Mastering the balance of work and play at university

Adapting to a new environment while keeping stress at bay and remaining well-rounded 

Image by: Zier Zhou
Planning is a useful skill in managing university life.

Open schedules, multitudes of extracurriculars and heavy workloads all mean one thing—high school’s over.

This isn’t meant to scare off incoming students though. Ian Garner, academic skills outreach coordinator at Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) said explaining this to incoming students from the outset of their university experience can make a difference when they adapt to the new learning environment.

According to Garner, part of the transition between secondary and post-secondary education is past achievement—especially with respect to high grades that don’t always translate to a university setting. 

“Getting grades of 90 percent and over is possible in high school, but extremely rare in university,” Garner said.

He attributes some of this drop in performance to the type of work university demands, which is more centred on theoretical thinking and analysis. 

Increased independence can also complicate the transition from high school to university, Garner observes students either over or under-work themselves to try and match the university pace. Instead, he recommends early planning and scheduling to help navigate the more rigorous academic setting.

Garner added students should be flexible and adopt new learning and studying techniques—which can often mean excelling earlier rather than later. Even if last- minute cramming was successful for students in the past, the more intensive nature of university may require them to plan ahead.

“If I had to choose one characteristic [of] a successful student, it would be that ability to be reflective, to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Garner said.  

SASS has many resources to help students adopt new strategies that may work for them. They offer three platforms for assistance: online aids, drop in workshops, and one-on-one consultation for topics such as essay writing. Students can choose their preferred approach out of the three. 

Ultimately, Garner thinks that narrowing down your priorities can make all the difference. Whether your goal is to join various extracurriculars, volunteer your time, work a part-time job, or focus on academics, clarifying what deserves your time is imperative.

This helps incoming students engage in activities and shape a university experience they can truly enjoy and sustain long-term.

Reflecting on the best ways to allocate your time and energy isn’t only important with your academics, but also in staying healthy and managing stress levels.  

Beth Blackett, health promotion coordinator at Queen’s Student Wellness Services (SWS) said  practicing self-care and spending time away from academics could help all areas of a student’s life.

“Self-care makes you more resilient to stressors which are an inevitable part of university,” Blackett told The Journal in an email. Not only can incorporating enjoyable activities ease the process of adapting to new challenges, it can also improve academic success.

She added that the highest achieving students often express a well-rounded approach to mental, physical and social health. 

This involves regular reflection about your workload and the commitments you make. While university can offer many great opportunities, simply accepting them all can lead to feeling overwhelmed. She added that when students become overburdened, taking care of themselves and engaging in healthy routines become sidelined. 

Blackett said an intense, singular focus on academics only lasts for so long. It isn’t sustainable, and rather than being short-sighted, it pays off for students to adopt a more steady-paced approach to work that will last for their entire university career. 

“You need to think about playing the long game when it comes to your university experience,” Blackett said.

She recommends some ways that students can keep stress at bay, including moments of reflection throughout the day and planning your day ahead of time. If students need more focus on their health and wellness, SWS offers counselling services, peer and professional workshops, and other options to provide support.

While university can be a new and challenging environment, success is completely attainable if you focus on the basics: sustainability and a long-term view.


Frosh, schedule

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