Ask Elliot: Struggling Student

Elliot Hilden, contributor

Photo of Elliot Hilden


Hi! I’m Elliot (he/they) and I’m a first year majoring in theater and film. I spend my free time hanging out with my cat and making art. I hope my advice is encouraging, optimistic and realistic!

Dear Elliot, 

I can’t focus in class and I’m feeling overwhelmed by my course load and classes. How do I survive college?


Struggling Student

Dear Struggling Student, 

Keeping on top of school can be a major challenge for many students, but luckily there are tons of ways to overcome this. Here are a few strategies that can hopefully help you get things under control and succeed in school!

Prioritize your to-do list. It can be overwhelming to see a long list of things to do with no clear place to start. An easy way to get a handle on things is to sort your list by what needs to be done in what order. If you find it hard to know which item should be first priority, compare when the task is due and how important it is. If a task is due tonight and is required, it should be a higher priority than an optional task due tomorrow. 

Break it down. Large projects can get very overwhelming at times. Breaking the project down into smaller, more manageable steps can make it easier to overcome the whole task. Even small tasks can be broken down and made easier. If you have to read 50 pages for class, break it down into 10-page chunks. 

Figure out what environment works best for you. This takes some trial and error, but it is good to try out different setups and see how you study and learn best. Some people need total silence and get distracted by any small noise, but others work better when they have people around them or a TV show playing in the background. I think it would be worthwhile to try a few different study locations and see what helps you focus the best. 

Take breaks. It seems counterintuitive, but breaks are a crucial part of productivity. Working for hours without any breaks can lead to burnout and the inability to get anything done. When you sit down to study, set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. After the timer is up, take a five minute break. There are also plenty of apps that can help with this, even having rewards to help keep your productivity up. 

Talk to your professors. It’s never a bad idea to set up a meeting with your professor and make a plan together. Let them know that you are struggling and see if there are accommodations that can be made to help you succeed. Professors want to see you do well in their classes, so I am sure that they will do what they can to help. 

Schoolwork can be overwhelming, but I hope that these tips will help you begin to manage your workload better and find your rhythm. It may sound scary at first, but you got this!

Here’s to a completed to-do list,