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Staying Motivated in College

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The alarm rings and you roll out of bed with just enough time to grab your coffee, slip on your backpack, and rush off to class — and you aren’t overly thrilled about it.

You aren’t alone if you feel college burnout creeping up. A 2013 survey by the American College Health Association reported that half of students surveyed said they experienced more than average or extreme stress, and many were overwhelmed by college responsibilities.

 A 2013 survey by the American College Health Association reported that half of students surveyed said they experienced more than average or extreme stress, and many were overwhelmed by college responsibilities.

You’ve invested so much time and energy into your college experience, and a slump in the middle of the year or a case of senioritis can creep up out of nowhere. Maybe a tough exam or a strict professor is making you want to just zone out and play a round of Farmville on your iPhone. When class is a chore, it’s so much easier to blow it off.

However, that’s the last thing you want to do. Don’t let your college years feel like a marathon. Staying motivated in college can help you learn more, do better in class, and enjoy your overall experience. Here are some ways to reignite the spark and learn how to get motivated for school again.

Why You Should Want to Get Motivated

Staying motivated in college might seem tough — maybe even like an impossible task or just another to-do on your already long list. But it’s really easy to practice some simple steps that will keep you from feeling the college drag. And once you get started on your journey toward college motivation, you’ll find that other things start looking brighter, too.

Once you get motivated, you might notice:

  • Your grades improve. An optimistic outlook on your overall college experience, from campus living to the classroom, can help you get better grades. If you’re happier about where you’re going in life and you have a clear path to follow, it’s much easier to get yourself moving in the right direction.
  • You get along with people. Have things been tense with you and your roommate? Do you get frustrated with your sorority sisters or fraternity brothers? Do you find yourself snapping at a professor? Having a more positive outlook and motivating yourself to do well in school will not only help you academically, but you might find your outside relationships will start to improve, too.
  • You sleep better. Stress can play a big role in how your body functions and how you feel. The American Psychological Association reports that 43 percent of adults say stress keeps them awake at night. That lack of shut eye means you could be forgetting valuable information learned in the classroom. You might also have higher blood pressure, and you’re less likely to be motivated to work hard the next day.
  • You’re healthier. Along with improved sleep, staying motivated in college can improve your overall health. When you’re happy, you’re more likely to eat regular meals and have a better outlook on your personal situation. That joy is contagious. Share it with others you see feeling the same burnout and lack of motivation.

43 percent of adults say stress keeps them awake at night.

How to Motivate Yourself Overall

Now you know the benefits of staying motivated in college, so you just have to figure out how to achieve that happy state of hard work and dedication. Before you give up hope on finding the lost college motivation, however, give these ideas a chance:

  • Stop neglecting your body. Those Oreos you downed during “lunch” are not going to cut it. And the hour of sleep you got between an all-night study session and dashing off to your biology midterm is just asking for disaster. No wonder you’re feeling the college blahs.

The best way to even start to get motivated is to stop your unhealthy habits and begin taking care of yourself. Take a shower, get in some clean clothes, and think about giving yourself some TLC. Eating healthy meals doesn’t have to break the bank, and learning to get some real sleep won’t put you behind in everything else.

Instead of grabbing pizza in the cafeteria, try to find something less greasy or not fried. And so you don’t feel like you’re overwhelming yourself with a new, healthy diet, it’s OK to start small. Replace one meal a week with something healthy. Walk past the pizza and grab some baked chicken and (gasp!) a vegetable. There you go. You’re on the road to recovery as we speak.

When it comes to sleep, you don’t necessarily need to get more sleep, but try for better sleep. Put your iPhone away before you go to bed. No more Facebook stalking while you lie on your pillow and think about eventually going to sleep. Scheduling yourself a bed time (we know — you aren’t a child, but hear us out) also can help you get into a healthy sleeping pattern. Your body gets used to going to bed and waking up at certain time, and that’s a big boost to feeling motivated.

  • Change up your normal routine. With a set class schedule, maybe a regular work schedule, and the same group of friends to hang out with each weekend, things can start to feel a little bland. Learn how to get motivated for school again by changing things up. Walk a new way to class, find a new study spot, or search out new leisure time hangouts — like a new coffee shop or art gallery. Making just a few slight adjustments in your routine can give you a fresh perspective on your college experience and can help you feel motivated to do more.
  • Prioritize and make a schedule. A little consistency can go a long way. When you have classes, a job, and other obligations, it can be tough to prioritize what needs to be done first. Where do you even start? Writing it all down is a great place to try. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the things you think you have to do, write them down. In most cases, you’ll see it really isn’t that bad after all — and you’ll be more likely to remember what you had to do in the first place.

When you block out time on your calendar for the consistent things — classes, your job, club meetings, etc. — it’s easier to see what free time you have left. Prioritize how you’ll spend that down time. In your hour break between classes on Monday, you can start researching your next paper. After dinner on Wednesday, you can prepare for the weekly quiz you get in your Friday math class. Block out time for work, for sleep, and for play. Sticking to a schedule can help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control.

