Dear Miss Informed,
It’s that period in the semester where classes that are already kind of challenging can get pretty brutal. What advice would you have for students who are in classes like that and are trying to power through the work?
Dear Sunny Student,
Yep, it’s everyone’s favorite time. Just after midterms and close enough to finals that they loom in the background, but not close enough that you can give them your full focus.
We’re not quite ready for that final sprint, because that’ll be after Thanksgiving break. It is time to step back and see how things are going, which is hard to do when you’re in the thick of it.
One thing I like to do to give me a sense of direction in the semester is get a calendar and cross off the days. I have a bullet journal as my planner, and I draw out a little calendar in there with major deadlines on it. Crossing off days at a time gives a tangible feeling that something got done and that time isn’t stagnating.
I also keep a semester countdown in there. I don’t manage to update it every day, which is actually fun because a whole bunch of days will have passed and the number of days left goes down by more. I find little things like that give me a quick energy boost when I can see how close I am.
In terms of assignments, write it all down and check it off as it gets done. Make a list of everything that needs doing, and don’t try to do it all at once. Maybe pick a subject a day, and try to knock it out. Getting even one thing done will make you feel better.
Now is also the time to set yourself up for success when it comes time for that final energy push. Use all your resources — teacher office hours, study groups, the help center and whatever else you need to get the material solid for when you need to be tested on it. Your December self will thank you.
Also — and this is very important — you need to give yourself permission to let a thing or two slide. If you’re in a bunch of challenging classes, maybe it’s time to take a look at the workload and start prioritizing. The fact of the matter is that at this point in the semester, it’s unreasonable to finish everything your teachers ask you to do on top of work, other classes and just life in general.
Check your grades. If they’re lower than you like, look for extra credit opportunities before all your motivation runs out, and it will. If they’re where you want them to be, figure out what work you need to do to keep that steady and stop caring about other stuff. If they’re already awesome and it’s a choice between sleep and a minor assignment that won’t lose too many points, prioritize sleep. You can afford it.
I’m the worst about that. I hate missing assignments, but it’s such a relief to remember that if I can’t feasibly get everything done, my grades will still be fine.
That’s the crux of this: You will be fine. Don’t lose sight of the finish line. We only have a few weeks left, and you’ve made it through other semesters before. General self-care, like exercise and sleep, will also give you the energy you need to power through. Yes, caffeine is good, but wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t need as much of it to get through the day?
Whatever else happens, just keep swimming. The end is in sight — pick up the pace but give yourself grace.
I have trouble being involved in the classroom, whether it’s speaking up to ask questions or participating in small group discussions. How can I be more confident in my academic career?
Dear Shy Scholar,
Speaking up in class can feel like such a minefield sometimes. Everyone has different interpretations of what’s going on, everyone cares about the content on a different level and a lot of the time, people don’t know each other very well and don’t know how other opinions will be received. We all feel this tension from time to time, even — and perhaps especially — the people who seem to contribute the most.
As a fairly shy person who tends to overthink a lot of social interactions, the first thing I would ask you is “how high are the stakes?” I’ll tell you: most of the time, they’re pretty low.
You’re in a classroom, and I promise you that as much as it feels like saying something wrong or speaking up too much is going to ruin your grade or your social standing, that’s not true. Easier said than done, but we all need the reminder from time to time that this won’t matter forever.
If you have a question for the teacher, they should be able to answer. If they seem judgmental about your question, that’s on them — they need to give you time as a student to explore the material, or maybe they should have explained it better.
If raising your hand in class makes you anxious, you have a couple of options. The first is to wait and see if someone else asks your question, and if not, try and figure it out on your own. Maybe it’s something you can see in the syllabus or your textbook.
If that won’t answer your question, maybe you can ask the teacher for clarification after class or during office hours. Those can be tricky too, but after class means you can have a quick interaction without too much weight on it. This will likely help you to trust the teacher’s support, which will make it easier for you to raise your hand in class.
For in-class discussions, the stakes are still pretty low, but they’ve changed a little bit. The first question here is what exactly you’re being graded on. Is the teacher giving points based on how much you participate? Figure out how much you need to talk in order to get the grade you want.
That might feel like a lazy answer, but it’s legitimate. Start by using a grade as a motivator to speak. Once you’ve done that a couple times, it will likely be easier to contribute to discussions.
Now, let’s say you’re feeling confident and passionate about what you have to say. How do you get a word in edgewise around all the loud people who keep taking over the discussion?
For one thing, if it’s a discussion full of people who aren’t willing to let anyone else talk, it might not be a discussion worth having. Get your points and get out of there.
Pauses and breaks are huge, so jump in and trust your instincts. Sometimes you have to overlap with people to get a word in edgewise, and if they’re decent people, they’ll notice you’re trying to speak and give you a window.
I say this so often, but it’s still so true — you are paying a ton of money for your education, and you have every single right in the world to get yours. Take the time. Speak your opinion.
In the words of John Mulaney, “College is just your opinion. Just you raising your hand and being like, ‘I think Emily Dickinson’s a lesbian.’ And they’re like, ‘partial credit.’”
Build your courage by working hard and trusting the work you’ve put into the class. You’re already on the right track by caring — plenty of people don’t even do that. Your voice matters, and when you truly believe that, so will everyone who will listen long enough to care.
Graphic by Lexi Petri.