The Vicious Cycle of the Contemporary College Student

The Vicious Cycle of the Contemporary College Student

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Are you worried that 2017 may be yet another year of broken academic promises? You may be stuck in a cycle familiar to many uni students. Some say that trying to escape such a cycle is futile, but fear not—there are survivors who have broken free. Learn to recognize the signs of this cycle, and make 2017 the year you finally do that thing you said you would. It’s a new year, why not try something new?

Stage One: The First Couple Weeks

As that fresh taste of “you can do better this time” lingers in the damp, new-semester air, you may find yourself in the first stage of the college student life cycle. Also known as the preppy stage, this is that time of year when everyone—including you—is hell-bent on being one giant keener. This is when you’ll notice that Staples has upped its marketing budget with back-to-school commercials, that students are showing up to class 20 minutes early instead of rolling in late, and everyone is flaunting their glossy spiral-bounds and being diligent with their agendas, which—as we all know—will be tossed aside at the bottom of desks two weeks later. 

Stage Two: Smooth Sailing

Now this is where you start to get a little cocky. I get it. You’re at the front of the class because you’ve been studying every day in the library. But then you start to slack a little. Maybe skip the library here, start showing up a little late to English there… maybe you even skip an entire lecture because, hey, there was a pub night the night before, and what kind of sick person realistically expects you to show up to school on time the next day? You know you’re at this stage of the life cycle when you find yourself saying, “It’s okay. I’ll just do better on the next test.”

Stage Three: Midterm Season

That midterm came out of nowhere. Now you tell yourself you just need to ace the final. You study hard, but deep down, doubt has already planted itself and begun to take root. Can you really turn things around? In the past, the answer has been no. But maybe this semester will be different. You’ll work harder, sleep less, take on fewer shifts… until the pressure starts to build. You find yourself punching the wrong numbers into your calculator, misreading test questions… what could be next?

Stage Four: The Mental Breakdown


You live your life in constant fear of failure. Now it is no longer about getting the top mark, it is about passing with a relatively decent grade. You find yourself making an appointment with a counselor to consider your options, and complain to anyone who will listen. You hate yourself for not dropping the class, for not taking a lighter workload. You hate yourself for binge-watching Stranger Things when really you should have buckled down and just written that essay so you don’t have to be pulling this all-nighter. 

Stage Five: Finals Countdown

You have forgotten what the outside world looks like. You spend your days holed up in your room or barricaded within a mountain of books at school. You don’t sleep—can’t afford to. Cans of Redbull and empty coffee cups collect at your feet. And when you do try to sleep, you can’t. Your body has forgotten what sleep is.

And so the cycle repeats.


Unless you choose to stop it. Has this brief overview of the vicious cycle of a college student opened your eyes? This is how you get out...

If you recognize yourself in these stages, come up with a plan to avoid them this year. Do you find that you have trouble concentrating while reading your textbook? Make your study area as distraction-free as possible. Put your phone on silent and keep it out of sight. Study in a quiet place. If the Internet is a distraction, there are many free apps and browser extensions available that will block certain sites during your study time. Do you have trouble with procrastination? Here’s a trick—instead of thinking about finishing tasks, focus on starting them. This puts less pressure on you, and as long as you continue starting, finishing will take care of itself.

It’s January, the start of a new semester. At the end of the day, remember that success is about habit. Now pull up your socks and get ready to kill it this year. 


Lead image courtesy of Angelika Nowlan

Meme credits in order: 1 2 3 4 5

K.E. Nowlan is a second-year at Beedie who hopes to become a corporate lawyer. But sometimes, she hopes to become a dietician. Other times, a teacher. And still other times, she would like to move away to a remote village on a tropical island where people write campfire songs and not exams.

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Beyond the Article:

  • Check out the Student Learning Commons’ resources on learning and studying. It’s packed with information for students looking to develop or improve upon the key skills needed to succeed. From dealing with group projects to time-management to preparing for an exam, the SLC has you covered.
  • Although exam season may seem far away, check out Abbas’ article for lots of great general advice on studying. 
Posted on January 16, 2017