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The stress. The anxiety. The worry. All of us have those moments where we’re completely overwhelmed by the amount of work college demands. While we try our best to finish everything as quickly (and as accurately) as possible, we sometimes digress into a state of despair and self-doubt when our hard work isn’t giving us the results we want. At some point, we begin feeling so helpless and depressed that we retreat into our shell, away from our peers and the people who care about us the most. We’re frustrated, confused, lonely, and don’t really know what to do. Eventually, with everything piling on top of us one after the other, we snap.

College can be a tough time for a lot of  students. Whether you’re trying to fit in or trying to survive classes, I think we can all agree that college life isn’t perfect. However, there comes a time when things just don’t feel good and you’re not feeling the same way towards things as you used to. Sure, everything seems fine but you’re just not happy with where you’re at right now. You’re exhausted and unmotivated; you just want the semester to end now. Feeling stressed out is one thing, but feeling burnout is a whole other issue.

Pressure and Expectations

Entering college, I think a lot of us unintentionally place a large amount of pressure on ourselves. We worked unbelievably hard in high school to get where we are today, and so as soon as we enter college we expect ourselves to start off strong. At first, things seem like they’re going fine (and they are), but once we get deeper into the semester we’re not feeling as confident as we did going into the semester.

I think one of the worst things to feel in college is disappointment. Imagine this: You’re in a class working hard. You stay up late to work on assignments and study for exams. As you’re going through the semester, you notice your grades aren’t as good as you want them. You then work and study as hard as you can. Nothing improves. Getting this feeling is absolutely frustrating and disappointing and can certainly upset many people, including myself.

Look, I may not know much about each and every student’s college experience, but from what I know, hard work does eventually pay off. You’re probably going to feel immense pressure to do well in all of your classes, especially if you excelled in all of your classes in high school. But this isn’t high school. There are people around you who have worked just as hard to get where they are today and deserve to be there. It sucks when people are showing off their 4.0 GPA’s or bragging about how well they did on that last test. However, the truth is, none of that matters because you are who YOU are. Do the best that YOU can and that’s what counts.

Isolation

Finding the right group of people is hard, especially for introverts like myself. You think, “Oh there’s thousands of other freshman who don’t know many people, I’m bound to be friends with one of them.” This is a good thought, but maybe not realistic.

I know many other people disagree, but I think that finding friends in college can be extremely difficult. There are probably going to be a lot of people you meet within the first few weeks of classes as everyone begins the new semester. However, once those first few weeks are over it seems as if everyone has their own little group and sometimes you get left out of those groups of people.

Now before you accuse me of lacking faith in the friendliness of other people, I’m not saying that people intentionally form their own group of friends to single people out. Rather, I think it’s difficult for some people to maintain contact with others because of their lack of connection. Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s hard to keep up with people when their schedules are so different. You meet so many people within the first few weeks of class, but let’s face it: how many of them are you going to remember or talk with by the end of the semester?

Nevertheless, finding people you feel the most comfortable with is important in college. Whether you like hanging around people or not, try pushing yourself to go out and meet new people. The best way to make friends is through your classes, because you’ll be seeing them on a weekly (if not daily) basis. If you’re still having trouble making friends, definitely utilize some of the student services your school offers. While they can’t help you make friends, they can definitely help guide you to resources and organizations that cultivate lifelong friendships.

Fitting In

Are you that awkward duck in the middle of the pond? Yup, that’s me alright. I think one of the most difficult parts about being in college is feeling at ease. With homework assignments and exams galore, there isn’t always a lot of time to think about where you’re at in terms of fitting in. However, it can sometimes take a toll on people as it did for me. I felt like I was sort of fitting in with the general population of students, but somehow I felt a personal disconnect from everyone. I talked with people from time to time, but it just didn’t feel the same as high school.

If you’re a college student still transitioning from high school to college, there are plenty of other people who are still having trouble fitting in. I have to admit, even though my school has a smaller student body than some other schools, I sometimes feel like I’m just there. I go to school, do homework, and take tests. That’s it. I know this is probably hard to hear, but things take time. You’re still transitioning, and this feeling is absolutely normal. As you go through the semester, you’ll likely find your way through things and be able to finally enjoy your college experience.

The College Burnout

College can be a rewarding experience for many people interested in learning and growing in a different environment. Compared to high school, the possibilities seem endless. However, college life can be difficult for some people as well, particularly those who are still transitioning from high school to college. While college can bring exciting new opportunities to students, it can also provide additional stress and anxiety with the amount of work and energy demanded.

If you’re feeling college burnout at any time, take some time to relax. Yes, I realize that you have things to work on and study for, but let’s be honest: are you really going to be productive when you’re feeling that bad? Don’t push yourself over the edge; it’s just not worth it.

