Staying on Top of Things: Managing Coursework in College

Derek Jones Derek, Free Time, Involvement, Professional & Academic, Study, Viterbi Life Leave a Comment

Life at a high-achieving school like USC, not surprisingly, has its ups and downs in terms of stress, time management, and fun. There are days where my workload seems insurmountable, and others where I feel totally in control. If you want to manage all this without making yourself stir-crazy, the key is to minimize these fluctuations. Sometimes it’s a bit out of your control, like when your classes all throw midterms, tough homework assignments, and projects at you at the same time. But a lot of the time, by consistently remaining conscientious of what’s coming up, you can prevent yourself from reaching such a rut. And if after all this you still find yourself struggling, there’s always more you can do to mitigate the effects on your mental health. Here’s a list of what I’ve found to be most helpful in these areas:


  1. Look ahead, and prioritize accordingly. At the start of every semester, one of the first things I do is look through my course syllabuses and mark the dates in my calendar when my midterms, major projects, and important papers are due. Immediately, I’m able to recognize which weeks will be hectic and plan for it. As these weeks approach, I make sure to set time aside to finish all my other smaller assignments well ahead of time so I can devote all my attention to the more important ones afterwards. Without having to worry about my regular math homework on top of a big paper, a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders.
  2. Go to office hours with your professors. When a homework assignment or concept from class is giving you a lot of trouble, spending even just thirty minutes visiting a professor or TA in office hours can be such a huge help. Right away, rather than stressing to figure things out on your own or frantically searching Google for help, you can get personal attention directed at exactly what you need. This was a huge boost for me in my introduction to C++ coding class this year, where I’d often run into issues in my code that were really hard to solve on my own. Every time I went in, I’d feel so relieved to have the professor explain the issue and fix it usually within minutes, and I got to know my professor better too!
  3. Get sleep. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. In college, surrounded constantly by close friends you want to spend time with, it can be hard to turn in early. But sleep is by far the most important factor in allowing you to function in daily life, and to remain in a positive mindset.
  4. Find a workspace. Studies show that you should not do work in the same place you sleep or relax (i.e. your bedroom). Not only can it interfere with your sleep, but personally, waking up and starting to do homework in the same space makes it incredibly difficult for me to remain alert and focused. This year, I’ve made the Starbucks near my dorm my home away from home when I really need to get things done. Not only does the short walk there in the morning wake me up, but the promise of a delicious drink and sweet breakfast item to enjoy actually makes me excited to start working.
  5. Exercise. Physical activity, even if it’s just doing some push-ups and sit-ups before taking a shower, has had an unexpectedly huge impact on my mood this year. When I’m in a slump, a quick trip to the gym or going to club volleyball practice has changed things around for me countless times.
  6. Find good music. Having a wide range of music to fit whatever mood I’m in, or even to change the mood I’m in, has greatly helped me remain sane in the face of stress. Bands like Fleet Foxes and Tame Impala help me to calm down in even the craziest situations.
  7. Finally, forgive yourself. I think this is really not said often enough. If you had a long day of work and you still don’t get everything done that you aimed to, there’s no use in beating yourself up over it. Rather, admire what you were able to finish and go into the next day with even more motivation to be productive.

School is definitely not easy all the time. In fact, it can be quite hard. But these strategies that I’ve accrued over the course of this year have truly made a difference for me.

About the Author

Derek is a sophomore studying Industrial and Systems Engineering. Click above to find out more!

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