  • Exercise — even just a little bit. If you aren’t a student athlete, you might be shaking your head at this suggestion. However, even if you lack athletic prowess, exercise is a great way to motivate yourself to do well in school. The Centers for Disease Control say physical activity can impact attitudes, cognitive skills, and classroom behavior. Harvard Health also recommends exercise to improve memory and concentration. Most recommendations for the amount of exercise you should get say 30 minutes a day, or 150 minutes a week.

One way to stay motivated in school is to get 30 minutes of exercise each day.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by that number, try to spread it out. There’s no need to do all 30 minutes at once. Try 10 minutes, three times a day. Stand up for your dorm room desk and do a rotation of squats, jumping jacks, and pushups for 10 minutes. You can also take the long walk back to your room after lunch and avoid the shortcut. At the end of the day, climb the stairs in your building a few times.

How to Motivate Yourself to Do Better in School

Tackling some of the earlier suggestions is a great way to feel more motivation through most aspects of your college life. Once you start taking care of your body, sleeping better, and setting a schedule for yourself, you’re well on your way to what might be the most daunting part of this exercise: how to stay motivated to do homework.

Don’t shrink away just yet! You’ve worked so hard to get to this point. You read through all the suggestions on how to better yourself by eating right, exercising, and prioritizing your time. Now it’s time to get down to the part of college that helps you get a degree and start your dream career:

  • Set small goals. Your final, 30-page paper on the works of Shakespeare doesn’t seem like a great way to end the school year. But instead of getting overwhelmed by the size of the task, break it up into smaller goals you an easily tackle. Try to write five pages a week for the month leading up to the paper’s due date. Not only have you given yourself smaller goals that are easier to master, but you’ll feel better having finished each small goal along the way.
  • Change your study style. Studying the same way semester after semester can get old really fast. If you’ve never tried a study group before, now might be a good time to see if some classmates want to get together and swap notes or discuss a difficult class topic.

If you’re always highlighting things in your textbook but you never remember the facts when you sit down to take the exam, you might want to try writing key points on notecards and quizzing yourself in the weeks before the test date. If you always go to the library but your friend from the student newspaper wants to chat instead of letting you concentrate, try finding a new location.

  • Stop when you realize you aren’t taking in any new information. Studying for hours into the night isn’t doing you any good if you aren’t remembering anything. Set a timer and study one subject, or part of a subject, for 10 minutes. When the timer buzzes, get up from your place and stretch, grab a glass of water, or take a quick walk down the hall. Just make it fast — this isn’t time for you to visit a friend and forget about studying.

When you’ve cleared your mind after about 10 seconds of break time, reset the timer and move on to the next topic. Keeping information fresh in your mind is a great way to retain it. Overall, concentrating on small segments of information at a time seems to work better than beating your brain up with countless hours of reading the same page over and over again.

To keep focused and motivated at college, know what you're working toward.

  • Know what you’re working toward. It’s good to set a goal so you know what you’re working toward. Sure, we all want an A in every class, but you might already know at this point in the semester if that’s going to happen or not. So what do you want on the next exam or next paper? How do you want to feel the next time you go to class?
  • Think outside of the classroom. If your grades are slipping in a class and you feel frustrated with how you’re doing, it’s not a terrible idea to have a one-on-one with the professor. They were a college student at one point, too. Sure, now they might like sweater vests and thick-rimmed glasses — and that red ink they scribbled all over your last exam didn’t seem all that inviting — but they are here to help you. They want you to pass their class and go be successful. For them, your success is their success.

If you’ve been struggling on tests or your papers don’t seem to hit the topic quite right, schedule a meeting during office hours and find out how you can work together on this. Many professors are willing to work with you as long as you show you want to try. They might let you rewrite a paper or agree to help with your grade if you speak up and get involved in class participation. They also can explain a formula or thought in a different way, if the class lecture or textbook description didn’t make sense to you. Give professors a chance on this one. It can go a long way.

  • Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do. If you have a goal or an idea, don’t be afraid to chase it yourself. You’re in control of your future, both professionally and personally, and your level of determination will help you get as far as you want to go. Instead of waiting for someone to tell you what to do or have them baby step you through the college process, get out there and learn it on your own. Do some research. Show a little initiative. Become dependent. You’ll find you have a lot more confidence you might have originally credited yourself for — and you have the drive to go far.
  • Reward yourself. After all that hard work and somehow learning to motivate yourself to do homework, it’s a good idea to reward yourself. Give yourself an hour of time to meet a friend at the end of the week. Indulge in that ice cream cone. Go out to dinner with your family at the end of the semester. Whatever you want to do to celebrate your accomplishments, you should go for it. You’ve worked hard, and you’ve earned a well-deserved break.

If you’re feeling the doldrums of the college experience, don’t fret. It’s possible to get yourself motivated for school again. You just need to make a few changes in the way you do things, and once you implement those alterations into your regular groove, it can make all the difference. You’ve got this.

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