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Thursday, May 23, 2024

College is a lawless place

School/life balance is unattainable in our current atmosphere 

 

By MOLLY THOMPSON — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu 

 

There are no boundaries in college. The Powers That Be can have you in a lecture hall at 7:30 in the morning and you can find yourself in a lab on the same day at 10 at night. In between those classes, you might go to the gym or back to your home or to some sort of appointment or to get something to eat, all without leaving campus. It’s impossible to separate school from other aspects of your life, and that really takes a toll. 

In high school, the “school day” lasts from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., or whatever the specific various hours are. It starts at the same time every day and it ends at the same time every day. When it ends, you leave and it’s over. Granted, there is homework, but school itself has a definite endpoint. The same goes in the conventional workforce — you go into the office at 9 a.m. and you leave at 5 p.m. In college, anything goes. You can start at any time, you can end at any time, you can go in and out of classes throughout the day, you can go home in between and you can fluctuate between states of focus over and over throughout the day. There are no rules, no lines and no divisions. 

It can be really hard to switch back and forth between routines and purposes so many times in a single day — from class in the morning, to a workout, to lunch, to studying, to relaxing in your room, to another class or two, to getting some homework done, to a club meeting in the evening and then back home again to wind down (if you’re not doing more work). There’s compartmentalization or division, there’s no school/life balance. 

And because everything happens in one bubble, any boundary lines that would have existed are innately moot. Especially as a freshman when you live on campus, every aspect of life happens in the same place. Work happens in the same place as leisure, which happens in the same place, as socializing, which happens at the same place as sleep, which happens in the same place as errands and chores, etcetera. 

In a dorm or a small apartment, this is exacerbated even more: your desk might be where you get ready in the morning, eat throughout the day, FaceTime friends and family, watch movies and study. You might hang out or relax, do homework and sleep in your bed. It’s kind of impossible to avoid a sort of “cross contamination” between different aspects and spaces of your life. 

All of this takes a toll on productivity, mental health, physical health and more. It’s difficult for the brain to figure out what “mode” it’s supposed to be in if so many different things happen in the same set of circumstances. You might get in bed to sleep, but your brain thinks it’s time to study so you’ll struggle to nod off. You might sit down at your desk to do homework, but your brain thinks it’s time to relax so you’ll struggle to focus. 

People know this, it’s the reason that the rest of the world operates the way that it does. Finding a “work/life balance” is a whole thing because people recognize how important it is for well-being and productivity. But because of the way that universities operate, the possibility of drawing and keeping boundaries goes out the window when you enter higher education. We can all try to keep our laptops out of our beds or find a routine to stick to, but there’s only so much we can do — it’s too inherently seeded in collegiate systems to effectively combat alone. 

One of the other main reasons that boundaries are important is that they help prevent burnout, which is especially (and increasingly) prevalent in college. When there is nothing outside of school because school is everywhere and everything is school, it can feel impossible to escape or catch a break. School is always, so there’s no time or space to step away and refresh from it. Inevitably, that causes burnout. 

The digital, Zoom age is also contributing to the issue, since technology now allows us to bring work and school into our home spaces in a much more invasive way than we ever have before. When we’re attending classes in pajama pants from our kitchen tables and then sitting down with our families for dinner at the same table a few hours later, the lines aren’t just blurred — they’re gone. School becomes home and home becomes school and neither truly serves its real purpose anymore. We now have hybrid in-person and digital classes that we take in our hybrid school/home rooms during our hybrid work/leisure time, and it all gets messy. Compartmentalization is necessary for our success and well-being, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to achieve, especially in college. 

 

Written by: Molly Thompson — mmtthompson@ucdavis.edu  

 

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