Second Semester Blues

… [some] students make it through their first semester on the fumes of adrenaline and the good habits they built in high school …

“College is a blast!” I’ve heard quite a few variations on that theme over the years.  And it’s true: College is a truly exciting and transformational time for most people who are afforded the privilege. As a somewhat seasoned professor I can also tell you that the Freshman year of college can be quite stressful. The fact is that a number of students really struggle with the many pressures and end up either dropping out after their first semester or in the middle of the second semester they get a case of the “second semester blues.” Second semester blues is my term for a drop in academic performance during the second semester.

I used to think that if a student finished their first semester in good standing then they were set for a successful college career. (I used to think similarly about marriage!)  As it turns out a number of students make it through their first semester on the fumes of adrenaline and the good habits they built in high school with the help of parents.

Obviously, each student’s experience is different, but it seems go something like this:

… being “scared” is not a sustainable motivator.

The first-semester freshman is typically concerned about whether or not they have the “academic goods” to succeed. Also, fresh on their ears, is advice, encouragement, (and threats) from family. So, there is a sense in which a new college student can be “scared straight”. Those pressures are not inherently bad, of course. The problem is that being “scared” is not a sustainable motivator. Besides, one of the major themes of the college experience is freedom. Students are suddenly in charge of many decisions that heretofore had been made for them. They now decide:

  • when to go to bed
  • when to get up
  • when, where and what, and how much to eat
  • how to spend their free time
  • how fast to drive
  • … and a lot more!

One behavior that sometimes moves from the status of “mandatory” to “optional” is class attendance. Missing class in high school typically comes with immediate (negative) feedback. Missing class in college comes with … well … nothing … at least in the short term. As students begin to realize that they truly are free some of them exercise that freedom to their detriment. The ultimate cost of non-attendance is, of course, poor grades. Poor grades, can dampen enthusiasm for study, which will lead to increased emphasis on “other things”, which leads to poorer grades … and so the cycle continues resulting a dire case of second semester blues!

The Cure

So, what is the cure for the second semester blues? I think the cure depends on a variety of factors. Perhaps the root of the problem is the tendency we all have to do things that aren’t necessarily in our best interest. An ancient writer, Paul of Tarsus, expresses this idea eloquently:

 What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. (The Bible, Romans 7:15-16, “The Message” Translation)

Another aspect of the cure may involve fleshing out one’s world view.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addictions or lack of motivation there very well could be spiritual roots to the problem. You might find it helpful to read the struggle Paul of Tarsus describes and then his resolution.

Another aspect of the cure may involve fleshing out one’s worldview.For more on the importance of your worldview, visit my post on “Why Students Fail” Some students are so eager to enjoy their new found freedom, they fail to ask important questions such as:

  • “Why am I here?” (in college, in life)
  • “When college is over, what do I want to have accomplished?”
  • “When my life is over, what do I want to have accomplished?”
  • “What is the point of it all?”

Final Thoughts

If you happen to be a student (in any semester) who is struggling, let me encourage you to take some time to evaluate why you came to college in the first place. If your goal is to have a good time, let me assure there are much cheaper and easier ways to have a good time! On the other hand, if you are studying for a purpose, take time to reflect on that purpose. And if you need help to get out of a hole, don’t let pride keep you from getting the help you need.

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