and socialising?
If I dedicate myself towards getting a first class honours will it mean I'll hardly make any fun memories during my student years?
If I light up with my housemates will I be dooming my future prospects of graduating?
Obviously I'm being a little dramatic.
But it's not uncommon to see a student swing a little too far towards having an amazing student life at the detriment of their education, or a student who simply feels too much pressure from worrying about their future to have fun with their peers. So what's the plan?
I studied computer science when I was in university and the course had about 20 hours of lectures dotted throughout the week. This left me with 148 hours to spend in whatever way I wanted. Among the studying and partying I also managed to fit in exercising, learning my first couple of recipes, staying in touch with family, cleaning my room and planning for my future. I didn't have it all perfectly planned out because let's be honest, nobody ever does, but now that I've had a chance to think about it I think I've got a pretty good time budget on how you could also achieve a good balance.
What we want to fit into a day
Before jumping into the time budget I want to determine what exactly we want to fit into a day.
If you've read my first time budget article "The Most Important Weekday Budget You'll Ever Follow" you'll remember that there are a couple of specific things that I think your time should be spent on.
As a reminder those items are: Sleep, Work (and commute), Learn, Exercise, Cooking and eating, Family, Self reflection, Miscellaneous tasks, and Free time.
For a university student the items are actually the same although presented and balanced slightly differently to accommodate what the student might find to be more important to them.
As such, the things we want to fit in a day as a student will be: Sleep, Thinking about the future, Work and learn, Miscellaneous tasks, Exercise, Staying in touch with family, Cooking and eating, Socialising and free time.
If you're able to do all of these things regularly and in a well proportioned manner throughout your entire university course, you're almost certainly going to graduate having extracted the most out of your time as a student.
Sleep (9 hours)
Sleep is like your first love in university. Even if you're someone who loves to go out on the pull and enjoys above-average success in getting laid, you're probably going to love sleeping just as much, if not more.
Think about all those days where you have a hangover after a heavy night out.
Or the days where you didn't go to sleep until the sun had already risen.
Or the days where you don't have morning lectures to go to.
Or the days where you're just exhausted from doing absolutely nothing.
Sleep's warm embrace will always be a tempting and comfortable retreat for you to go towards.
You're going to find that you end up going to bed at some random times based on what you're getting up to the night before, so there's no point setting a particular schedule. However, there is a point in setting an amount of time.
This might be one big stretch from 2am to 11am where you wake up just in time for lunch. Or it might be a four hour sprint from 4.30am to 8.30am before heading to your 9am lecture that lasts an hour, and then getting home to catch up on the remaining five hours.
Allocating 9 hours is more than what most working adults will get so you definitely don't need to be spending more in this area. Don't worry though, if you really feel like you need more on some days I've got you covered later.
Think about your future (15 minutes)
As a university student it's important to understand why you're studying your degree in the first place, and how things may play out in the future.
Will you use your degree to build a career where you can make an impact in the industry and earn a decent living?
Will you use what you've learnt to try and start a new company that tackles a pressing problem that no other organisation seems to be tackling?
Or maybe you'd like to pursue an academic path and eventually work towards a doctorate so that you can further the knowledge and discovery in a specific field?
These are simple questions to ask, but often difficult to answer. The answer will rarely come to you overnight.
So spend time pondering them and trying to find a personal set of core principles that will guide your path forward.
15 minutes may not seem like a lot of time but let's work through what it really amounts to.
Most other university students may have passing thoughts and ideas on their future, but they won't spend any serious time on it until about two and a half years into their undergraduate degree. At this point they'll suddenly have a major identity crisis where they feel the need to spend the next 24 hours writing out all the pros and cons of their options.
As if the answer to their future will magically appear overnight...
Two and a half years is 912 days. 15 minutes a day results in a total of 13,680 minutes, which means you'll have spent 228 hours or just under 10 whole days thinking about, developing, and understanding your own ambitions.
So in a nutshell, 15 minutes is more than enough as long as you start and invest that time early.
The shower is often an excellent place to drift off in your mind and think about the future, unless the water is pooling up to your ankles due to the drain being clogged up with various people's hair.
Work and Learn (7 hours)
The greatest thing about being a student is the fact that your job is to learn. So the advantage compared to the standard time budget that I made is that both learning and working can be combined into one item.
Everyone's schedule will vary based on how their lectures are arranged on their calendar. Some people will have a relatively even split throughout the week whereas others might find the majority of their lectures are focused on a few days.
Personally I had heavy Mondays and Tuesdays with about 6 hours of lectures and lab classes each. My Wednesdays and Thursdays were lighter, only really requiring me to be in class for a total of around 3 hours each day. And I only had one lecture on a Friday, but it was in the afternoon which sucked (yes, I skipped it quite a lot).
So why have I budgeted 7 hours a day for this item?
It's because this includes the time you should spend on self study, revision, coursework, and any personal projects that you might find interesting to work on.
As someone who studied computer science I could only get so far with all the theory and fundamental programming lessons. I had to go away and work on random little projects that I thought up for myself or take my existing coursework to the "next level" in order to really get familiar with some of the deeper knowledge and concepts.
It's these couple of extra hours outside of lectures and lab-classes that get you towards achieving a high mark on your degree.
Assuming 20 hours of lectures each week, you'll spend 4 hours a day on average in class. That leaves 2 hours each day to do your own self study, and you can even fit in an hour a day to work on your personal project that you hope will become a massive business in the future.
Miscellaneous Tasks (30 minutes)
University is often going to be a student's first encounter of the world without parents doing their cleaning or errands. Or at the very least, without their parents prompting them.
But it still needs to be done!
I had a housemate in the first year who hardly ever cleaned. As a prank, myself and the others put a chicken carcass (yes, carcass) under his bed to see how long it would take for him to find it.
