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Going to college is as thrilling as it is challenging. An entirely new world is suddenly available for you to experience. Between making new friends, trying to pick a major, and looking for a job to earn some extra cash, you have a lot of exciting opportunities to delve into, explore, and enjoy in this new phase of your life.

It’s important to remember that this newfound independence comes with a slew of responsibilities. Your parents are no longer around to make sure that your homework is done or that you’ve studied for your upcoming exams — all that now falls directly on your shoulders. It’s up to you to manage your time, take care of yourself and your environment, and stay engaged with your studies. 

Why You Should Stay Focused in School 

Time management is a struggle for an overwhelming amount of students; almost 90% of college students admit to procrastinating to the point that it affects their academic performance. While socializing and learning about yourself are important parts of the experience, the purpose of attending college is to get an education. Though it’s difficult, staying focused on your studies — and learning how to do so in a way that works for you — needs to be your top priority while you get your degree.

College Is Expensive

The cost of tuition at a four-year university has increased by almost 200% since 1989, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping or slowing down anytime soon. You may be more concerned with figuring out how to save money or how to pay for college, but there’s no use worrying about those issues if you aren’t getting your money’s worth and are neglecting your studies. If you skip class, forgo homework assignments and don’t study, you’re essentially throwing money away. Your education is an investment that requires your full attention and focus to be worth your money and time. 

It's Better for Your Health and Well-Being

Procrastinating on your assignments or studies will ultimately make it more difficult to focus on school going forward. If you’re more worried about getting your work done instead of actually learning the material, it will likely have a negative impact on your academic performance and make you feel overwhelmed. While college can be stressful, it shouldn’t be so stressful that you can’t enjoy and take in everything this experience has to offer you.

How to Stay Focused in College

If you’re concerned about your ability to focus in college or are simply unaware of what you can do to improve it, there are several things you can do to stay engaged with, focused on and interested in your studies.

1. Get More Sleep 

Getting enough high-quality sleep is just as important for your health as eating nutritious food, exercising regularly and drinking water, but as many as 60% of college students don’t get adequate sleep. Parties on the weekend and all-night study sessions result in erratic sleeping patterns, leading to sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness. While sleep deprivation can have negative health consequences in and of itself, it can also affect your ability to focus on school.

Sleep plays an important role in learning; without enough of it, your brain’s ability to process the events of the day greatly diminishes. On top of making you feel tired and unmotivated, this makes it significantly more difficult for you to remember what you learned in class or from an assignment. To improve your brain function and overall health, do your best to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.

Here are some other tips to improve your sleep:

  • Acknowledge your chronotype (or unique sleep type) and plan your classes in a way that works with your body’s natural clock, if possible. If you’re a night owl, for instance, try scheduling classes later in the day. If you know you feel most energetic in the early afternoon, try to keep it clear for writing papers and doing homework sets.
  • Avoid caffeine intake in the afternoon (or stick to half-cafs and green teas), and take breaks on weekends to give your body a chance to reset its tolerance to caffeine.
  • Try to keep your wake-up time as consistent as possible, even on weekends. (By all means, sleep in if you need to catch up on ZZZs, but don’t let it shift your schedule too much.)
  • Use a blue-light blocker (like f.lux or blue-light glasses) to prevent harsh laptop light from disrupting your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep with earplugs and an eye mask to drown out sound and noise. (A white noise machine or fan can help, too.)

2. Eat Well

The food you eat affects virtually every aspect of your physical and mental health. If you eat food that has little nutritional value, you’ll likely feel sleepy and sluggish. As a college student, it’s important to eat energizing foods that are full of fiber and protein so you have enough energy to attend classes, tackle your homework assignments and study as much as you need to. Sugary and fatty foods and drinks may give you a temporary boost, but eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains will help you feel awake and alert for much longer.

It can be difficult to eat nutritious food that makes you feel good and gives you energy as a college student. If you live in a dorm or have a meal plan, your options are more limited and you may have little to no control over what’s available to you. Do your best to find healthy options or cook healthy recipes yourself whenever you can to feel as invigorated as possible.

