Many of you head into college with high expectations of grandeur, especially if you got a few scholarships or if you’re heading to a big and prestigious college. Hate to break it to you, but college is nothing like high school. Your average A+ writing assignments in high school will land you a C at best in college. Completing homework during class is nearly impossible, since you can’t read 50 pages and write a 200-word essay in 25 minutes.

College is a completely different ballgame, and in order to reach success, the number one thing to learn is discipline. Some are born with it — those lucky sons of biscuits. The rest of us have to develop it over time. It requires balancing work and play, and what may seem counter-intuitive, focusing on the small picture, rather than the big one.

Here are some tips for developing discipline as you leave the comfort of study hour and the threats of being grounded behind.

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Look At the Small Picture

So you’ve got five courses for the fall semester, and if you don’t pass one of them, you can’t take 102 in the spring semester, which means you’ll be behind, and you’ll have to take summer classes or graduate late…STOP.

Don’t think about these things. Think of things in small doses — you have to complete this assignment, learn this number of vocabulary, memorize these 50 theories, read these 20 pages — that’s it.

Utilize the Urgency vs. Importance Matrix

Students and professionals can all benefit from the urgency vs. importance matrix that helps you figure out what items you need to get done right now, and what items you absolutely must do, but can wait until the weekend.

Make a list of everything you plan for the day or week, and categorize them as important and urgent, then schedule them in your nifty planner and you’re good to go!

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Know Important Dates

You need two things for this: a wall calendar and an agenda. Write all of your important deadlines on the wall calendar; we’re talking exams, midterms, holidays, paper due dates, etc. Then write your class schedule in your agenda, along with these important dates.

Now you can see exactly what blocks of time you have free to get work done, and you won’t let dates sneak up on you because you wrote them down the moment you receive your syllabus.

Make a Schedule

Beginning with your first or second week of class, immediately fill in spare hours with studying and assignments on your schedule. When your teacher gives you an assignment, look through your agenda to find a chunk of time in which you could feasibly complete this assignment. You can color code it, highlight those that are more important and urgent, or whatever you like.

Also use this agenda to schedule dining hall dates with friends, workouts with your roommate, and study sessions with your classmates. If you have an 80-minute break between classes, schedule in an assignment in a quiet café or student center rather than heading back to your dorm to lounge around with friends. Making a schedule will help you make use of your filler time, without feeling like you’re spending hours on end completing schoolwork.

Leave Your Dorm

It’s awesome when dorm rooms have basement study areas or quiet common rooms, but they’re still not the ideal place to help you stay disciplined. When you’re in your dorm, you’re much too close to friends who want to hang out, TV shows that want to distract you, and messy rooms that want you to clean them.

Go to a café where you can stare at a wall and listen to wordless tunes while you write or read or complete calculations. Before you know it, you’ll be done with your assignment and you can head back to the dorm to play video games or drink coconut rum with your friends.

Make Time for Play

Just because you’re going to be very motivated and disciplined doesn’t mean college should be all work and no play. During your first year of school, you’ll want to spend endless hours making new friends and hanging out. Make sure you do this.

Plan lunch dates as often as possible, walk with friends to class, take classes together so you can study together, and make time for movie dates, takeout food, and YouTube watching. There is a lot more free time in college than most people realize, you just have to spend your time doing things.

Related10 Free-Time Activities for College Students


Image: Jake Bouma