I can't remember exactly how long, but we're talking something like a few months. How he couldn't smell it is beyond me, I'm just glad I lived two floors away so I didn't have to bear with it.
But anyways, things like cleaning your own dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning your room if not the communal areas, and every now and again sorting out some university documents is something you'll want to dedicate a bit of your time towards.
You could even use this time to organise your lecture notes and do a bit of prep for tomorrow's classes, which would save you a tonne of time in the future when you're cramming for exams.
Half an hour each day isn't much to ask for, especially if you can have your latest show addiction or music video playing in the background while doing it.
Exercise (1 hour)
Whenever you go out drinking and clubbing with your housemates or course mates there's no denying that a part of you hopes to get a little lucky that night. You're in a bar full of young and attractive students, all of whom are looking for a good time.
For some really good looking people it's enough to simply be at the bar before they get some attention. But if you're not a part of that genetically blessed group, like myself, you're going to need to have a bit of charm and game.
That comes from having confidence (and experience), which is helped by feeling good about yourself physically. So fit some exercise into your day.
An hour everyday should easily be achievable, especially if you mix it up by doing some intense days and some lighter days.
Your university is most likely going to have some sports facilities and a gym. Do some weight training there, or, just find a good route around the campus and start jogging regularly while mixing in a few days of press-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and body squats at home.
Your intentions don't have to be focused on hooking up with other people either. Your body is probably still going through some developments at this stage so you'll want to do what you can to help it become healthier in the right ways.
Plus, with all the drinking and fast-food you'll be eating, you're going to want to have some sort of counter-balance to it all.
You can't rely on a high metabolism forever, trust me on this one.
Stay in touch with family (15 minutes)
If you've moved cities to go to university or have moved into student accommodation to be closer to the student life action (like myself), your parents are going to worry about how you're doing.
Have you made any new friends?
Are you keeping up with the course?
Do you know how to make instant noodles and fry an egg?
Are you drinking too much?
Have you developed a drug habit?
You're probably going to miss them at least a little bit too. If you don't yet... well, just wait until you go home next and eat a homecooked meal.
Give them a call or, if calling everyday sounds a bit unrealistic, spend 15 minutes texting them and giving them a bit of an update about your day. Don't forget to ask about their day too.
The wonderful thing about texting is that you don't necessarily need to respond immediately or stop everything you're doing. You can just send and receive a few messages throughout your day as you're walking between lectures or waiting for the kettle to boil.
And when both you and your family has a bit more free time on the weekends, maybe then you can have a call that lasts a bit longer. Hearing each other's voice will settle the mind and give much needed assurances that life on both ends of the line is going well.
Cook and Eat (1 hour)
To remedy your parents' concerns about your nutrition and to enhance the effectiveness of your exercising it's probably best that you learn a couple of basic recipes that you can easily cook.
Don't keep eating burgers and chips from the student canteen, or kebabs after clubbing.
What you learn to cook in university will serve as a foundation of your future life after graduating, so now's the time to establish some key skills.
My personal go-to dishes back in university were Spaghetti Bolognese, diced chicken in curry sauce (from a jar) and rice, fajita wraps, various pasta bakes, full cooked breakfasts, stir fries, and fried eggs with beans on toast.
These are dishes of varying difficulty to prepare and cook but once you've done them a few times they're all really simple. In fact, once I started to live a proper adult life after graduating, the foundation I had built from cooking these dishes allowed me to easily pick up more recipes.
Which helped me become more successful on the dating scene.
An hour a day to cook dinner should be reasonable based on my own experiences. But if you want to cut that time down then you could do some bulk cooking every now and then, which means you'll only need to quickly heat up some of your meals before you can dig in and then head out to party.
The only problem you're likely to keep needing to deal with however is finding space in the fridge amongst all your housemates, or maybe even hiding your leftovers well enough so that someone else doesn't eat it.
Socialising and Free Time (5 hours)
Finally we're here. This is what most students probably want to spend all their time doing and I was no different. So I set aside the generous amount of 5 hours each day to do this. That's more than your actual lecture time which I've estimated at 4 hours a day, so there shouldn't really be any complaints here.
What does socialising and free time involve?
Anything you want to be honest, but here's a few ideas:
Going to student social societies. Personally I joined the board games society, computer science society and poker society.
Just hanging out be it on the campus or back at home.
Going to the student union pub, or out clubbing.
Binge watching TV series.
Sleep more than your allocated 9 hours.
The reason I've put socialising and free time last is to highlight that you can do everything else before this and still have 5 hours to work with. If I assume you go to bed at around 1am you'll be getting started with your fun at around 8pm, which doesn't sound too far off from my own experiences.
You could even start the socialising while you're cooking and eating, which would add another hour to this important part of your schedule.
While you're prepping some of your vegetables or simmering the sauce you can join in with the pre-drinks. Some of your other housemates might even be doing their own cooking at the same time, which just adds to all the fun.
After all the shots and dirty pints you'll be ready to head out into town at around 10pm and home in bed by 2am. Whether that be by yourself or with other people really comes down to your own abilities.
And tomorrow's 30 minute timeslot for miscellaneous tasks is when you'll finally get around to doing your dishes.
As mentioned in my previous article about budgeting time, this all sounds perfect on paper. But in a more realistic world things won't precisely work out that way.
After all, students are inherently bad at being disciplined with time and are more likely to do things to the extreme such as 8 months of hardcore partying followed by 2 months of non-stop cramming for exams.
But that's ok.
What you get out of your time is largely down to how you spend it, and if that's what you personally want then who am I to stop you.
However, if you did wonder about the possibility of having the best of both worlds where you can fit in the work as well as the life, then hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of how it's not only possible, but it's actually rather easy.