MU students seek to balance life on first day

Monday, August 19, 2013 | 9:36 p.m. CDT
Students in the MU Student Center take a break between classes for lunch, printing services or to catch up with friends on the first day of school.

COLUMBIA — MU sophomore Nick Roberts of Princeton, Mo., spent this summer taking classes for his biological engineering major.

"This summer, I’d go to class in the morning, sleep for a few hours afterward, go to work, then come home and hang out with my roommates," Roberts said. "Then I would start on homework and have to work until five or six in the morning."

Enrollment at MU

Some 34,111 students started classes at MU on Monday, according to the MU News Bureau.

The number of freshman fell this fall, to 6,227 from 6,560 last year. Minority enrollment at MUis up by 3.6 percent, to 5, 116 from 4,940.

There are 3.3 percent more international students on campus this fall, the release said  — 2,109, up from 2,041 last fal.

The Missourian reported Aug. 7 that the number of deposits from black, Hispanic and Asian-American first-time college students all fell this year. The biggest drop was in deposits from black students, with 107 fewer deposits in 2013 than in 2012.

Applications from Missouri residents also fell by 675 for this year, while the number of out-of-state applicants climbed 1,084 from last year.

Between school and a social life, Roberts had little time left for a full night’s sleep — he said he averaged only four hours per night.

"Balancing my life can be pretty stressful because I don’t get enough sleep," he said. 

A joke among college students is that in college, you can choose only two of the following: good grades, a social life or sleep. With a new school year beginning, many of the estimated 34,111 students at MU this fall will need to decide how to balance those competing elements.

On Monday, the Missourian asked MU students where they focus their time: academics, social time or sleep.

"I'd rather just have some coffee," freshman Catherine Fink said as she explained why sleep wasn't as important to her as good grades and a social life.

"The whole point of college is that you have to have good grades to survive," Fink said. "Sleep you can definitely pass up on."

Tori Miller, a freshman psychology major, said grades and a social life are her priorities. "Good grades make my parents happy, and my social life makes me happy," she said, laughing. "Sleep just takes too much time."

Sleep is an issue of scheduling, senior journalism major Riley Cowing said. "Most of the time, I’m looking at what I need to do and what I want to do and then sleep just factors in last," Cowing said.

Freshman Drew Rodgers said a social life and grades are most important to him.

"It's important to make friends, so one day you can get a professional job through networking and also to have people now that you can fall back on."

Freshman English major Mackenna Arends sees her first year at MU as an opportunity to juggle school, sleep and a social life more adeptly than she did in high school.

"The school day was longer, and it was harder to get into the routine of going to bed early," Arends said. "Senior year of high school was definitely when my grades took a turn for the worst. I really cared about sleep and my social life."

Different approaches

Students have found different ways to structure their lives according to their priorities. Sophomore journalism major Shelby Mann said she spends the majority of her time on academics and social life.

"Sometimes I balance both of them by combining them together," Mann said. "My friends and I will study in the same common area, or we sit together in class."

Sydney Eastman, a sophomore studying nutrition and fitness, said she has a good approach for the school year: "I study during the week and then go out with my friends on the weekend," she said. "My academics are important to me."

There are times all attempts at balance must be deserted in favor of focusing on grades, journalism junior Michael Doudna said.

"Whenever finals week comes around, you have to put academics first," Doudna said. "You go into seclusion, and Ellis Library becomes your best friend. You have to abandon social life and sleep."

Is it possible for students to have all three? At least one student thinks so.

"The secret to balancing them all is not getting 100 percent at all of all them," said Jackson Farley, a sophomore studying education. "You have to know what you want, and then you will always win."

Farley describes his time management style as "winging it" and hoping for the best outcome. Time management, he said, is a personal process.

“I’m not Aristotle," Farley said. "I just live the way I live."

Five types of students

Mary Grigsby, an MU associate professor of rural sociology, has studied college students' cultural orientations and examined how they approach higher education and their priorities as a student.

In a qualitative study of 60 MU undergraduates in 2009, she found five types of students: careerist, credentialist, collegiate, alternative and academic. Most students have a primary and secondary type, she said.

"There usually isn't time for people to engage in more than two," Grigsby said.

Careerists are defined as students who see college as a step on the path to a career, and they usually focus on professional development in class. Credentialists are more concerned with earning a diploma, and collegiates are most concerned with the social aspects of the college experience. Alternative students are most focused on interests outside campus, while academics take joy in learning itself.

While Grigsby did see some patterns in students — the things they orient toward and how they spend their time — she generally found diversity in the student body. Demographic information did play a role in which types students identified as, but it was not a determining factor, she said.

Across the spectrum, the students did have one thing in common, Grigsby said. "All students were very involved with identity work. It took different forms based on orientation, but all are trying to define themselves."

Grigsby found that only a little more than 20 percent of her sample of students identified primarily as collegiate. This finding countered a common assumption that the social college experience is "it" for most students, she said. However, collegiate orientation was often a secondary type.

She also found the most common primary orientation was careerist, with most students treating college as a way to get a job and "change the world."

"Students think, 'Everybody's living that (collegiate) lifestyle, and I'm not. I'm different,'" she said. "But, in fact, a lot of other people are doing the same thing."

Missourian reporters Jessica Anania, Molly Duffy, Yuting Jiang, Carley Meiners, Kelly Scanlon and Crystal Thomas contributed to this report.

Supervising editors are Elizabeth Brixey and Margaux Henquinet.

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Andrew Gibson August 20, 2013 | 12:18 p.m.


I'm Andrew Gibson, and I'm on staff at the Missourian. We posed the same question -- how can students balance good grades, a social life and sleep -- on social media Monday and got some interesting responses.

Do you have something to add? Post another comment here, or email me -- -- so we can keep the conversation going.

Two students in a Facebook group for 2014 MU grads said those three goals aren't the only ones to consider. Working a job and maintaining good health are also important, they said.

Ellen Sherman, a junior MU strategic communication student, said she doesn't have trouble managing the various parts of her life.

We posed the following three questions via Facebook, and here's how she responded.

1. Do you agree you can only choose two of the following things: academic success, a social life and sleep?

"Not one bit, I was able to keep a 3.4 GPA last semester, get about 7 hours of sleep a night, and participate in several organizations. I am in a sorority (that's socialization right there) and hold several positions in house. I am also on the exec staff for KCOU, the radio station down here, and plan concerts as well attend them, (also social). On top of that, I was Relay for life team captain, volunteered over 20 hours, and kept a job and an internship."

2. Which do you choose -- and do you balance them equally?

"It's not about choosing which one to focus on, it's about using your time wisely. Because i'm so busy it's actually easier for me to utilize downtime I have, and complete the things I need to get done in a timely manner."

3. Are you willing to sacrifice to get more of the others?

"Sometimes, that is the case. Most of the time, I will choose going out with my sisters over staying in and doing 5 more hours of homework and such. I have to remind myself everyone once in a while that work and school isn't everything, therefore i've maintained a great relationship with many of my peers."

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