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Juggling it all: The balance of social and academic life at Western

A look into the challenges, opportunities and adjustments first-year students have to make during their first couple of months

Students study in the library at Western Washington University on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Going into the fourth week of classes, the course load will be starting to ramp up. // Photo by Jack Glenn

At almost 11 p.m. on the first Wednesday school night of October, dozens of Western Washington University students - many of them first-year students - gathered for an impromptu party at the campus sculpture popularly known as the “Stairs To Nowhere.”

Away from their parents, first-year students at Western are getting a taste of what adult life is and the liberty that comes with it. 

“It's a big shift to go from living at home to living on campus. … From being in one setting to having so much responsibility for yourself,” said Melynda Huskey, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services. 

As Western students enter their fourth week of the fall quarter, many first-year students are adjusting from life with their parents to an environment with less accountability. 

“You have a lot more freedom without your parents telling you what to do,” said Sinead McLoughlin, a first-year student at Western. “You can finally do whatever you want to do, and for me, that has been difficult.” 

Balancing work and play

The challenges of this culture shock for first-year students go beyond their new-found freedom. Western’s Student Outreach Services surveyed fall 2022 incoming freshmen for their top concerns about adjusting to the college lifestyle. 

According to the survey, their top academic concerns were:

  • Juggling school, social life and/or work

  • Paying for school

  • Procrastination

 Their top concerns regarding the transition to Western were:

  • Building a new community

  • Housing/Living with roommates

  • Making new friends

The balance of school and social life is a dilemma that many new college students experience.

Huskey recommends for students navigating these challenges to access the variety of Western resources focused on academic and mental well-being, including academic advising, the tutoring center, the Counseling and Wellness Center and Student Outreach Services. 

Huskey believes that first-year students may have a hard time going out of their way to seek assistance because this may be the first time their parents cannot identify these issues for them. 

“It's hard for first-year students to ask for help, to not be embarrassed to go to an academic advisor,” Huskey said. “If you feel like things are starting to go downhill, you can call and get an appointment to talk to someone.”

Finding social opportunities

While some first-year students find it difficult to balance academics and social activities, for others the hardest aspect of starting college is meeting new people.

“A lot of freshmen feel like they have no one. I don't think that's true,” McLoughlin said. “You just have to meet the right people, and that can be difficult.”

Joan Ullin, assistant director of Western’s Student Outreach Services, said her advice for first-year students is to seek out strong friends that will help them succeed.

“Talk with as many people as possible,” Ullin said. “Surround yourself with people who are positive and have sustainable habits that can lead to balancing school and social life.”

With almost 300 clubs and associations on campus, from the Chinese Student Association to Astronomy Club to the Hiking and Outdoors Club, Western students have many opportunities to take the first step to thriving both socially and academically in college. 

“Western offers a lot for everybody,” said Gage Giblin, a fourth-year student at Western and Buchanan Towers resident advisor. “If you have an interest in something, there's a club for it.”  

The first quarter of college is an adjustment for all freshmen, but as the months pass, Huskey believes it gets easier for students as they settle into university life. 

“There's so much adjustment and it can take a little while to hit,” Huskey said. “Most freshmen by the end of their second quarter start to find the right balance.”

Jack Glenn

Jack Glenn (he/him) is a copy editor for The Front this quarter. He began working at the Front in the spring of 2022 as a sports reporter. 

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