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How to Stay Motivated in College: 5 Tips for Student Success


When faced with challenging assignments and the competing demands of work and family, you might find it difficult to muster up the motivation to complete an assignment, no matter what your college degree program is. Even if you are engaged in your coursework, there are bound to be times when you feel frustrated or question whether your efforts are worth it.

Remember, college is a marathon, not a sprint. Looking for how to find motivation when faced with what seems like the impossible?

Here are 5 motivational strategies from academic advisors at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) that can help you power through and achieve success.

1. Pursue Your Passion

Do you find time flies when you are truly engrossed in a good book or interesting problem to solve? When you pursue something meaningful to you and can connect it with a purpose, it can help you find the motivation to press on, said academic advising team lead Michelle Wiggett.

Choose the degree program that sparks your interest and ties to your personal values and goals. When the going gets tough, it will be much easier for you to find time and energy if you are studying something that you care about, Wiggett said.

“Begin with the end in mind, write down that target and work backward to complete the steps it takes to reach that goal,” she said.

Occasionally, students feel pressured to pick a major based on the opinions of their parents, their boss or recent job market statistics, which doesn’t necessarily inspire determination. One strategy is to work with your advisors early on to make adjustments to your program if you find yourself disinterested and losing steam, for example.

There’s a reason you decided to enroll in college – whether that means career advancement, a new career or achieving your dream of earning a degree. How do you motivate yourself to continue with a program that may take years to complete? Experts all agree that time management is critical.

“Break things up into smaller, digestible pieces,” said Karyn Collins, who advises online liberal arts undergraduates. “If you have a big project or paper due, focus on one piece at a time. The next thing you know, you’ll have completed a big chunk, and that can help you get the momentum to keep going.”

2. Set and Organize Your Goals

Defining your priorities, perhaps in the form of a master calendar that documents all of your assignments and the due dates of each, can also help you create an achievable roadmap. In that calendar, you can also block off time that you plan to read, post or study, she said.

At times when you find yourself looking at your list of “to-dos” and are thinking, “I have no motivation,” it can be helpful then to reflect on the big picture.

“Remember that working on a project is a step toward completing a class and a step toward completing your degree,” Collins said. “Think about the value of what you are trying to accomplish now.”

3. Develop and Lean on Your Support System

Getting friends and family on your side is key to your success if you are an online student, particularly when chores and other responsibilities compete for your time.

If you feel alone in your challenge, it can feel isolating, said Deb Polatcheck, an academic advisor to graduate students. Having an accountability buddy can help you stay the course, whether that person is your partner, a fellow classmate, a friend pursuing a degree at another school or your advisor.

“The biggest thing is for provisionally accepted students to be successful – and probably all students -is to make sure they feel connected,” she said.

Wiggett said students should seek accountability buddies who will hold them responsible for meeting their deadlines and help them find motivation when they need it most.

“Set your expectations with your buddy, and let them know they need to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear,” Wiggett said.

Your academic advisor can serve as an accountability buddy if you don’t have anyone in your circle who fits the description, Collins said.

“I emphasize to my students who feel like they have lost motivation the steps they can take right now. I tell them that when in doubt, reach out for support,” she said.

4. Celebrate All Wins – Big and Small

After you finish a final paper or a particularly challenging project, it’s okay to blow off steam and treat yourself to a quick reward. It could be as simple as a walk, a phone call or a tasty treat. In the long term, it’s helpful to document your small wins for those times you are wondering how to motivate yourself, Collins said.

Some students tend to be perfectionists and forget to congratulate themselves for what Wiggett calls “mini-wins.” Because they can be easy to forget, she suggests creating a “Success or Wins” folder that could exist on your computer or in a hard copy file.

“This could include feedback from a professor, an overall grade on something you worked hard on and ended up doing well in, or being on the President’s or Dean’s List,” Wiggett said. “When you look at these wins, you’ll remember that you are on a path for a reason and it will serve as a reminder of all of the great things you’ve done to help keep that motivation going.”

Polatcheck tells students to keep those “A” papers handy to look at when they experience self-doubt.

“It will remind you that you are smart and you can do this,” she said.

5. Embrace the Journey

Your greatest achievements may well include setbacks along the way. These setbacks don’t indicate failure but instead serve as challenges you learn to overcome.

“Recognize that the ups and downs along the road that make an achievement meaningful,” Wiggett tells her students. “No path is perfect; you never get from point A to Z without some setback coming up. It’s important to develop resiliency and grit to keep going.”

Polatcheck agrees that students need to keep their expectations realistic and to take feedback constructively to grow and learn.

“Make sure you are surrounded by people who are positive and supportive and can remind you that you are awesome for doing this,” she said.

Whether you are just beginning your journey, or find yourself a few classes away from earning your degree, these motivational strategies can inspire you to stay positive and keep moving toward your goal.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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