Causes of Back-to-College Stress
#1 Financial Strain
Let’s face it: college is expensive, and getting pricier by the day!
Financial strain is without a doubt the biggest cause of stress for college students and grad students. In fact, a May 2012 study by Inceptia found that four of the top five causes of college stress were related to finances. Students with good financial aid often wait on the edge of their seats for that expected financial aid refund. Many students struggle to find the right work-school balance, because working enough hours to pay the bills makes it hard to do well in school. Those who rely on student loans exchange a little relief now for more stress later, and they know it. There are school supplies and textbooks to be bought, along with parking passes, and all the regular “life” expenses don’t just go away. Many students rely too heavily on credit cards, too – I know I did – and trying to pay off that debt can feel crippling at times!
#2 Not Enough Time
Everything seems to take longer at the beginning of the semester, and there are so many little extra tasks to be done. That syllabus with its list of assigned readings can be overwhelming! Athletes and musicians squeeze schoolwork in around practice schedules, games and performances. Nontraditional students who work or parent full time – or both – struggle to get into a good rhythm with the additional load of the new semester. As much as I love school, sometimes I envied my coworkers who could just go home at the end of the work day and veg in front of the TV without feeling guilty later! Time management can be tricky and it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the workload of life + school. Time and overcommitment can be huge contributors to college stress – and sometimes we don't even have a choice in some of those commitments!
#3 Performance Anxiety (Need to Get Straight A’s)
On top of your financial woes and major time crunch – like, all the time – you’re being graded on everything you do. Your grades can affect scholarships (present and future), grad school admissions, and sometimes even job opportunities,
and this is a major source of college stress. At the beginning of the semester, you often don’t know your professors and what to expect. The dreaded 50/50 class (50% final, 50% paper) is the worst because you have NO idea how that professor will grade until the semester is over. You also want to do your best in your classes because you are paying for them, and they are preparing you for your future, whether future classes or career. It didn’t do me much good to pass second semester Arabic because I wasn’t prepared for the third semester. Heavy sigh. And for athletes and artists, it isn’t just your academic performance; your performance in these activities outside of the classroom could affect your scholarship situation too. It can be pretty intense.
How to Deal with Back-to-College Stress
The bad news: College stress isn’t going away. The good news: Stress doesn’t have to win. You can use any of the strategies below to reduce back-to-college stress and limit the effects of stress on your academic performance, physical health
, and relationships. These strategies can all be implemented before the start of the semester, so you can nip stress in the bud before it even starts.
#1 Start going to bed earlier a week before school starts.
Sleep is going to to be your best defense against stress. You will feel better and be better prepared to handle those stressful situations. Also, you will make better decisions, perform better both inside and outside the classroom, and put less strain on your relationships. All of these can reduce college stress. Before the semester or quarter starts, figure out when you want to get up in the morning based on your course schedule, evening commitments, and best time of day to work. Count back 7-8 hours
and set yourself a bedtime, and start going to bed at that time several days before school starts. Start getting up on time too. It will take some time to adjust your sleep cycle
, but if you get up on time, soon you will be sleepy enough to knock out at the right time too. It really helps me to have a nightly routine
to make sure I go to bed relaxed and start off the morning on the right foot.
#2 Get your class syllabi ahead of time if possible.
Some professors will post them online or email them out before the semester starts. Others will at least include the basics in the course description so that you can get ahead on planning out your semester
and buying books and supplies. You can also email your professor to ask for the syllabus if it isn’t available online.
#3 Buy your books ahead of time.
There is nothing like having to wait to do an assignment because your book hasn’t come in. If you are able to get the book list ahead of time, go ahead and buy those books. You will have one less thing to do the first week of school, and you can often save quite a bit by buying books online rather than at the campus store. If you have especially pricey books, try renting them from Amazon
or sharing with a classmate. Library reserves are also an option, especially if you live on campus or if the book will only be used for a few assignments, but they do limit the times you can study.
