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What I wish I knew as a freshman: managing stress and high workloads

College can be one of the most invigorating experiences of one’s life; I know it was for me.

I still vividly remember the first day I stepped onto my school’s campus. Within minutes of orientation, I’d met people from more countries than I had my entire life prior, including students hailing from Greece, South Korea, Russia, and China.

My freshmen class contained numerous fascinating and distinctive characters, from award-winning documentary filmmakers to future NBA athletes. Many of those I met that first day would become my close friends as we explored everything Duke had to offer together over the following four years.

Luke in DC with college friends

Yet, it’s also important to recognize that college can also be challenging at times. You’ll be thrown into an unfamiliar, competitive environment where you’ll be far from your loved ones, balance between significant course loads, extracurriculars, and jobs, and deal with a number of new “adult” responsibilities. While these challenges are definitely part of the fun, they can easily become overwhelming if you don’t learn how to manage your time or take care of your own well-being. To stay healthy and successful in college, I have three key pieces of advice for you.

1. Don’t try to do everything in college

College is not like high school. I learned this the hard way in Fall 2016 when I thought taking on two part-time jobs and an overloaded class schedule would be a great idea. My grades fell and I couldn’t effectively meet the responsibilities of my work. I overestimated my ability to balance between different activities and stretched my time thin.

In high school, I’d gotten used to participating in a dozen activities and APs, so I thought I could do the same in college. But college is different. Your courses will require significantly more focus and time than ever before. Professors often grade papers and exams harshly, holding them to much higher standards. Your academics should be your primary focus; so make sure to prioritize them as much as possible, and don’t make the same mistakes I did. Of course, you should still get involved in other activities, however, you should make your commitments deep rather than broad.

2. Find your community

Throughout college, nothing was a greater asset to me than the positive people I surrounded myself with. The friends I made through organizations like LangDorm and my study abroad program became my bedrock. We not only spent fun nights out in our local city, Durham, but also helped each other weather difficulties, such as finals week, homesickness, and failure. Together with this strong, tight-knit community, I felt supported and never felt alone when the going inevitably got tough. To find your community, I recommend getting involved in clubs, initiatives, or organizations that you’re passionate about. For instance, if you’re interested in journalism, you should consider joining your school newspaper. If you love biology, you could work in a lab on-campus alongside other students. This will allow you to bond with new people and develop meaningful relationships that you can rely on and cherish.

Luke dining out with college friends

3. Don’t leave things to the last minute

When I first started college, I felt surprised by how much free time I had. Courses took up only a few hours of the day and I had little “busywork” to complete. In fact, my Fridays were often completely empty, meaning that I had a three-day weekend nearly every weekend!

For many, this newfound free time can be a tempting invitation to relax and let their guards down. However, while some procrastination remains inevitable, don’t make it too much of a habit during college. If you consistently leave things to the last minute, you’ll end up being miserable.

This is especially true because many college courses weigh their final exams at 40 percent or more of your grade, meaning that your performance on a single test ultimately determines whether you’ll receive an A or a C. The best way to prepare for these exams is to don’t study consistently and make steady progress on your learning throughout the semester, not just the last couple of weeks.


All that said, don’t let my warnings sour your excitement to attend college. They’re just a reminder that college, much like anything else in life, comes with its ups and downs. And fortunately, if you’re aware of and prepared for the challenges you’ll face during your university years, the downs aren’t that bad at all.

Luke with college friends

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