Getting it Done: Balancing your JP with a Full Course Load

A laptop with a notebook and pen set aside from a coffee mug.

While it may feel like the semester has only just begun, classes are in full swing and, already, junior paper (JP) deadlines are fast approaching. For many majors, the spring semester is where the bulk of the JP work actually takes place. Whether that means writing thousands of words, crunching monstrously large datasets, or debugging hundreds of lines of code, I think we all can agree that a JP draft is better not left to the last minute. 

One of the biggest challenges all Princeton students face with independent work, however, is figuring out where they can even find the time to start. With a full course load, weekly assignments, and a myriad of extracurricular obligations, just when exactly is a student to work on their JP? Read on for three tips on how you can fit your JP into a hectic schedule. With the right daily habits, supports, and mindset, you may even find that you enjoy the process more than the final product. 

Build a Routine 

The Writing Center’s mascot is a tortoise for a reason. A slow, steady, consistent approach to independent work is the best way to ensure not merely that it all gets done, but also that you can enjoy the process along the way. Once we have ingrained our JPs into our daily routine, we no longer have to will ourselves into working on them—it is simply what we do. Getting into a routine is also one of the best ways to combat procrastination. In the beginning, building a successful routine requires consistency, planning, and a realistic eye. Analyze your schedule, and determine what time of day is most practical and in what location you will work best. Aim not simply to write a little everyday, but to write at the same time and space everyday. Don’t be upset if you have difficulty sticking with your schedule at first. Rather, take it as an opportunity for experimentation. What times of day work best for you? When are you most productive? How might you alter your schedule to better work for you? Figuring out your optimal workflow now will prepare you for your senior thesis, career, and beyond. Keep reading for specific resources to help with time management, planning, and getting it done!

Change How you Write

Rather than thinking about writing as something you either are or are not doing, try breaking up the writing process into multiple components. Brainstorming, drafting, and editing are all different exercises which require you to engage in different cognitive processes—it is easy to become overwhelmed if you try to do them all at once! Before you head into a writing session, consider constructing a game plan of what exactly you want to accomplish during that session. Then, decide whether your goals align most closely with a brainstorming, drafting, or editing mindset. If your goal this session is simply to boost your word count, then worrying about editing will likely only hinder you in the process. By focusing this session exclusively on the ‘drafting’ process, you can free yourself from any obligation to write ‘well’ and give yourself the permission to write as sloppily or as informally as possible—you can always go back and edit later. Don’t know where to start? Declare this a ‘brainstorming’ session and don’t burden yourself with any need to edit or even write in coherent sentences.

Reach out! 

Beyond consistency and scheduling, external supports are essential not merely for “getting it done,” but doing it well. No matter where you are in the process, your adviser is there to help you through any difficulties and uncertainties. Just as important to your final product is your engagement in the process along the way (and some departments even factor this engagement into their final grades!). Showing your adviser how much you care about your work will grant you access to invaluable advice from a true expert in your field. The Writing Center, meanwhile, is always there for any time you need to talk through your work. Whether you’re looking to organize your thoughts, overcome writer’s block, or you just need a sanity check, the Writing Center offers plenty of 80 minute appointments which will leave you and your fellow with plenty of time to go over your work in detail. If you’re seeking more general advice, a McGraw Learning Consultant is always available to help you balance learning and living, overcome habits that aren’t serving you, or formulate a plan of action. The Office of Undergraduate Research website also hosts independent work guides and resources that can support your JP research and writing. Last but not least, if you feel your coursework is really interfering with your ability to get your JP done (or vice versa!), consider booking an appointment with your academic dean to discuss potential ways of making your schedule more manageable. Regardless of whether you still live in your original res college or not, your deans are still there for you, and they want you to succeed.

Hopefully these three tips will be enough to keep you moving forward on your JP journey! While the junior paper presents a daunting challenge for any Princeton junior, a consistent schedule, deliberate work, and external support are the prerequisites for any independent work.

Amaya Dressler ’25, Social Sciences Correspondent