Balancing Academics, Extracurriculars, and Other Responsibilities

Being young and energetic makes it easy to take on many activities like sports, clubs, advanced courses, and more. When deciding which extracurricular activities you want to participate in, you must consider how you will balance it all.

Start by prioritizing your goals. If you know you want to be in theatre, then rehearsals and academics are at the top of your priority list. If you want to play sports, then practices, games, and academics are at the top of your priority list. You don’t have to focus solely on the activities at the top of your priority list, but it is a good guideline for where you’ll budget most of your time.

If you have a mental health condition, you should meet with your parents and school counselor early in the year to address any necessary accommodations. With how many high school and college students have mental health issues, there is nothing to be ashamed of. 

More and more parents, teachers, and counselors understand the impact of mental health issues on school life. So, there’s no shame in asking for help with these challenges.

Making accommodations for mental health conditions can remove pressure in your academic and extracurricular life. However, if you suspect that you need accommodations, meet with a mental health professional first because you will need to be officially diagnosed.

Test-taking is stressful, but you can reduce the stress you experience  
with good preparation. The best way to set yourself up for 
success is to build good study habits early. For example, your study  
area should be clean and quiet. If you can study with music playing,  
try listening to something that’s not distracting.

Start with your mindset. A positive mindset will help you study with the expectation that you are studying to pass. Also, consider using language such as, “After I pass my exam” or “I’m going to pass my exam and then I’ll meet you for lunch”. The more your brain hears you speak on the success of your test taking, the more it will believe you. 

Do you know your learning style? There are online assessments that will help you determine how you best absorb information and skills. There are four types of learning styles: audio (learns through hearing), visual (learns through seeing), read/write (learns through reading and writing), and kinesthetic (learns through doing). Often, you already know what your learning style is. Think about how you enjoy absorbing information and mastering skills—using your learning style to study can greatly contribute to your test-taking success. 

While you’re studying, take note of any concepts you don’t fully understand. You can get those specific topics clarified next time you’re in class or tutoring. If you have trouble focusing, try using the Pomodoro Method. This involves studying for a short time (25-30 minutes), then taking a short rest break (3-5 minutes) before repeating the process. After four cycles of this, take a more extended break.

The night before your test, eat a good meal and get a good night’s rest. You’ll want to ensure you’re also hydrated. Then, eat a nutritionally balanced breakfast the morning of your test to fuel yourself for the day. Then, when you take the test, you will be prepared to do your best. A little self-care goes a long way when it comes to test-taking.

If your tests at school are causing more anxiety than you can manage or you’re having issues finishing in the allotted time, talk to your parents and a counselor. They can help you to problem-solve and find a method that works for you.

504 Education Plans, IEPs, and Accommodations

Students with mental and physical disabilities face unique struggles in academic settings. However, federal laws are in place to ensure students with disabilities are adequately set up for success in school via section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Section 504 is in place so parents can work with educators to develop plans that legally ensure a fair opportunity to do well in school for students with disabilities.

Like 504 plans, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) ensure students with disabilities get the support they need in the academic setting. The primary difference is that 504 plans modify students’ in-class programming overseen by their regular teachers. Conversely, IEPs take place in a unique environment and are led by school support staff.

If you feel an IEP or 504 plan would be beneficial, talk to a parent or legal guardian, teacher, primary care physician, or therapist. Once one of the people you speak with contacts the school, a meeting must be scheduled with the school’s 504 planning team. They will review your history and submitted materials to determine your eligibility for a 504 plan. 

Read more here to learn if you may be eligible for a 504 plan.

Preparing for College

Transitioning from home to college is exciting and disorienting. Some students experience mental health struggles after making the move. If this is your first time leaving home, along with a new, more advanced academic setting, you face new relationships, new independence, and new responsibility. 

To make the transition easier, start preparing far in advance. The summer before you start college, work with your parents or a trusted adult to prepare and learn the importance of mental health in college students. Make sure you know how to do laundry, how to make appointments, how to budget, and how to grocery shop. Learn the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and what types of self-care work best for you. With this preparation, you won’t have to scramble to learn how to manage mental health in college.

If you have a mental health diagnosis and had a 504 plan in high school, connect with mental health services and your academic advisor before move-in to set up accommodations. Spending the time to develop all the pillars of support before starting college is a lifesaver.

The Y has teamed up with GRADIFY to offer FREE college and career support for students— click here to find out more.