Focusing On Academics

By Eric Christensen

June 6, 2012 5 min read

Students often find college to be a very stressful environment, so they look to dating as a way to alleviate that anxiety and find happiness. But many relationships can create their own stresses, too. These pressures can lead to breakups, which can distract a student from his or her studies, sometimes with unfortunate consequences for both the student and the people who surround them.

Kerry Potter McCormick still recalls a philosophy class she took freshman year. The night before the final, her boyfriend dumped her. The next morning, not only did she have to take the final, but she also had to do so while sitting next to her now ex-boyfriend.

Jennifer Comedy-Holmes, dean of student success services at Northwest Vista College, says this type of experience happened regularly when she was a professor. "Students would be dating; they would register for the same classes together; and then somewhere during the course of that class, they would break up. That is where you could really see (the relationship) cause problems for those students and perhaps for the rest of the classroom, as well," Comedy-Holmes says.

Like many colleges, Northwest Vista College uses a cooperative learning model. "We depend on our students to work together as a team," Comedy-Holmes says. "If there are personal relationships between those people ... that can really affect the learning environment." If those personal relationships are positive, this might benefit the group. However, should the couple break up, the entire group is likely to suffer the consequences.

Occasionally, students will prioritize their personal relationships over their academic priorities. First their attendance will drop, and then their grades will fall. Comedy-Holmes notes that sometimes a bad relationship could become so distracting that it leads to students being put on academic probation. Therefore, it is important for students to learn how to properly balance their academic and personal lives.

Comedy-Holmes says students should first define their academic goals. They should then follow a path that will lead to the attainment of those goals and avoid paths that would detract from them. Comedy-Holmes frequently heard from students who registered for classes only because their boyfriend or girlfriend was in that class. Although such students hoped to spend more time with their significant other, if the class did not help them attain their academic goals, it was more likely a waste of time, effort and money than a true learning environment.

Undergraduate students must often learn time management skills to properly balance their academic and personal lives. Robin Carrillo, director of wellness management at Northwest Vista College, teaches students techniques to do just that. For every hour students spend in class, Carrillo recommends planning on two hours of studying outside of class. Carrillo then advises students to determine how much time they will need for nonacademic matters, including eating, sleeping, working and socializing. Students can then block out their time on a calendar.

Although such techniques may seem rigid or restrictive, Carrillo has found that it helps students "find a balance between their outside responsibilities and their course work." By being honest about how much time they should dedicate to their studies and personal lives, students will better recognize any imbalance. Carrillo believes that the students who are the most successful are the ones who treat their studies like a job. Just as you should not let a significant other distract you from meeting your professional expectations, you should also not let them distract you from meeting your academic ones.

The idea of prioritizing your academic goals and finding balance between your educational and personal life may seem difficult and contradictory at first blush. The trick, according to Comedy-Holmes and Carrillo, is to put your academics first, but do not make them an all-consuming obsession. Find time for friends and dating, but choose people who will support your academic goals, not those who would distract you from them. Although this strategy does not completely protect against a painful breakup, it should allow you to stay less stressed and more focused on your studies, instead of the person sitting next to you during your final.

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