On another note, try not to give yourself a hard time when it comes to grades. Although academics is central to the college experience, don’t allow yourself to become involved only in academics. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to suck. But yet, we’re all human. No one’s perfect. You can continue to beat yourself down over your grades, but what good is that going to do? There’s so much more to life than just grades. Your happiness comes first. You might argue that good grades equal greater job opportunities and more money. Look at the expectations you’ve created. They’re nothing unreasonable or anything, but realize what you’re doing to yourself. You’re tired. You’re unhappy. You feel like giving up. Is this the way to live?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to your academic performance in college, but make sure that you give yourself some credit once in a while. You’re in college. You have an opportunity that others can only dream of. Be proud of yourself for all you’ve achieved. You’ve made it this far. Give yourself a pat on the back and feel proud of everything you’ve done thus far. You deserve it.

College burnout isn’t enjoyable and can almost always affect your college life. That being said, there are other things that can also hinder you from succeeding and being happy in college. To be honest, I’m really struggling in college right now, not just academically. There are days that I feel like I’m at the top of the world and then there are others when I’m in the gutter of despair. You’ve probably heard of this a million times, but college is what you make of it. Be happy, be sad, be angry – that’s your choice. However, know that you deserve to be there, and don’t ever doubt that. Sure, you might have doubts about why you’re there but think about this: you’re there already. Shouldn’t you make the most of what you have now?



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the author

Raised in the outskirts of Austin, Texas, Eric Po is a freshman at Harvard University studying Economics. He loves listening to country music (particularly Rascal Flatts and Brad Paisley), but you can’t blame him; he’s a Texan after all! He also enjoys outdoor activities, including soccer, running, and Ultimate. While he’s not sweating outside in the heat, Eric enjoys volunteering for nonprofit organizations that work with youth. Although he hopes to be a financial analyst in the future, he eventually wants to work with students as a counselor.

13 Readers Commented

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  1. rizki on June 22, 2014

    Hi im a college student and i have no motivation whatsoever to continue my study despite my hard work that truly paid off in the previous semester (i had a 4.0 GPA). This semester feels ridiculously uninspired. What a bore. Help.

    • Eric Po Author on August 4, 2014

      Hello Rizki,

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re not feeling as well as the previous semester. Have you considered talking with an academic advisor about this? Sometimes we all face obstacles that aren’t easy, and to tell you the truth, motivation really runs out quickly. Now I’m not sure what kind of situation you are in, but try to spice things up. Are some of the classes you’re taking boring? Do you have too much free time? (Yes, that can actually be a problem!) If so, filling your time with activities you enjoy can actually really help give you some motivation. Yes, it is time-consuming, but when you’re doing things you like you’re probably going to feel more inclined to balancing your schedule between school and activities. Best of luck, and thanks for reading!

      –Eric Po

  2. Bagel on July 15, 2014

    Hi Eric, thanks for the great read. I just graduated college and am pretty disappointed with myself, despite the accomplishment. I had a good GPA when I graduated high school, went to an OK school but with a good program, had a 3.98 in my first few semesters of college, and totally burned-out. Yes, I worked hard and studied hard, but I def lost sight and motivated. The energy I had in high school to do well was dissolving. While I was in a good program, I had no clue or sight of what I wanted to do when I graduated and as a result, I blew my GPA, didn’t even graduate with distinction and am now more than ever frustrated with myself. But I am trying to re-evaluate my life and goals and am glad to know I’m not alone.

    • Eric Po Author on August 4, 2014

      Hello Bagel,

      I think once a lot of us get out of high school, we sort of lose that motivation and sight for the future. When we were in high school, we definitely had a more definite goal: college. However, once we enter college we don’t have such defined and concrete goals like we did before. Nevertheless, congratulations on graduating and I hope that you can channel that inner energy to reach your goals. Thanks for reading, and I wish you the best in the future!

      –Eric Po

  3. Mystique on November 12, 2014

    Hi Eric,
    Thanks for the great read. I love it!
    I can really relate to it, as I just started college after being out of school for 6 years, so going back was kind of challenging but yea. I appreciate everything you wrote since I can totally relate.
    I’m just over the half way point of my very first semester and I felt close to burning out, however I got sick over the weekend and had to take a day off from school. I feel like this rest has revived my depleted energies.
    However my experience is a little different as I was a caregiver to my partner for over a year and a half so going into College I was all ready burnt out. And I still am a partial care giver to my sick partner but my role isn’t as demanding as it once was.
    Anyway, I loved the article and thought it was great.
    It’s helped take a lot of stress I’ve put on myself and given me some breathing space too!!
    Keep up with your hard work up at Harvard, you’ll do great!!!
    -Mystique

  4. Guy on February 16, 2015

    I read this article after searching the Internet about some issues I am having in college. I don’t know if this thread is still active, but mostly I just need to write some of the thoughts out of my head and this seemed as good a place as any to do so.

