The Final Semester Survival Guide:
13 Tips for College Students Who Just Want it to be Over
The final countdown
Whether you’re in your first year of college or finishing up the home stretch, the last semester of each year can be a stressful time. In the fall, finals seemed so far away, and day-to-day assignments didn’t feel like they held so much weight. But before you know it, the end of the term is upon you, and you’ve only got a few short weeks or months to achieve your academic goals for the year.
How do I keep my momentum?
A lot of students start the year off feeling very optimistic, but as the months progress, tough classes and academic burn-out can curb their motivation and confidence. The pressure of the last semester can get to anyone, and while a little tension can motivate us to achieve our goals, extreme stress can negatively impact both grades and mental and emotional health.
Here are 13 tips for staying on top of your tasks and finishing your semester strong:
1. Focus on your strengths
Remember that even the world’s smartest and most successful people have both strengths and weaknesses. Keep your mind on the positive by taking time to reflect on your strongest areas – maybe science is really challenging for you and you’ve been feeling your hair turn gray as you cram for your chemistry final. While this test may be tough, consciously thinking of areas that you have strengths in will boost your confidence in your abilities and remind you of the bright future you are securing by powering through this class. Reminding yourself of your talents will help reduce the intimidation of subjects that you aren’t as self-assured in.
2. Work hard, play hard
It’s important to have fun and recreational time while you’re working through college; if you don’t let yourself unwind now and again, your stress will curb your creativity, lessen your retention, and could give you a mental break down. Set aside time for fun, humor, and laughter. When you’re feeling stressed out, pass on binge watching crime dramas and instead check out a comedy club with some friends. Laughter can instantly change the chemicals in our bodies, allowing stress to naturally release.
3. Cheer yourself on
It’s common for students in their last semester to stress over the “what if’s” – “What if I didn’t study enough?” “What if I don’t pass the class?” “What if my GPA isn’t high enough?” These worries can put a damper on your focus, mood, and academic performance. When you’re feeling stressed out, Dr. Jill S. Kapil, specialist in young adult issues, recommends repeating positive affirmations. Encourage yourself with phrases like, “I can push through it! I’m almost there! I’ll be done in no time!” “I can do this!” Even if you don’t believe everything you’re saying at first, affirmations will gradually train your brain toward more empowered, confident thinking that can help you overcome stress and bring your “A-game” to finals week.
4. Live one day at a time
If you look at big projects in their entirety, they can appear overwhelming and insurmountable. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and big tasks that appear impossible can be accomplished if you break them down into smaller pieces. Relieve your anxiety by breaking up large projects into manageable fragments. Strategize how to tackle each piece over time, and only focus on achieving your goals for the present day. Congratulate yourself for completing each day’s task. Present-minded thinking will minimize how massive you perceive the work ahead of you, and it will help you relieve stress about your academic future. After all, the future hasn’t happened yet, so why waste today worrying about what may or may not occur?
Let’s all just take a moment of silence to acknowledge those who had to go through college without smartphones or Google calendar! We are incredibly lucky to live in a time where daily organization and time management has never been so convenient or accessible. Find a calendar app that works for you and use it to document your daily goals, tasks, and to-do list. Make sure to schedule time for fun and self-care as well!
6. Ground yourself
By “ground yourself,” we don’t mean to exile yourself to your room with no TV for a week. We are referring to focusing your mind on your present moment by meditating on your five senses. Go through each sense one by one – taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound. Take deep breaths, filling your lungs and belly, as you direct your focus on each area. Try out a yoga class or research different meditations and relaxation exercises. Taking a few moments to ground yourself each day will assist your mind in staying present and your body in releasing stress tension.
7. Study outside
With the chaos of exams, projects, and grad checks around the corner, thoughts of lounging on the beach with your mind set to empty may feel tempting. While you can’t drain your brain just yet, ditching the dorm and getting outside to study can hold over your appetite for full blown vacation mode. Take your laptop to the park, an outdoor café, or anywhere else you can take in an enjoyable environment while you get your creative juices flowing.
8. Rethink your ramen
It’s common for young adults juggling school, work, and social lives to, well, eat like crap. The “freshman 15” and “ramen noodle diet” may feel like the norm, but don’t underestimate the power of nutrition to fuel your brain and motivational drive these last few months of the term. Eat a hearty breakfast that’s heavy on protein. Go easy on sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, all of which can make you crash and worsen your final semester slump.
9. Hit the snooze button
College students are notorious for lacking adequate rest and for having a “we’ll sleep when we’re dead,” attitude. The problem is, all of those 2AM cram sessions can have a serious impact on your mental focus and emotional well-being. Yes, full class loads and challenging projects force most students to stay up late every now and again, but try to get 8-10 hours of sleep on most nights. Set a curfew for yourself and unless you’re working on task that will make-or-break your grade, stick to it. For less pressing projects, you’ll do a better job if you return to your work with a refreshed and rested mindset.
10. Sweat it out
Working out boosts endorphins in your brain, naturally reducing stress, depression, and anxiety. If doing 500 burpees and posting sweaty gym selfies isn’t your thing, have no fear - a 15 minute walk around campus a few times a week can be a great, low-impact way to boost energy, release endorphins, and decrease stress.
11. Vent it out
When we are feeling stressed out with life’s challenges, it can become easy to isolate yourself and get stuck in your worrisome thoughts. Make sure to talk to friends, parents, professors, and academic advisors to help vent your stress and receive extra support and guidance to help you push through the challenges that college life presents.
12. Find your inner champion
If you’re a college student, then you’re no stranger to challenges. Whether you were valedictorian or more of a “C’s get degrees” type of student, you’ve had to work diligently and overcome obstacles to get where you are today. When you start doubting yourself, reflect on ways that you coped with challenges in the past – think of how you can apply those strategies to the obstacles you face today. By finding and highlighting inner strengths exist based on your past accomplishments, you will discover ways to break through challenges as they arise, You are a champion, and you got this!
13. Visit a Specialist
Our specialists support young adults and “millennials” through major life transitions including experiences related to college life and academic success, careers, and relationships. We empower our patients to overcome anxiety, self-esteem issues, and other stressors that impact their emotional well-being.
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Lucier, K.L. (2017). How to Stay Calm During Finals Week. ThoughtCo. Retrieved online: https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-reduce-stress-during-finals-week-793289
Mental Health America (2018). Retrieved online: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/most-stressful-time-semester-finals
Taylor, K. (2018). 6 Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health During Finals. HerCampus.com Retrieved online: https://www.hercampus.com/school/wm/6-ways-take-care-your-mental-health-during-finals
Werner, C. (2017). 5 Ways to Prioritize Mental Health During Finals Week. The Odyssey. Retrieved online: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/5-ways-to-prioritize-mental-health-during-finals-week
How to Cite This Blog Article:
Shinn, M.M. (2018). The Final Semester Survival Guide: 13 Tips for College Students Who Just Want it to
be Over. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/the-final-semester-survival-guide-13-tips-for-college-students-who-just-want-it-to-be-over