Getting into college, and finding the money needed to pay for it, is more competitive than ever and the balancing act that students experience each and every day can add up to stress and burnout.

Add on the demands of school, job, and extracurriculars and it’s easy to see how students can collapse under the weight of end-of-year pressures. Even highly motivated students can disengage and resist preparing for final exams, tackling big projects or engaging in the college process.

How to avoid a “crash and burn?” Here are a few ideas for staying healthy, happy and finishing strong.  

Get enough sleep.

Are you one of the 87% of American high school students who get less than 8 hours of sleep each night? With so much to do every day, it can be hard to avoid late hours. But the reality is that lack of sleep has lots of negative (and dangerous) effects, including increased stress. While well-meaning adults often challenge you to “push through a problem,” we don’t mean by giving up on rest. Go to sleep! Tomorrow will come and you’ll be better prepared to deal with it if you’ve had adequate down time. Oh, and by the way, shut off your phone and computer as you prepare to sleep. The screen light is telling your brain “it’s not time.” Instead of scrolling through Instagram or watching Netflix, try listening to some relaxing music, reading a book, or taking a hot bath or shower.

Eat well to feel better.

Nutrition and brain function go to together like peanut butter and jelly. No question, loaded cheese fries and a sugary soda taste great, but that’s not the fuel the brain needs for peak work. What we eat affects focus, mood, memory and just plain clear thinking. Up your resilience by taking time to eat breakfast, add more fruits, veggies and low-fat protein to your diet. Keep your thirsty brain hydrated with lots of water.  

Clear away distractions

A stressed mind gets worse with disorganization. To avoid “spinning in place” take a time out to clean and organize your study space, backpack, and locker. No more wasted hours looking for supplies, your calendar or that study guide. When you sit down to study, make sure your desk or study area is free from clutter and other potential distractions. This includes closing out open browser tabs and silencing the notifications on your phone. Unless you need it for the task at hand, the best thing is to disconnect completely.


The science behind exercise tells the story: exercise produces mood-boosting endorphins, and moves more oxygen to the brain, which are optimal conditions for learning and for memorizing. Even going for a short walk can set up the right conditions for an effective study session. And, think of it as your first steps in the study process. Remember, “objects in motion tend to remain in motion.”

Focus on small, immediate goals

Yes, the big picture is a great motivational tool, but when there’s too much to do, the best play to keep from feeling totally overwhelmed is to break everything down. If your goal is to get at least a B+ on your next science test, writing study for test on your to-do list won’t get you there. Tear it apart and list the pieces i.e. recopy class notes, review key terms and formulas with flash cards, or practice by writing answers to chapter questions. Work your way through the steps, take breaks in between, and before you know it, you’ve had a great study session. (This is all easier if you start earlier than the night before.)

Get creative with your study

With the end of year coming closer, it might not seem like the right time to mix it up during study time but doing things differently can increase motivation and results. If you normally study alone, try working with a friend and quizzing each other on key vocab or concepts. Leverage all of your learning modalities. Is there a Khan Academy tutorial or video on the subject you’re tackling? And a sure-fire way to make the most of your study time? Ask your teacher(s) for some ideas about how to prepare for their tests or projects.  

Protect your spark

Populate your space with quotes or images that speak to you, or put you in a calm and positive mindset. Seek out time with friends who respect your boundaries and support your ambitions. And remember, this is your race. Don’t judge yourself against friends or acquaintances. Make choices based on your own ambitions and goals.

Learn from your mistakes

Nobody likes to fail. It can be disheartening to fail a test or receive a paper covered in red marks and comments – especially if you put in the time. As hard as it is, the best students learn from their mistakes. Read the comments carefully and consider where you can improve. Take that terrible test in to the teacher and discuss how your preparation for the next one can improve.

Don’t stop having fun

Time with friends and family and doing the things we enjoy make life worth living. If all you do is study, work and go to school, you’ll soon feel that none of it is “worth it.”  With proactive time management you can get homework done, college applications out, and still have time for a movie or other activities you enjoy.

Make peace with procrastination

Like any habit, you can change this one. Do you simply choose what you want to do rather than should do? Are you avoiding something negative or difficult? Maybe you get paralyzed by overwhelming expectations? Check out the Ted Talk on the left for some ideas.

Good luck. You’re almost there!