Dealing With Competition in College
Going to college can do a lot of positive things for your self-esteem, such as giving you space to become more independent and develop new skills. At the same time, you may struggle with comparison and competition with other college students, which may make you doubt yourself at times.
All college students will deal with competition to some degree. You may have grown up in a household in which you and your siblings competed over everything from grades to athletics. Maybe you set high expectations for yourself, or you’re attending a college that inspires classmates to be more competitive than supportive.
It may be helpful to reflect on why you’re comparing yourself with other students, but it’s even more useful to figure out ways to manage your academics and any pressure you put on yourself. That way, you can keep up with your course load with confidence and avoid falling into a comparison trap.
Here are some tips to managing academic stress and competition in college.
Choose Courses That Fit You
It may take a semester or two to understand which classes you enjoy, which classmates you work well with, and what level of difficulty makes you feel challenged but not overwhelmed.
You likely won’t have complete control over your course schedule, but you can work with your academic adviser to select classes that encourage learning and curiosity rather than those that promote competition or may be too difficult at this point in your college career.
Make Friends With Your Classmates
Join an informal study group or find a study buddy for sharing resources or concerns. Getting to know your classmates on a personal level may help you see them for who they are: other humans going through the same transitions you are—not competitors.
Lean on the Resources Available to You
As a college student, you have access to a wide variety of resources, including tutors and tutoring centers, as well as professors and teaching assistants who likely have office hours when you can receive extra help or feedback.
If you’re struggling in a particular class or simply want to work on certain skills before an exam, lean on these people and offices on campus. They are there for a reason: to help you learn!
Try New Time-Management Practices
If you’re having a hard time with certain classes, it may not be because you’re not getting the material. You may actually be struggling with time management. In addition to classwork, you have to manage homework assignments, studying, long-term projects and papers, and more. It’s a lot to manage, but it’s easier if you can organize your time. Here are some ways to do that:
- Conduct a “time audit.” Track how much time you spend on homework, studying, and other tasks. Use the timer on your phone or take a rough guess by looking at the clock. You may find you’re putting a lot of time and energy into homework assignments and not leaving enough for studying. Then you can adjust.
- Schedule time for specific tasks. You can use a calendar app on your phone or an agenda to block out time during your day.
- Find productive study spots where you can focus without too many distractions.
- Be selective. As a first-year student, you may feel pressured to say yes to every invitation and opportunity. Remember: There are only 24 hours in a day, and you simply won’t have time to do it all. Follow through on activities that mean the most to you, and feel empowered to say no to things that could eat into studying or doing homework—or that you just don’t want to do.
- Take mindful breaks. It’s important to take breaks that give your mind and body a chance to recharge. You may be tempted to reach for your phone, but research suggests that using your phone while taking a break can actually drain you and make it harder to return to doing work. Instead, go for a walk, read, talk with your roommate, or do something else that brings you joy.
Notice Your Progress
Make a habit of noting things that are going well, even if they’re small. Maybe you scored five points higher on your most recent math quiz or answered a question correctly in class. Acknowledging small wins is a great way to break down long-term goals such as achieving a strong GPA. When you give yourself credit for small wins, you reinforce motivation, boost feelings of accomplishment, build momentum, keep yourself focused, and gain confidence.
Focus on Yourself
As much as you can, focus on your own academic experience and growth rather than comparing it with someone else’s. This is your journey and you get to take it at the speed that’s right for you.