How to Stay Motivated

advice for students
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By Oshitha Narangoda
Last updated on August 10, 2023

Staying motivated throughout your US degree program can help you overcome unexpected challenges, work toward your goals, and score good marks.

Two female and two male international students at a US university campus sit outside at a table in front of a tree and look at a laptop

Staying motivated to study can be a challenge, especially when you are overwhelmed with completing assignments, writing lengthy papers, and preparing for exams. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be facing unexpected setbacks or feeling uncertain about the future.

There may be instances where completing a simple task seems difficult. At times like this, it is important to remember you are not alone and that your university community is here to support you! Whether you are an international student who is studying for in-person or online exams, staying motivated can make all the difference in having a successful semester. Read on for useful tips that any international student can use to stay focused, organized, and prepared.

Why Staying Motivated Is Important

It helps you achieve your goals faster—When you are motivated and excited, you can easily push yourself toward your goals and achieve them. Your tasks will not feel like chores, but stepping stones to reach your final destination. Once you have identified your set of goals, being motivated helps you prioritize your goals and focus on them without getting distracted.

It builds your self-confidence—Motivation boosts your self-confidence to overcome challenges and accomplish your tasks. With motivation, you can overcome fear with courage and see positive results.

You can make new friends—Motivated people attract others. When you are a motivated person, it inspires others around you. And in turn, having a supportive community around you gives you more energy to keep moving forward. Think of it like a positive cycle that encourages productivity!

How to Stay Motivated Throughout the Whole Semester

Set your goals and stay focused—Set clear goals and write them down. You will be able to refer to them to remember why you are working hard in the first place. Think about why you enrolled in a US university and what you are hoping to achieve in the future. When you need a little motivation, go back to your list to remind yourself to stay on track.

Make your goals SMART—SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. When setting your academic goals, you can use the SMART goal framework to successfully achieve them.

For example, when you are studying for a final exam, you can use the SMART goals framework to earn good results. First, have specific goals instead of setting unclear goals (e.g., “I need to review chapters 1 through 5, as those will be covered on the test”). Make sure your specific goals are measurable (e.g., “To prepare for the test, I will study an hour each day from today until the day of the test”). For the attainable step, verify whether your goals can actually be achieved within the time frame—and if they can, commit to seeing them through. If they cannot, adjust them so they fit with your schedule and other commitments. Relevance should be similar to specifics in this case—devote your study hours to what you know will be covered on the exam. (Your syllabus should have all the details.) And for time-based study goals, always remember to set achievable deadlines for your goals!

Make a plan and follow it—If you make a SMART plan and stick to it, you can meet deadlines and reach your targets without hassle! To stay organized, write down all the tasks you need to complete and allocate enough time for each of them. (Be sure to be realistic with your timeline and expectations—anything too rigid may have the opposite effect and make you discouraged.)

Take a break and go out—While studying productively for your exams or conducting research for your papers is important, your brain needs frequent breaks to recharge. So, take some time to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee, go for a walk, meet a friend, or exercise!

Accept all the support available to you—Whether you are studying in person or online, and during challenging times like the the COVID-19 pandemic, you can always reach out to people who are willing to support you. Professors and academic advisors are ready to help whenever you need it. You can even form study groups with your classmates and stay motivated together. Whenever you need a motivational boost, you can also reach out to your family and friends for encouragement.

How to Stay Motivated During Unexpected Challenges

In times of uncertainty, it can be hard to plan ahead. Whether it is due to the COVID pandemic, cold and flu season, or a family emergency, unexpected challenges can affect your motivation and leave you feeling anxious. Here are just a few ways to maintain your motivation during stressful periods.

Plan your daily routine—Setting daily goals will help you be productive and stay on track. You can start off with completing small daily goals to make progress. By doing so, you will be able to focus on completing important tasks first.

Focus on your physical and mental health—Allocating time daily to focus on yourself is important. Instead of continuously focusing on studying, you can watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, or call a good friend. If you need help overcoming mental health concerns, reach out to a licensed mental health professional for support. Many campus support services have mental health counselors available to students, either in person through the campus health center or via video chat appointments.

Keep in touch with your friends—Studying from home due to social distancing could feel repetitive. You can schedule virtual calls on apps like Zoom or Skype and stay connected with friends. If your friends are nearby, a socially distanced walk or coffee date could also bring much-needed encouragement and support.

Remember, it is OK to feel unproductive—It may take some time for you to adapt when something unexpected happens. Remember the feeling will not last forever. Honor the difficult moment and seek the support you need. If you are in a particularly challenging situation, share your concerns with your professors and advisors. They may be willing to work with you to accommodate the unexpected, by offering deadline extensions for assignments, academic tutoring, or similar.

Be proud of your accomplishments—Reflect on how well you have been progressing with your degree program. While you prepare for your final exams, reflecting on your academic achievements as an international student will help you stay confident until the end.

Which Resources Can Help You Stay Motivated?

Many universities in the US have dedicated support to ensure the well-being of their students. Shorelight has dedicated student service advisors to keep you motivated and support your personal, academic, and professional growth whenever you need it. 

Mental Health Resources

Campus Resources

No matter how challenging the situation is, sticking to a well-organized routine, accepting support, and focusing on self-care can help you stay motivated and achieve your goals.

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