#4 Clean out your Backpack, Purse, and Car
A Psychology Today article discusses 8 reasons why mess causes stress
. The one that stood out the most to me was #1: “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren't necessary or important.” Clutter also makes it hard to find what we need, making routine tasks take longer than they should (at the most inconvenient times!). And when there is some important piece of paper that fell to the bottom of your backpack or got buried in the trunk of your car, you will either be stressing out looking for it or stressing out once you find it and discover the event you missed or the bill that is now late. Take some time before school starts to clean out your car and your backpack (and purse, ladies!). Once done, scheduling in a backpack sweep and car cleanup once per week or so will maintain that clean state. You may want to invest in a cheap bin or crate
for the trunk of your car for those items that need to stay there (but not rolling around), and some organization for your backpack or purse, to make it easy to find important things, especially if you don’t have a lot of pockets in your bag. A pencil pouch
is a must; get an extra one for your chargers and cords.
#5 Do your back-to-college shopping.
Some back-to-college shopping will have to wait until the first week of school, but most of it can be done before school starts. Start by “shopping your house” to make sure you don’t spend money on stuff you already have. To get you started, check out my Ultimate Back-to-College School Supplies List (with printable checklist)
. If you start early, you will have less to do the first week of school, you can take your time, and you can also save money because you’ll have time to find the best deal rather than spending more because you are in a hurry.
#6 Set up your desk.
Now that you have your supplies in order, take some time to organize and set up your desk. Even cafe scholars like me still get some work done at home, and having a good workflow can make it easier to get things done (and do them well). A great resource for this is Matt Perman’s How to Set Up Your Desk.
This $2.99 quick read will help you think about how your space affects productivity and walk you through setting up a workflow that works for you.
#7 Clean out your closet/dresser.
One task you have to do every day? Decide what to wear! Save yourself an incredible amount of time each morning by taking some time before the semester starts to go through all of your clothes. Try on everything, and get rid of clothes that don’t fit, don’t look good, is torn or faded, or that you just plain don’t like. It helps to have a battle buddy that can tell you “you should never, ever wear that again.” Clothes that are too big should go in the giveaway bag. If you are actively (I mean it) losing weight, and want to keep some clothes one or two sizes down, box them up and store them under your bed in one of these under bed boxes. That way, you can get to them easily when you are ready, but you won’t waste time digging through them every time you are looking for something to wear. Out of season clothes can be packed up as well. The only clothes in your closet or dresser should be the ones you actually need or want to wear, right now. Call VVA to schedule a free pickup of your giveaway items, or drop them off at the nearest Goodwill or Salvation Army. If you want to really simplify, try creating a personal uniform. I haven’t really done this (yet), but it seems that successful people wear the same thing every day
. Taking that morning decision out of the picture cuts down on decision fatigue.
#8 Make a meal plan and buy groceries.
Planning your meals ahead of time will help you save both time and money – and also cut down on the above mentioned decision fatigue. You can plan ahead for the week or even more the month. If you really want to cut down on your prep time, take a hint from Rebecca at the Life as a Dare blog and prep a few weeks of meals all at once
. The crockpot is one of my favorite ways to do this. Try these slow cooker “tv dinner” recipes.
Cook up a large batch all at once, and freeze the leftovers in single or family sized portions. You do all your prep and cleanup once, and you have the convenience of a frozen meal, but way healthier and cheaper.
#9 Knock out your errands.
It is so much harder to get all those random errands done after school starts, and school will bring enough of its own errands, too. Take some time the week before school starts to take care of all your errands. Be strategic; keep a list and batch them together based on location or other places you have to go. Whatever you do now is something you don’t have to do during school madness.
#10 Do a digital deep clean.
Digital clutter can be just as distracting as physical clutter! Case in point: I keep running into issues with my phone because the storage is too full…even too full to transfer the photos off so that it won’t be so full! I ended up having to delete a few apps to free up enough space to deal with the photo problem, and then add back the apps! A digital deep clean will give you a clean slate, memory on your devices (= speed), and a sense of closure with the old semester. I like to get to “Inbox Zero”
as often as I can, but I definitely want to start out the semester with all of those emails taken care of. Dani Dearest offers 5 steps for your digital deep clean.
I would also add a few more: remove any apps that you don’t use from your phone and tablet, clear up your computer’s desktop, uninstall programs on your computer that you never use, and defrag your PC or run Clean my Mac
That’s not all…
There are way more ideas I could have included on this list to reduce stress as the semester gets started. I would love to hear yours! Please comment below; we can use all the stress-prevention we can get!