Here are some foods to incorporate into a well-balanced diet:

  • Fruits: bananas, apples, goji berries, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, avocados
  • Vegetables: dark leafy greens (including spinach, chard and kale), beets
  • Starches: sweet potatoes, yams, brown rice, quinoa
  • Proteins: eggs, fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna), lean meats, beans
  • Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, peas, beans

3. Declutter Your Personal Space 

There’s a connection between your environment and your mental health, and if your personal space is messy and disorganized, it’s more likely to increase your stress and distract you. A growing body of research highlights the negative impact clutter can have on health, including increasing your stress levels, making it more difficult to interact with other people and causing you to overeat. Conversely, keeping your personal space — whether that’s your dorm, apartment or office — organized and free of clutter can increase your focus and improve your efficiency while working or studying.

Between classes, homework, extracurricular activities and social engagements, you may struggle to find the time to always keep your workspace clean. Taking just a few minutes each day or even an hour once per week will be more than enough time to keep your personal space organized enough for you to work. If you live in an especially small living space, you may want to consider renting a student storage unit or even adopting a minimalist lifestyle to remove some of the clutter that’s weighing you down. Keep in mind that you don’t have to deep-clean your space every week or rid yourself of all your possessions to reap the benefits of decluttering and organization.

Want our best tips for decluttering your study area? Check out: How to Create a Productive Study Space: Organization Tips for Your Study Room Design

4. Establish a Good Routine 

Creating and adhering to a good daily routine can do wonders for your focus, efficiency and productivity. Not only do routines benefit your overall mental health, but they can also help you create time for all of your obligations and help you live a more balanced life. Build a daily routine that includes time for class, work, studying, socializing and relaxing — it’s much easier to focus on your schoolwork when you know you’ll have time for more enjoyable activities later in the day. Once you’re used to your routine, it’ll feel like second nature.

While in college, your schedule will likely change every semester or year, which can make it significantly more difficult to establish a routine. The old saying goes that it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. However, research indicates that even simple habits can take well over two months to form, meaning that by the time you’ve gotten used to your routine, you may have to change it entirely. Try to view this as an opportunity to audit your routine, rid yourself of the habits that don’t work for you, and incorporate new ones that you’d like to try.

5. Don't Overdo It

College is a dynamic time in your life, and you should strive to make the most of the experience. Academically, this is the chance to learn as much as you can about different subjects, explore previously unfamiliar disciplines and figure out what to do after you graduate, both professionally and personally. All of that is still possible later in life, but it’s much more difficult to do once you’re out of school. It’s also a time to meet new people across majors and backgrounds, join student organizations and clubs to nurture your hobbies and interests, volunteer in on-campus initiatives, and become leaders in your own right. Remember not to overwhelm yourself. While it’s important to participate in the events and activities your school has to offer, your studies should come first.

Pro Tip: If you need to take on a part-time job to make ends meet, explore your on-campus and off-campus options carefully. Though off-campus work may pay better when it comes to things like tips, on-campus jobs often have your academic interests (including midterms and finals) in mind when scheduling shifts, and tend to be more convenient to get to between classes and your dorm or apartment.

6. Set Goals and Establish Rewards 

Finally, set goals — and academic ones in particular — for yourself. It’s much easier to stay focused on a lengthy or difficult task if you’re actively working toward a larger goal that means something to you. When setting goals, make sure they’re substantial, realistic, and specific. For example, “getting an A in a difficult class” is a better goal than “doing well in school” because it is clear and you know exactly what steps you have to take to accomplish it.

As you take steps to achieve your goals (and actually achieve them, too!), be sure to reward yourself. Similar to the importance of setting goals, it’s much easier to be engaged and focused on difficult tasks when you know that something good will come as a result of completing them. Your reward should be of similar value to the achievement. Going to the movies is a great way to celebrate doing well on a test, for instance, but if you get straight As for a semester or year, you may want to consider something bigger, such as looking into studying abroad.

Improving your focus in school takes focus in and of itself. Changing your habits and shifting your priorities is difficult, but it’s well worth the time and effort. Ultimately, being fully engaged with your classes and coursework will give you a more rewarding, fulfilling, and complete college experience. 

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