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How to Avoid Getting Overwhelmed in College

College students are known for pulling all-nighters and last-minute study marathons. But you'll never do your best work on four hours of sleep and three cups of coffee. One student shares some strategies he uses to avoid the agony of a late-night scramble and get his work done.

It’s late. Your eyelids are heavy, your mouth is drooping, and you can almost hear your bed whispering your name. You want nothing more than to just slip beneath the covers, rest your head against the pillow, and drift off to sleep. But you can’t. You can’t sleep yet, because you’ve got a 10-page paper due tomorrow morning and you managed to procrastinate your way into a four-hour-long scramble to get it done. You remember being in this same position just last week, only that was a three-hour cram session for the physics exam you forgot to study for. Whoops. Next time, you tell yourself. Next time I won’t procrastinate.

Whether or not you’ve found yourself in a similar situation during your high school days, I guarantee you’ll encounter one of these nights at some point in college. You may be busy with other work, or you might get sick and miss a few days of class. Maybe you will just plain forget. Regardless, late-night cram sessions and essay marathons are not something to be excited for. They’re stressful, they’re exhausting, and you’ll never do your best work on four hours of sleep and three cups of coffee. But then there’s also the issue of not understanding the material. You can study for an exam weeks in advance, but if you don’t understand what you’re reading, you still won’t do well. You may have written that 10-page paper in two days, but if you didn’t understand the topic, then your grade will reflect that. But there is hope! This doesn’t have to be you. With the proper amount of planning, commitment, and effort, you can get your work done and avoid the agony of a late-night scramble or another failing grade.

Syllabus: friend or foe?

Regardless of whether you’re a first-year or a senior, each of your professors will provide you with a syllabus detailing assignment due dates for the entire semester. If you’re like most college students, that syllabus will end up crumpled at the bottom of your backpack, eventually finding its way to your desk one morning so it can remind you about that 12-page research paper you have due at midnight that night. Uh-oh. But this is only one of the possible outcomes. Instead of stowing that syllabus away somewhere you never bother to look (out of sight, out of mind, right?), keep all of your syllabi in a highly visible place, like on your bulletin board, on the corner of your desk, or on your nightstand. If you’re like me and can’t stand the clutter, set aside a few hours to copy due dates into an agenda so that you can keep up with all of your assignments. It may not be fun to spend hours copying down a bunch of dates, but believe me, it’s better than cramming or failing an assignment altogether.

The dreaded head start

Finishing an assignment a week before it’s due? What am I, a machine? That’s insane! Well, call me crazy, but it’s about the best thing you can do if you want to avoid getting overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely a tough thing to do; between friends, clubs, and on-campus jobs, it’s tough to find time to get your work done well before it’s due. Motivation plays a big role as well: why write a paper when you’ve got an Xbox One just a few feet over? But trust me, it’s completely worth it. Instead of breaking up that 10-page paper into five pages over two days, why not write two pages a day for five days? If you’ve got a biology exam in a week, why not start studying now instead of the day before? Not only will you be able to keep your stress levels down, but you’ll also find that your essay will come out better than expected and that you’ve managed to retain more information for your exam. It might be tough to find time, and if you can’t, don’t blame yourself. But maybe instead of an extra hour of Call of Duty or another episode on Netflix, you make a few flash cards and start outlining that paper that’s due next week. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Don’t fret over teacher’s pet

Everyone’s heard the term “teacher’s pet” before, and everyone can name one person who was given that label at some point in their academic career. To tell you the truth, I was one of them. I still am. But what does being a teacher’s pet really mean? That you try hard and show effort? That you ask for help when you need it? That you’re enthusiastic, positive, and ready to learn? That doesn’t sound too awful to me, and it shouldn’t to you either.

Contrary to popular belief, your professors are real people, not heartless monsters that want to see you fail. After all, they were once college students too, dealing with the same problems you may have to deal with during your college career. They’re here to help you, not harm you, and getting to know your professors so you feel comfortable enough to ask them for help will in no way make you a teacher’s pet. If you’re having trouble with an assignment or didn’t understand something that was discussed in class, don’t be afraid to talk to your professor afterward or visit them during office hours. Interact with them in class, ask good questions, and show them you want to learn and want to be there. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you try to figure something out by yourself, but working with your professors will not only help alleviate your stress, it will also help you better understand the material for the future.

Et tu(tor), Brute?

Sorry for the pun, I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, I want to tell you about tutors. In most colleges you can find a list of fellow students who are willing to tutor you in practically any subject. Geometry, chemistry, sociology—you name it, they’ll tutor it. But many people are often embarrassed to get help from a tutor out of fear that they’ll be looked down upon by their friends. This is a huge misconception, one that holds many students back from getting the help that they desperately need. Peer tutoring is nothing to be ashamed of; it shows that you’re willing to ask for help so you can improve yourself and excel. I know plenty of people who are peer tutors who also receive peer tutoring, and they tell me that the entire experience is incredibly helpful. Some students may be intimated to ask a stranger for help, but in reality they’re just like you. Your tutor could be that girl who runs on the treadmill next to you at the gym, or that guy you talk sports with in your history course. If you’re struggling in class and becoming overwhelmed by your workload, don’t be afraid to get a tutor.

There’s strength in numbers

If you find yourself getting distracted while working by yourself or simply don’t understand the material, working with a group of classmates is a great way to get yourself focused on the task at hand. Each person brings their own unique knowledge to the group, and they may provide you with an alternative way of viewing the material that makes more sense to you. If your group is also committed to getting their work done, they’ll help you focus your attention on what you need to complete. Your group may get distracted once or twice, talking about last week’s football game or what they watched on television last night, but that’s okay—everyone needs a break. But an effective group knows their assignment and will get it done. Working in groups helps alleviate some of the academic burden off of you as well. If you’re working on a group project, divide the work evenly instead of doing the entire thing by yourself. If you’re studying for an exam, experiment with different ways of quizzing one another until you find the most effective method for retention. It’s comforting to know that you have a group of people to fall back on when your assignments begin to pile up, so don’t be afraid to reach out and work with others.

And, most importantly, don’t work yourself to death. Always make sure you find time to relax, have fun, and enjoy college life!

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About Matthew Castoral

Matthew Castoral is a sophomore professional writing major and communication studies minor at the State University of New York at Cortland (SUNY – Cortland). He is an up-and-coming writer with the dream of becoming a published author and television/film screenwriter. He resides in Long Island, New York, where he spends the majority of his time working on his novels and reading the works of Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway.


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