As you go through your first semester, the things you learn through trial and (considerable) error help smooth the way for your upcoming college years. College life is always about balance; a mix of good times, thorough studies and the ability to focus on enjoying some of everything your new surrounding offer without losing sight of why you made it to university in the first place.

You are not alone: five facts about college life

  • Almost 20 million students will attend American colleges and universities this fall.
  • College-bound women (11.2 million) will outnumber men (8.7) million.
  • The cost of college keeps going up: per year, the cost is about $7,560 for a two-year school, $14,210 for an in-state or public university and $26,100 for a private, non-profit college.
  • Of the nearly two million bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2014-2015, the largest number (364,000) were business-related degrees.
  • Adequate sleep is vital to academic success: pulling all-nighters to study for exams or finish term papers interferes with the necessary seven to eight hours of rest and results in poor test performance,  decreased motor and memory skills, sleep apnea and daytime drowsiness.

Getting organized: the five balance basics

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The big whiteboard is the center of  college life

An erasable board is a space to make notes, write out a schedule and keep lists. Pair the board with a small cork board holding pens and notepads. This is handy for shopping lists, notes to your roommates and reminders of tests, job schedule changes and to pick up concert or sporting event tickets.

Make friends, find study partners

College friends are a two-fer: companions for dinner and football tailgating and study buddies. You keep each other in line when it’s time to review notes and do the required reading for exams. Use your phones’ calendars and synchronize study schedules, with everyone setting a reminder for the date, time and place to meet. Start the study group on firm footing to remain a group regardless of individual dropouts. Always plan something fun after the hard work, like going out for “study subs” at a nearby sandwich shop.

The top three priorities: food, sleep, exercise

There’s neither compromise nor substitute for a healthy lifestyle: good food, adequate sleep and daily exercise come before any fraternity party or sorority social. If you live on campus, insure regular meals with the meal plan purchase. Off-campus dwellers find healthy food and snacks at the local grocery stores; spend a few hours once a week preparing several days’ worth of meals. Sleep and exercise maintain energy and focus and help prevent the common problem of college weight gain.

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You won’t always find time; you make time

Study when and where you can: the laundromat is a great place for your books and laptop while you wait for your clothes to wash and dry. Stop texting, put away your smartphone and study while using public transit, sitting at a bus terminal or airport or in a quiet classroom or lecture hall before class begins. Keeping basic supplies means dedicating an hour or two each week to one shopping trip; a single trip is a saves time and money over multiple emergency midnight runs to the local quick mart for last-minute items.

Bring items from home (or mail them to college)

Pack basic items in a reusable storage crate at the start of each semester. If college is flying distance from home, consider mailing a “care package” such items as soap, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, nail care products, feminine products, deodorant, laundry soap, non-perishable snacks, soups, gum, plastic bags, extra comb and brush, phone and computer chargers and cleanser towels for computer and phone surfaces.

College life is the first extended time away from home for many young adults; the balancing act between periods of rest, work and fun requires both planning and flexibility. The best college experience comes with the combination of organization and preparation.