Opinion | You don’t have to do everything all at once

By Paige Lawler, Senior Staff Columnist

Despite what you might have heard, you don’t need to be everything or do everything all at once.

There’s a lot of pressure in high school — and more broadly, I guess, in life — to be involved in as many activities and organizations as humanly possible. That pressure doesn’t go away in college — honestly, if you have hopes of attending medical school, law school or any other form of graduate school, that pressure will probably intensify.

But this doesn’t mean that you have to overwhelm yourself with extracurricular activities during your first year, much less your first semester, at Pitt. In fact, I encourage you to actively go against this pressure. Trying to participate in too many extracurricular activities all at once while learning the ins and outs of college will almost certainly result in exhaustion and burnout.

Maybe you were super involved in high school — played sports, belonged to honor societies or participated in other activities — and think you can keep that up in college. While it certainly is possible to stay heavily involved in college, and, for the most part, it is a good thing to be active and involved, college can be significantly more tiring than high school.

I’m willing to bet you’ve seen memes about how exhausting college can be. The ones I’m thinking of usually center on how in high school, kids used to wake up early, go to eight hours of classes, do another hour or two of extracurricular activities, and then go home to do homework and eventually go to bed at midnight. Meanwhile, college students wake up at 10 a.m. for their 10:30 a.m. lecture and get home exhausted, napping through the afternoon.

While I’m sure you recognize I’m exaggerating here, the truth is, college is a more strenuous experience than high school. You have a lot more responsibility and independence, meaning that it’s really up to you how and when you get your assignments done. Attempting to do too much outside of your academic work, especially before you’ve figured out your work ethic and how long it takes you to complete assignments, could possibly come with consequences.

One such consequence is the promise of a lot of extra stress. While college students are notoriously stressed out, trying to balance a full course load with multiple extracurricular activities would be a recipe for disaster. It could end up stressing you out far more than necessary, leaving you feeling like you have no free time to relax or not enough time to devote to your classes.

Feeling as if you don’t have enough time could then force you to prioritize different things over each other, reckoning with the nemesis of many college students — time management. Trying to navigate your first semester at Pitt while taking on multiple different extracurriculars will challenge your time-management skills, and if you can’t learn how to balance your academics with your extracurriculars, it could seriously impact your grades.

As a first-year at Pitt, you’ll probably be focused on learning how to get around campus, where you can get the best food, where you like to study and who will be in your friend group. Piling eight clubs and/or organizations on top of all of that is bound to be overwhelming, could result in you spreading yourself too thin and prevent you from giving your full attention and dedication to any one thing.

By no means am I discouraging you from being involved at Pitt. There are far too many incredible clubs and activities to participate in, and I think it would be a shame not to be active in at least a few of them. But I know from experience that the first year of college — or the first year at a new college, if you’re transferring — is a period of adjustment. There’s a lot of new situations being thrown at you, and you should try to give these situations your full attention. 

What works better, at least in my experience, is joining extracurricular activities gradually. I joined one club sport my first semester, and once I was comfortable balancing that with my academic work, I joined a second sport and The Pitt News. This allowed me to learn how to manage my time so I could get all of my work done and still attend practices.

Hopefully this goes without saying, but if you choose to join one or more clubs and feel overwhelmed or find it too difficult to participate in all of them and stay on top of your academic work, you shouldn’t feel bad about pulling back to focus on your classes. It’s perfectly natural to step back from extracurriculars if you have an exam coming up, or if your week is packed with papers and other assignments.

While I can advise you all day about the best way to get involved and how to avoid unnecessary stress, in the end, it really is up to you. That’s really the best — or the worst — part of the college experience. I only ask that you do not overload yourself during your first semester and that you take this time to learn, grow and have fun.

Paige writes primarily about environmental policy and politics. Write to her at [email protected].