Finals Week: Survive, Thrive, and Celebrate!

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It hardly seems possible, but in just over three weeks, the semester will be over. Chances are, you’re excited about break – and can’t wait until finals are behind you. After all, Exam Week means study sessions during which you cram for finals and churn out one capstone essay after another.

Being nervous about the semester’s end is normal. But staying up all night to review notes and finish assignments isn’t healthy or effective. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain doesn’t work as well, so you don’t absorb as much information as you would if you were rested. You also make careless errors. (All of us at Academic Support teach, and we recognize the work you finish at 4 am. Trust us.)

But if you’re not staying up all night to get through Finals Week, how will you finish your work? Fortunately, you can sail through the end of the semester without losing your sleep or sanity. Here are some tips to keep you focused during exams:

1.) Start Early; Break It Up. Many people begin shopping for the holidays long before December 1st. You should start studying for exams well in advance of Finals Week. Review your notes and previous tests, if applicable, for 10-20 minutes each day. This way, the information will be fresh and firm in your mind. Also, divide writing assignments into manageable chunks. You might create an outline one day, write a rough draft the next day, and revise your essay the day after that.

2.) Prioritize. Yes, being a college student means juggling a lot of commitments: classes, activities, part-time work, a social life, and family. And the end of the semester, combined with the holidays, can amplify these obligations. That’s why now, more than ever, you need to remind yourself of why you’re here. Promise yourself you’ll enjoy an outing with friends – after you finish your sociology take-home exam.

3.) Take Care. Telling yourself you’ll be able to relax after Finals can propel you through a tough week. However, don’t save all of your treats for the holidays. Schedule short breaks during Exam Week to exercise, connect with friends or family, or simply curl up with a book or movie. Making room for fun keeps you healthy and motivated; it’s also a valuable time management skill.

4.) Be Grateful. Let’s face it: if you’re in a position to fret about finals, you’re a pretty lucky person. Lots of people, in the US and overseas, cannot access higher education. When the assignments multiply and stress piles up, take a deep breath. Remind yourself of how privileged you are to be able to study something you love and pursue the life you want.

Finals Week doesn’t have to mean sleepless nights, too much caffeine, and harried students. As the year draws to a close, use this time to reflect on how much you’ve learned and celebrate how far you’ve come.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Teaching and Trailblazing: Meet TRIO Star Sarah Dunbar

When Sarah Dunbar first enrolled at Castleton University, the campus seemed a long way from Craftsbury Common, her hometown in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She missed her family and friends, and as she didn’t have a car, she was dependent on other people for rides off campus. And although she’d participated in Upward Bound, a college-readiness program, in high school, the first-generation student occasionally doubted her ability to succeed in college.

At Castleton, Sarah found a home away from home in the Academic Support Center (ASC). Through the Summer Transition Program, Sarah met Director of Academic Services Kelley Beckwith and other academic counselors. They helped her select classes, manage her time, and navigate financial aid options. She sought tutoring from the ASC’s Math and Writing Clinics. She even found part-time employment as a Learning Center Assistant, scheduling appointments and assisting staff with administrative projects. And even when she didn’t have a particular reason to visit the ASC, it proved an ideal place to study. “It’s the right environment to focus,” she remarks.

Outside of the ASC, Sarah found success in the classroom, earning all As her first semester at Castleton. Slowly, she started branching out, joining various clubs on campus.

ASC staff noticed a change in her. “When Sarah first came to Castleton, she was on the shy side and a bit underconfident,” says Kelley Beckwith. “That quickly changed as her success in the classroom emerged. She then began challenging herself in other ways.”

Today, it’s hard to remember Sarah ever doubted her ability to thrive in college. The senior multidisciplinary studies major has a 3.83 GPA. During her time at Castleton, she’s visited St. John and Iceland through travel-study courses. In addition to serving as the Vice President of Academics in the Student Government Association, she is involved with the Student Education Association and the Rotaract Club. She has also served as a Community Advisor, mentoring students in the residence halls.

Sarah freely admits that juggling her various pursuits can be challenging. “I made sure the things I wanted to do really counted,” she says. “Yes, they look good on a résumé, but they served a purpose personally and professionally.”

Despite her many commitments, Sarah has found time to give back to TRIO and the ASC. In addition to working as a Learning Center Assistant, she has served as a Writing Clinic tutor and a TRIO Program Assistant. In these roles, she has mentored and sometimes counseled other first-generation students. “I like knowing I’m helping a student who is in the same position I was when I first started,” she says.

But don’t count on Sarah to start dispensing advice. She takes a far more laidback approach to mentoring. “When I’m the mentee, I want to feel free to make mistakes,” she explains. “Our conversations should be a two-way street. I have as much to learn from my students as they do from me.”

After graduation, Sarah hopes to teach elementary school in Vermont. Eventually, she intends to earn a master’s degree in education. “I’m fortunate to have found something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” she says. “Castleton made me fall in love with teaching.”

Sarah hopes other students will embrace adventure in their college journeys. “Be a trailblazer,” she urges. “Trying new things will be scary at first, but you’ll never know if you like them until you give them a go. And you’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Saving Money this Summer: Yes, It’s Possible!

Beautiful woman with a laptop on the beach

For many college students, summer means making money. They work long hours during their vacation to earn money for the academic year. However, summer brings temptations of its own, including the urge to spend! Fortunately, with a little planning, you can enjoy the summer without losing all your savings.

1.) Fun = Free or Almost Free. You don’t need to plan extravagant outings to create memories with your friends and family. Many towns offer free outdoor concerts, festivals, and theater performances during the summer; check out your local newspaper for information about upcoming events. In addition, you can hike or swim at local or state parks for little or nothing.

2.) There’s always a cheaper option. Lunch and breakfast are less pricey than dinner; picnics and potlucks are less expensive than eating out. Matinees are cheaper than evening movies, DVD rentals and Netflix are even less expensive, and your local library will allow you to borrow DVDs for free. There’s nothing wrong with the odd splurge, but make sure your “treats” are occasional and special – otherwise, they’re not splurges, but reckless spending.

3.) Think daytrips, not vacations. Check out destinations – amusement parks, nature trails, museums, and events – within a four-hour drive of your home. If you don’t have to stay overnight, you’ll save money on meals and hotel fare.

4.) Keep it separated. Most adults have a checking account, which they use to pay their bills, and a savings account, which constitutes their savings. If you haven’t opened a savings account, now is the time. Allocate a certain amount of money to your savings account every pay period. You’ll be less likely to spend the money if it’s separate from the rest of your income.

5.) Do your financial aid homework. Even if you’re working a lot, you probably have extra time on your hands during the summer. Use some of it to research scholarship options for the next academic year. Check out Fastweb, College Board, and org to research scholarships. You may have to spend hours filling out applications and writing essays. Regard this the way you would any other job: something you have to do to earn money.

6.) Stay focused. Remind yourself of why you’re in college and what you hope to be one day. Saving money in the present will be much easier if you remember the future you want. While you’re at it, start taking steps toward your goal. You’ve probably heard about how crucial internships are for recent graduates. If you don’t have an internship lined up for this summer, use your downtime to research internship opportunities for the academic year or following summer. You might also request informational interviews with people who are working in your field.

Summer doesn’t have to mean having to choose between work and pleasure. With some mindfulness, you can a fun and frugal, relaxing and inspiring season that prepares you for the next academic year and the career you want.

-Dorothy A. Dahm