12 Tips for Staying Motivated in College

Motivation is the driving force behind every action we take. At Excelsior University, we know staying motivated while learning and preparing for your future career can be beneficial. It’s easier said than done, but here are 12 tips that may help you stay motivated.

Why Motivation Is Important in College

Motivation can decide your success in school. It gives you the fuel you need to keep going and stay engaged. With strong motivation, you can continue to work hard in your self-paced or guided college courses.

Without motivation, you might find yourself falling behind, struggling to stay afloat in classes, or giving up before a course is finished.

Types of Motivation: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic

To maximize your motivation, it’s helpful to first understand how motivation works. There are two primary forms of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is characterized by an internal desire to perform a task. You feel some type of personal satisfaction when you finish tasks like these. You’re driven by genuine interest and a thirst for knowledge.

For instance, a student might dive into physics because they find the concept of quantum mechanics fascinating. Intrinsic motivation cultivates a deep connection with learning, often leading to better comprehension and retention.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is influenced by external factors such as grades, accolades, or future job prospects. A student might invest extra hours studying to secure a high GPA or a competitive internship.

While some people might say that extrinsic motivation can take the joy out of a genuine interest, it can be just as valuable. Extrinsic motivation provides tangible goals and milestones, often essential for passing your classes and retaining information.

Benefits of Motivation for College Students

Motivation in college extends beyond academic success. It fosters deep learning, aids in skills acquisition, and enhances overall productivity.

Students with a high level of motivation tend to engage more actively with their studies, persevere in the face of challenges, and are more likely to reach their academic goals.

This is crucial for adult learners who may be simultaneously juggling studies, careers, families, and other personal commitments.

How to Stay Motivated in College

So, how can you stay motivated in college? Below are 12 strategies that can assist you in maintaining and enhancing motivation throughout your academic journey:

1.      Articulate a Clear Vision and Purpose

Before beginning any task, it’s essential to understand your purpose or goal. Why are you taking this course or choosing this career path?

Your “why” serves as the fundamental basis of your motivation.

Let’s say you are pursuing a degree in social work because you are passionate about making a difference in others’ lives. During challenging times, it’s this vision and purpose that will keep you motivated.

Clearly defining and regularly reminding yourself of your vision can act as an anchor point, guiding you through moments of self-doubt or difficulty.

2.     Set SMART Goals

SMART goals provide a clear, structured pathway to progress. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

How do you set SMART goals? Consider this example: Instead of a vague goal like “I want to do well in my courses,” aim for “I will dedicate an extra two hours each week to each course to improve my understanding and boost my grades, finishing the course with at least a B+.”

The specificity of SMART goals makes them more manageable and provides a clear metric for progress, which can be incredibly motivating as you work toward your goals.

3.     Break Down Tasks Into Smaller Steps

Large, complex tasks can feel daunting and demotivating. How are you supposed to climb that massive mountain in front of you? Our experts suggest starting by breaking tasks into one at a time. Instead of looking at the mountain, focus on each foothold and resting area.

If you have a term paper, for example, don’t attempt to tackle it all at once. Break it down into steps: choose a topic, conduct research, create an outline, write a draft, revise, and then finalize. Each completed step provides a sense of achievement, refueling your motivation and making the process less intimidating and more engaging.

4.     Create a Study Schedule

Our brains love schedules, and this principle can be applied when it comes to studying or reviewing your coursework. A regular study schedule can help reinforce discipline, a vital component of motivation.

Consistency aids in developing study habits and reduces the cognitive load of deciding when to study. Allocate specific time blocks for each subject or task in your week, and try to stick to them as closely as possible. This strategy isn’t just about strict adherence; it’s also about creating a rhythm that suits your lifestyle and enhances your learning efficiency.

5.     Use Effective Study Techniques

Effective study techniques can enhance the learning process, making it more engaging and rewarding. Methods such as spaced repetition, active recall, and flashcards can make your studying more productive. Doing this can ultimately save time and reduce stress while boosting your motivation.

Seeing improvements in comprehension and retention from these study techniques can also boost your motivation and make your study sessions something to look forward to.

6.     Stay Organized and Have a Tidy Workspace

A clean and organized workspace helps reduce distractions and improves focus. Additionally, keeping your notes, assignments, and course materials organized can save time spent searching for resources, reducing how stressful it can be to complete your coursework.

The act of maintaining a tidy workspace can also create a sense of control and order, reducing stress and enhancing motivation.

7.     Develop a Support System

Building a network of support is essential for maintaining motivation. A robust support system might include peers, an advisor, family members, and even online communities. These individuals can provide encouragement, share their experiences, offer advice, or simply lend a sympathetic ear when times get tough.

Remember, a shared burden is a lightened burden. Knowing that you’re not alone in your scholastic journey can boost your morale and motivation.

8.     Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Recognizing and celebrating achievements throughout the semester, big or small, can significantly boost your motivation. Did you complete a challenging project, or did you pass that tough course with a good grade? Take a moment to celebrate these victories.

Treat yourself to a favorite meal, spend time on a cherished hobby, or simply take a moment to bask in the sense of accomplishment. These celebrations reinforce the connection between effort and reward, which can greatly boost motivation for future tasks.

9.     Practice Self Care and Manage Stress

Remember to take care of your physical and mental health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and plenty of rest are essential for maintaining energy levels and managing stress.

It’s also beneficial to incorporate mindfulness practices, such as meditation or journaling, to keep stress levels in check.

Dealing with stress and motivation at the same time can be overwhelming, so it’s best to balance this work by addressing your stress first.

10.  Avoid Procrastination

Procrastination can be a major hurdle in maintaining motivation when contemplating the big picture. Techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks work into intervals separated by short breaks, can help combat this tendency.

Another strategy is to start with the most challenging task of the day. This approach is known as “eating the frog,” an analogy attributed to Mark Twain which explained that if you have to eat a frog one day, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning so you’re not dreading it all day.

11.    Recognize Burnout

Burnout can significantly impact motivation, potentially bringing your progress to a screeching halt. Some signs of burnout are chronic fatigue, cynicism, and decreased performance. Burnout happens when you take on too much work and stress without any relaxation time.

Prioritize rest and relaxation if you find yourself experiencing burnout. Taking one or multiple days off to recharge, indulging in a favorite activity, or spending time in nature can all be effective ways to rejuvenate your mind and spirit. Remember, education is a marathon, not a sprint; pacing yourself is key.

12.   Learn How to Deal with Setbacks

Setbacks are a normal part of any learning journey. The key to maintaining motivation in the face of setbacks is to view them as learning opportunities rather than failures.

For instance, a lower-than-expected grade on an exam might be disappointing, but it also highlights areas for improvement. With a growth mindset, each setback can strengthen your resolve and enhance your learning, bolstering motivation for future challenges.

Motivation is an essential factor in your educational journey. At Excelsior University, we are committed to supporting your educational endeavors by providing resources tailored to your unique needs as an adult learner.

By following these strategies, you can foster a robust sense of motivation that propels you toward your academic goals. Remember, each step forward, no matter how small, brings you closer to your vision. After all, your education is not just about earning a degree, it’s about transforming your life and shaping your future.