    I went to my freshman year of high school and dropped out (I got really sick and wound up being screwed by the school system, so I transitioned to home schooling but honestly never did a single thing). After 4 years of working and no school, I decided I was tired of my manual labor job and wasn’t making enough money for where I would like to be in the future. Got my GED, took the ACT, and received scholarships to college. Woohoo…

    Fast forward 6 semesters of college (now a second semester junior), I currently am top of my class of about 3,500 with a cumulative GPA of 4.0. Whooptey doo. I’m tired, unmotivated, and just not “feeling it” (to be honest, I have never liked college and I think it is crap. But, I’m good at what I do so I tell myself why not?). I hate it. I have a great girlfriend, great friends, a supportive family, a job that I am decently happy in (since I’m in college, not as a career), and yet I am unhappy almost any time even the thought of school occurs. I’m that guy that doesn’t need to study hard, I can do it (not to say that I am a genius or anything, but I like to consider myself decently intelligent and feel that I have proved it). I know I should take advantage of my abilities, but I seriously cannot stand college. I am in class right now, on my cell phone typing this. Hopefully it can be read and comprehended and isn’t some jumble mess of jibberish.

    I am at the point to where I honestly couldn’t care less about college. I think of taking a semester or two off ALL the time, but if I do I will lose my scholarships, and then will not be able to complete my degree without taking on debt. I don’t really know what I’m looking for, I have no idea what I want to do, and I suppose as I said earlier, this is all just to get it out of my head. Or try to..

    Anyways, thanks for the good read and a place to put my thoughts.

    • Ame on May 12, 2016

      Hey, I just found this thread for the same reasons as you. I’m finishing my fifth year, and due to various school transfers and policy that frankly sucks, I’ll probably have at least another full year to go. I’ve wanted to quit for years, and I dread every day I have to set foot on campus or have another deadline hanging over my head. It seems like the only real motivation is that it’s too costly to quit. We may hate it, but we’re this far in so…keep plugging away I guess? Try to find time to still do the things you enjoy. College isn’t your whole life, although it seems to suck the life out of things. I’m not sure if this helped at all lol…at least know you are not alone.

    • Nelson mejia on July 24, 2016

      I can relate to this perfectly, I’ve been desperate enough to google n ask it how not to give up !? Ur in an Unimotivated,burnt out overwhelm mental state ..this is ur mind telling you to slow down ..but how ? U have 3 exams coming up this week, what do I do,i mind as well give up but NO. QUITTING is never an opinion picture urself after graduating..yeh it’s hard work that’s why ur doing bc no one else will.. and that in it of its self speaks volumes …so tell urself it’s possible it’s going to Be very challenging but remember one thing you will make it, just as long as u don’t feed into negative thoughts. It’s a hard journey but it’s bigger then just ur dreams ..keep working you will one day benefit over the universe’s reward to u

  5. Pingback: Scholastic Monday: Tips for college! (The things they didn’t tell you in high school) #8 | The writings of P. L. Black 2 Nov, 2015

    […] 3 Reasons You’re Experiencing College Burnout (& How to Deal): This article tells you about the common causes of college burnout and how you can work through it. […]

  6. thesethoughts on January 16, 2017

    This is exactly how I feel. I’m in my final masters years of study, and it is extremely lonely because my family and friends will never understand the kind of work I’m doing (it’s too specialized) and the professors… sometimes their presence and critique only makes me more anxious. The undergraduate years were easier because people around me were taking the same classes and doing the same assignments. I know critique is necessary for improvements and I’m certainly grateful for it, but I also need assurance that I’m not going crazy too. I go to school 2 days in a week, and on my free days, sometimes I just want to lie in bed and not think about anything at all. I should have been also doing work on those days, but I’m so tired when I look at the work I have to do and I can’t get myself to do anything.

    • Eric on March 13, 2017

      Hi Thesethoughts,
      When you mention being lonely, do you think it’s because your academic work interferes with your social life? Now that it’s been three years, I see what you mean by the difference between undergraduate and graduate student life (at least on the undergraduate side of things). I think once you’re out of your undergraduate years, you don’t get the same opportunities to build relationships with people, especially when some of those opportunities are based on having the same classes, living close to one another, etc. I definitely believe that there is a new challenge, which is building relationships outside an academic environment.
      From what you’ve said, I have a few things you could ask yourself: (1) why is ______ creating distance between my family and friends? (2) is there a way for me to simplify the kind of work I’m doing so that I can explain it to someone with no background? (3) how much do I depend on school to meet new people and develop relationships?
      Meeting new people outside an academic sphere can get difficult, especially if you’re not accustomed to it. One good way to get yourself out there though is to find a hobby or activity that you could potentially be interested in. I love learning new languages, so I’ve been recently meeting new people who are interested in language exchanges. Not everything works, but it’s definitely a start to figuring out what makes you happy and what you’re willing to work towards.
      Thanks for reading, and I hope things get better for you!
      –Eric Po

  7. Holden Rodriguez on March 8, 2017

    Dude, Eric Po…I love you man. Thank you so much for the insight.

    • Eric on March 13, 2017

      Hi Holden,
      Hope this was helpful, thanks for reading!
      –Eric Po

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