Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 28, 2023

Feeling overwhelmed with coursework

By ROWAN LIU | August 30, 2023



Liu reminds students who are overwhelmed with work to look after themselves.

So you’re feeling overwhelmed with coursework...

The funny thing about time management is that it is neither about time nor management. During my first semester at Hopkins, I had almost 700 pages of required readings a week. Between that, an on-campus job, application essays and various extracurriculars, I was overwhelmed and fell behind on my responsibilities. Being diligent with a calendar and checking boxes in a planner only goes so far when there are only 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

The hard truth is that you can’t do everything. A little graze of Occam’s razor suggests that the simplest solution is to thus not do everything. More important than time management is the skill to prioritize and communicate when it comes to handling the overwhelming assembly line of college coursework.

And no, prioritization does not mean prioritizing your schoolwork over everything else. What helped was that I began to prioritize myself. Instead of doing everything possible to be on par with my peers and make myself the best candidate for whatever application came my way, I tried to do what was within my abilities, even if it didn’t fit the stellar profile of what I thought a Hopkins student should be.

Recognizing that your health and well-being is the most important priority is the first step. Set a schedule for when you eat, exercise and sleep. With the time you have remaining, prioritize the responsibilities that matter most — this is different for each person, though it may look like the syllabus, future job prospects or your personal interests.

Try to end perfectionism. Don’t tell your professors this, but try reading only a few pages of that 30-page assigned reading. Prioritize the most important details and forget the rest until the professor mentions them in class. Write the essay without worrying about quality until you reach the page limit. Take a long look at a syllabus and see what each assignment is worth and how much time you realistically have to complete the ones you can. Less is more has never been truer.

Communication with your professors is a must. For busy weeks with lots of due dates and exams, it is alright to tell your professors that you may need a little bit more time for their class. Be honest, and be precise about your needs. The aforementioned tips are not excuses to skimp out on actual work. If you put in effort to balance your coursework with your life, there is no need to feel guilty for not being able to be the best at everything.

Besides prioritization and communication, there are also little things you can do to help yourself feel less overwhelmed. Take the time to be in the moment, take a deep breath and immerse yourself in the flow. It doesn’t change a thing in your schedule, but a tiny pause in your busy life can make time feel less like it’s spinning out of control.

Talk about your day. It can be to a friend, a classmate, a family member on the phone, a journal or even a rubber duck. Hopkins also offers many resources for people to talk to. Telling someone about the things that are overwhelming may alleviate the pressure, and you may realize that you have less to do than you originally thought.

Each person is different in how they operate. To all incoming students, use this first year to figure out how much work you can take on and what methods work for you to adjust to the workload at Hopkins. I wish everyone the best of luck!

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