Eye on the Prize: Tips for Staying Motivated in College

Let’s face it: staying motivated can be a challenge. Whether we’re trying to lose weight, quit smoking, learn a new language, or just finish that book we’ve been meaning to read, there are times when we feel like we don’t have the drive to follow through and achieve our goals. Whether it’s too much stress, too little sleep, or simply not enough hours in the day, life has a way of placing obstacles on each of our personal roads to success. 

Feelings of demotivation can be especially tough on college students who have to balance school, work, relationships, and a social life — sometimes while raising a family on top of it all! It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, but it doesn’t have to derail your progress. Instead, there are tips and tools you can use to get back on track and restore your focus. 

If you feel like you’ve hit a wall with your studies, try some of these simple yet effective motivation strategies for college students. By cultivating some positive habits, you can regain momentum — and potentially reach your academic and professional goals sooner. 

7 College Motivation Tips for Students 

Need some help finding the motivation to stay in college? Here are seven useful tips and strategies to keep you focused and moving forward.  

Tip #1: Focus on the Big Picture

It’s always difficult to stay motivated when you don’t have a clear sense of purpose or direction. If you feel like your motivation is slipping, take a step back and remind yourself of why you’re pursuing your degree in the first place. 

For example, maybe you wanted to increase your earning potential so that you could travel the world or support your family. Maybe you wanted to learn skills that you could use to serve others and change the world for the better. Maybe you simply wanted to challenge yourself. 

No matter what your vision might be, it’s important to identify the end goal of your education, so that you can maintain the motivation to push through challenging periods. If you lose sight of the big picture, you run the risk of losing direction.  

Tip #2: Celebrate Small Victories  

Nothing feels more demoralizing — or demotivating — than not being recognized for your accomplishments. Inspire yourself to keep working hard by celebrating your achievements and milestones, such as completing a course, writing a paper, scoring well on an exam, or studying for a certain number of hours. With a positive mindset, it will be easier to feel confident about tackling the next academic challenge ahead of you. 

Worried about getting sidetracked while you’re celebrating your successes? Try using a timer, setting an alarm, or setting up reminders on your phone. 

Tip #3: Prioritize and Organize 

We live in a hectic, high-pressure world, constantly juggling the responsibilities that come with work, school, and our personal relationships. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, try using a time management app for college students, such as Any.do, Evernote, or Remember the Milk. These are just a few examples of the countless productivity apps designed to help adult learners stay focused and on-course. 

By helping you organize and prioritize tasks, time management apps can streamline a cluttered schedule, clearing away the distractions that contribute to stress. While it might take some trial-and-error to find your favorite, organizational apps make it easier to stay focused on important or time-sensitive tasks. 

Tip #4: Build a Routine 

Much like exercise routines help us to build muscle, study routines help us to build focus — and to retain information. Time and time again, researchers have found that cramming, while potentially useful in the short term, is actually “one of the least effective ways to learn a subject,” with better results typically achieved through sustained, repeated study sessions. That’s why it’s so important to create (and stick to) a consistent study routine. By taking this approach, you’re likely to make better progress in your program — and what could be more motivating than that? 

Need help designing a study routine that works for you? Check out these recommendations from the American Psychological Association (APA), which are based on decades of cognitive psychology research. While targeted toward graduate students, the APA’s recommendations can benefit students at every level. 

Tip #5: Remember to Recharge 

In a survey conducted in 2019, 48 percent of Americans polled described themselves as “workaholics.” In our plugged-in, hyper-competitive culture, many people take pride in that label — but science suggests that, paradoxically, overwork can actually make us less productive (and more fatigued). Monster.com and FastCompany have both drawn attention to this trend, and with good reason: in one study, participants said they felt “burned out” and “less satisfied with their jobs and lives outside of work,” while also being “in poorer physical and mental health.” 

The takeaway message? Working too hard — or studying too much — can drain your energy, tank your mood, undermine your progress, and ultimately, sap your motivation to keep going. If you want to stay driven and focused, make sure to get plenty of sleep, prioritize your health, and make time for your hobbies and relationships. (You might want to skip the ramen, too, since proper nutrition supports better brain health.) This might sound like an obvious suggestion, but it’s crucial not to overlook or underestimate the dramatic impacts that resting and staying healthy can have on your studies. 

Tip #6: Hold Yourself Accountable 

Nobody likes the feeling of letting others down — or, for that matter, letting ourselves down. That’s why accountability, despite being a deceptively simple concept, plays such a major role in keeping us motivated. When we know we’re accountable for our decisions and actions, most of us naturally want to follow through on our promises, and feel uncomfortable when we don’t. 

As research by Gallup recently pointed out, “People are intrinsically motivated to fulfill their commitments,” whether those are commitments we’ve made to ourselves or to others around us. Once we announce a goal, either aloud to our peers or privately in a journal, we feel more motivated to achieve that goal. Simply by taking responsibility for the outcomes of your actions, you’re applying gentle yet effective pressure to succeed. 

Tip #7: Set New Goals and Challenges

For most of us, our goals and priorities fluctuate with time. It’s a good idea to periodically check in with yourself, reevaluating questions like what you hope to accomplish, where you need to improve, and what you’ve successfully finished. By continuously reassessing your objectives, your strengths, your routines, and your interests, you can avoid falling into a demotivational rut of boredom and repetition. If you can give yourself honest answers about what is and isn’t working for you, you can take the necessary steps to make your course of study more fulfilling. 

Looking for some external feedback, or simply a trusted guide you can bounce ideas off of? Try discussing your goals and progress with a professor or an enrollment counselor who can help point you toward useful student services and blogs.

Accelerate Your Career with a Degree, Certificate, or Credential from National University 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “If you are motivated, you learn better and remember more of what you learned.” Maintaining motivation can be challenging, especially when other parts of our lives are causing us stress. Nonetheless, it’s a vital skill for serious students to master. 

You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Don’t let demotivation knock you off course when you’re so close to the finish line. By practicing some of these tips on how to stay motivated in college, you can take your studies — and your career — further than you ever dreamed possible. And with our fast-paced, four-week course format, the future is closer than you think. 

What can you accomplish in 30 days? Find out at National University. 

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