written by
Lucas Woodley

Maintaining a Work-Life Balance at Harvard

Advisor Tips 6 min read

How do you keep a healthy work-life balance at Harvard—or any similarly rigorous university? Managing an unfamiliar environment and new friendships is hard enough. All the new opportunities available to you can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel like you’re not measuring up to what a Harvard student “should be.”

There’s a lot of pressure on college students to get perfect grades, be involved in everything on campus, and have an extensive social life. As a Harvard student, I’ve definitely felt these pressures and more. Still, there’s a number of strategies I learned that might help you to have a happy, healthy, and productive college experience.

This informational essay was written by Lucas Woodley, Harvard ‘23. If you want to get help writing your Harvard application essays from Lucas or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

Establish your priorities early on.

Do your research before getting on campus, and think about the activities and organizations you might want to be involved in. This will give you a head start in the process of figuring out where you want to allocate your time.

I would recommend mapping out a daily or weekly schedule. Your priorities will undoubtedly change over time, even by the week, and a schedule can help you to continually re-evaluate where you want to put your energy. There’s little point in doing activities for the sake of it; you’ll contribute much more as a fully invested and active participant.

Photo courtesy of Harvard University

As you continue to learn and grow throughout your Harvard career, you’ll find that some activities bring you a lot of enjoyment and fulfillment, and some simply aren’t as rewarding. This is incredibly common, and it’s almost always best to just drop the activities that you’re less interested in. It’ll save you a lot of time and stress down the line, and it frees up more of your life to be devoted towards the things that you do enjoy.

Being surrounded by opportunity means you’re allowed your choice of which ones to pursue. It doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to pursue them all!

Be organized and intentional.

At a rigorous school like Harvard, it can be tempting to just throw yourself into studying and “brute force” your way through difficult classes. Working with intention means both working hard and working smart. Understand how you can most efficiently divide your work to fit your schedule, and pay attention to what is most effective for you.

What time of day do you get your best studying done? Do you prefer to study in groups or alone? Do you like to mix up settings and environments, or maintain a strict library routine? Keep in mind that these preferences might vary depending on what class you’re studying for.

Some people work best doing work in single, several-hour long sessions. Others prefer spreading out their work into shorter segments but over a period of several days. Whether you’re a procrastinator or someone who aggressively plans ahead, make sure you keep track of when and how you’ll find the time to accomplish everything you need to do.

reading the bible
Hannah Busing | Unsplash

Like a lot of elite schools, Harvard definitely can have a workaholic culture. It might seem like everyone is taking the most challenging classes possible, working all the time, and bragging about how little sleep they get. Remember that you’re never getting the full picture of other people’s lives from the outside, and constantly comparing yourself is not conducive for your grades or for your health. Besides, being a college student is a marathon, not a sprint. Those same people who are working 16 to 18 hours a day are likely to burn out within a year or two.

Working with intentionality means specifically planning out time to do both the fun activities and work. The mindset of “I need to be constantly working to be a good student” might seem like the right one, but it will end up being counterproductive. When this mentality becomes a habit it will be difficult to break out of, and you may end up sacrificing your physical and mental health to maintain it.

Photo by Ivan Herman

Take time to recharge.

Dedicating time to just relax and recharge is just as important as studying. Doing so requires a good deal of self-reflection, and you may need to use different strategies at different times. Are you somebody who regains energy by taking time to yourself and reading a good book? Do you prefer to go out to a party with lots of friends? Or do you need to take the time to talk with close friends and family?

Priscilla Du Preez | Unsplash

Just like with studying styles, everybody recharges differently. Your friends may get their energy back by going out to a party on Friday night, but there’s nothing wrong with opting to stay in if it feels right for you.

Play the long game.

At any elite school, the workload will be intense. You’ll have to juggle difficult classes with time-consuming extracurriculars and taxing research. While it may seem like everybody around you is managing perfectly fine, the reality is that everybody struggles to find a balance between all of these activities.

Regardless of how much we study, we all have to exercise, eat, sleep, and rest. If you’re finding that you can’t keep up with your personal health, take a step back and re-evaluate how you’re allocating your time. Living as a college student is a lot different from being a full-time member of the workforce. But, understanding how to balance your work priorities and your personal health is a lifelong task.

Think carefully about what kind of routine you would like to develop in college, because those habits don’t end after you graduate.

Photo courtesy of Harvard University

Take time to reflect.

Harvard is inevitably going to be a new experience and a big adjustment. You may be able to effectively carry over some of your strategies for dealing with stress and work in high school. However, it’s very likely that you will need to find some new strategies, so be open to trying new methods. Understand that your life in college may look very different from how it did when you lived at home.

Though your peers may not openly mention it, they are also struggling. Luckily, Harvard (and most schools in the US) has plenty of resources to help you make the adjustment to college life. Before you even arrive, familiarize yourself with the different ways you can get support on campus. Counselors, friends, study groups, support groups, and tutors are just a few ways you can make your life as a Harvard student more manageable.

Finding a healthy work-life balance at Harvard boils down to doing a lot of reflection about your current situation and your long-term goals. Focus on what you need to maintain your health and happiness instead of letting other people’s expectations determine how you spend your time. Ultimately, a successful experience at Harvard is a positive one!


This informational essay was written by Lucas Woodley, Harvard ‘23. If you want to get help writing your Harvard application essays from Lucas or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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