A photo of carter smiling at the camera while lying on the ground next to his friend, Casey, who is upside-down from this perspective. Carter is wearing a red shirt; Casey has blonde hair and a white shirt.

It happens to all of us: you pick classes, you dive right in to work, and then you quickly realize that you’ve signed yourself up for a LOT. Whether it’s leadership positions in clubs you’re passionate about, roles in on-campus productions, or even work study jobs, a new quarter can get away from you rather quickly as a Northwestern student.

The first time I felt really overwhelmed by my workload was Spring Quarter of my first year. I had taken five classes the quarter before, a concept known as “overloading” your schedule. Four classes is the norm and I thought it would be a breeze, so I filled my time with activities outside the classroom. I involved myself in way too many productions in my “spare” time. I was also balancing a work study position to boot! Needless to say, I ended up putting my work and classes before myself, and it was definitely NOT a recipe for success.

The most important thing to remember that it’s okay to ask for help and everyone you know is on your side.. Nevertheless, we’ve all been there: when I found myself needing support,  I didn’t know how to ask for it. I knew that something was unsustainable – I wasn’t getting enough sleep or eating regularly – and really didn’t know where to start in getting my feet back under me! That’s where my friends came in.

I had a chance to sit down with the people closest to me and talk – genuinely talk –  about why I was feeling so stressed. I was taking a class that I felt was a bit too high-level for me, and attending lecture gave me more questions than answers. I had tried to pull out the textbook and figure things out, but the language flew right over my head. It was the class that I was avoiding talking about but would leave me anxious at the end of the night after my rehearsals. It had to go!

The other nebulous topic thrown around is dropping a class. Northwestern gives you until week six of a quarter to decide “hey, this class isn’t for me!” When you drop a class in that time period, it disappears – it’s like you never took it. I reached out to my professor (which is optional!) and mentioned that I was feeling overwhelmed and wanted to change my schedule around. Not only was he incredibly understanding, but he made sure I knew that I could reach out to him in the future if I wanted to take the class again.  

It was shockingly easy to sign myself up for a stressful quarter. I had over-committed myself to several overlapping shows AND a crazy schedule for someone who was just starting out at Northwestern. The most important thing to remember is that you have people around you who have a vested interest in making sure that you are okay. No one wants to see you studying until four in the morning or sleeping through things! There are places on campus that will help you when you feel like you’re struggling academically – your professors and TAs, Academic Support – and CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) for when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

What I can’t stress enough is that college is a completely different ball game to high school. Success suddenly looks very different from your GPA or class rank. You can take SO many classes at Northwestern in three, four, and five years. You’re not going to set yourself back with a quarter of three classes, and there’s nothing more important than you and your health while you’re in school! Northwestern and college in general are learning curves, and its important to remember that every pitfall and stumble will make you a better student and person on the other side.

This blog post was originally written while I was employed by the Office of Undergraduate Admission at Northwestern University. As such, my voice and tone reflect Northwestern’s desired impact, not my own.