When life challenges threaten your academic success

Hi friends! Today's blog post is a guest post from an incredible friend of mine, about tips and advice for handling life's crises in the midst of being a student. I hope you'll give it a read and comment below if it touched you like it did me! -Sara

When I was in high school, I maintained a 4.1 GPA, was the captain of my school’s sailing team, held a leadership role my school’s Anti-Defamation league. I did it all while dealing with a father who had mental illness issues that brought chaos and complications into my life. I was always afraid that I wasn’t a successful student because I didn’t have the calm, clean life that my peers had. In junior year, other students’ fathers quizzed them on AP US history terms while mine spent both Christmas and New Years’ in a mental health hospital. I still don’t know how I managed to pull off my ultimate success, but it didn’t always feel like success.

Many students face struggles during their academic careers- learning disabilities, mental health problems, low motivation, etc. No matter how large or small the challenges are you face in your academic career, I’ve learned some tricks about coming out of them with only a few scrapes to show that I want to share with you.

1) Above all, be gentle and kind to yourself.

Don’t expect more of yourself than you can honestly give. I learned that I couldn’t write an eight page essay in the four hours after seeing my father or going to therapy. Also, don’t skimp on your sleep. Trying to pull an all-nighter is never a good idea; it’s an even worse one when you’re already emotionally weary. I’ve found that the person who expects the most of me is me. Toning down the demands you make of yourself can be a good thing.

2) Don’t be afraid of letting your guidance counselor/dean, teachers/professors, and friends know what is going on with you if you are facing serious challenges.

At first I was afraid to let people at school know about the problems I was having at home. That only made things worse when I needed extra time to finish assignments. I was afraid that my teachers would think differently of me, when they could already tell something was up. Instead of suffering in silence and being penalized for issues that were out of my control, my teachers were very supportive and gave me the extra time I needed. It’s also important to share with your friends what is going on with you. If they are true friends, they will support you.

3) Try to anticipate bumps in the road and work ahead.

I know in advance when my midterms are because, like the lovely Sara, I keep a planner with my due dates. Knowing that I might need some mental health dates ahead of time, I started studying earlier than the typical week most students need for exam prep. And when I had emotionally easy days in high school, I would make an extra effort to start projects and papers long before other students were. This gave me the cushion I needed to maintain my sanity and my academics.

4) Never, ever forget the success you’ve already achieved.

For me, I always lose sight of what I have already done. Somehow, I’m concerned that I am at a disadvantage for further achievement because my life comes with more baggage. I regularly need to remind myself that I have already written 20 page papers; another one is not something to worry about. Give yourself the extra boost of confidence by reminding yourself just how much you’ve already done successful- and the small, everyday victories count too!

5) If possible, turn your challenges into advantages.

My experiences with my father turned into a powerful college essay where I was able to catalogue my ability to overcome and be resilient. I do believe that made a difference and showed my academic achievements as more meaningful.

I’ve found that my friends who have also faced life challenges are more mature, empathic, and wise. It takes teenagers and young adults a long time to develop these skills, so if you have developed them early you have an advantage. These are just good coping skills for every aspect of life.

6) Remember, there is more than one way to gauge success. Often the most successful people don’t fit into a traditional box.

Being a successful student is about more than your GPA or getting into the top university or college. It’s about following your curiosity and seeing new ways of looking at the world. One of the times when I feel most like a successful student is when I master something I learned on my own for fun. Create your own way of measuring success!

7) Find resources to help you, and don’t EVER be afraid to ask for help.

I had to accept that when my father was in a coma from a suicide attempt that I was not functioning at my highest level. To pass chemistry, I needed to get a tutor, which was okay. I needed that extra help to make it through the class. By the end of the semester, that B- was a measure that I had been successful. I passed the course and I kept my life together. I needed to ask for that help and to find resources that I required to do well. My current school has a learning center that provides tutoring services, a mental health center that I’ve been to, and a disabilities liaison. Your college/school may have similar resources that you can reach out to.

It’s not easy to maintain academic success when life’s trials bear down on you, but it is very rewarding when you come out on top. Always remember that an education is not about getting it right the first time, sometimes you need to take your focus off academics for a while.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite optimistic quotes about life.

“Life is a grindstone. But whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.” – Thomas Holdcroft

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, recent grad, and American abroad. I graduated from college in December and promptly moved to the Netherlands, where I live with my boyfriend and our 11 plants. Follow along as I figure out my roaring twenties: I don't quite know what I'm doing, but that's not stopping me from writing about it!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • This is such a great article. I need to remind myself that I might not be the overachieving A student that I was in high school. These are some great tips from an amazing person. Does she/he have a blog? If so, I would love to check it out. Thanks for sharing, Sara!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! She doesn’t have a blog, but if she does get one in the future, I will definitely share it here! Thanks so much for your feedback, Alison! It always makes my day to see your comments on my posts (:

  • This is so uplifting and exactly what I need right now. I am in my last semester of college about to graduate with my bachelors in English, and I am completely worn out. Working a full time job and doing college online really causes my life to get in the way more than it should. These are wonderful tips that I will definitely remind myself of as I push through this last semester! Thanks so much for sharing these great tips.

  • That is some good advice! You serve as an inspiration of a hard-working woman and loving daughter! Although it wasn’t so much a challenge as a (wonderful) choice, many people said I wouldn’t be able to succeed after I got married my Freshman year of college. It’s so much fun to defy stereotypes and expectations (I almost have a 4.0 while also holding several part-time jobs)! You go girl! 🙂

  • This is SUCH an awesome post and full of good wisdom! I had a similarly successful high school background, and my slap in the face came in college, when I thought I was slipping so much since I wasn’t maintaining the same picture-perfect-on-paper lifestyle and image. It took my going to counseling for anxiety to realize that what mattered in high school to get into the university I wanted was NOT the same thing that was important once I GOT to college! A shift in mindset is imperative, and you haveeeeee to learn to love yourself no matter what. You just gotta!


    • Thank you so much, Erica! I know that many people struggle with matching the reality of life to the appearances we try to keep up. You’re so right, you’ve just got to modify your perspective (:

  • You are very courageous to have written what you did, It is extremely difficult to deal with mental health problems in the family and be forced to be that “rock” that you do not always feel you are–if at all. I am not sure how many people could still achieve the way you did in the circumstances. Be good to yourself and take good care of those ‘few scrapes.’

  • This is such good advice from someone who is obviously very hard working and determined! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. While I do not have a family member batting a mental illness, there were and are plenty of bumps along the road that we will all have to over come.

    • Thanks for commenting, Megan. I am also so proud of my friend for sharing her story and I am glad that it can bring hope and encouragement to others!