How to Support End-of-Semester Success

“My student is struggling — how can I help?”

Students wearing winter clothes walk down University Avenue as snow falls.
The end of the fall semester can be an especially stressful time; students are preparing for finals, finishing work or internship obligations, and finalizing travel plans for winter break. (Photo: Bryce Richter/UW–Madison)

This is an especially common question for parents and family members to ask as an academic semester nears its end. For students, this time of the year can serve as a rewarding accumulation of their hard work. But it can also feel like everything is converging at once: months-long project deadlines, final papers and exams, travel arrangements for the holidays, living situations for next year — the list can go on. It’s easy and understandable for students to feel overwhelmed.

Fortunately, students — and family members — are not alone. There are many resources on campus that can provide students with academic, social, and emotional support. Below are tips and tools that can help students navigate end-of-semester obstacles.

Remember, too, that the Parent and Family Program staff — Stephanie Benson-Gonzales, Monica Ruppert, and our team of experienced student interns — is always here to help. Don’t hesitate to connect with us.

Stress-Relief and Relaxation Techniques

Now that classes are about to end, making a schedule can help students stay on track. The excitement (and hectic planning) of coming home for break may make focusing hard. Remind your student to prioritize studying.

Taking breaks is important during busy times. Sometimes taking time to clear one’s head is the best way to retain information. Encourage students to relax, stretch, eat a good meal, take a walk or run, listen to their favorite songs, and let their brain have time to process the material. Students can break study blocks into briefer periods (one to two hours) to help reduce stress and recall material. Advise them to set reasonable short- and long-term goals, and build in rewards for when they meet their goals.

Remember that sleep is important. Encourage your student to avoid “all-nighters” and to try to get eight hours of sleep, although four or five are better than none. To prevent sleepless nights, students should de-clutter their bed and avoid studying there. If students are feeling stressed because they can’t fall asleep and know they need to, they can try relaxation techniques.

This is a great time to send your student cards, packages, or other greetings.

Preparation for Final Exams

Encourage students to think about what study methods have worked for them in the past and to use or modify them. They may want to try working with a group or explaining difficult concepts to a friend. Professors and teaching assistants can help, and students should ask them how they recommend preparing for the exams.

Remind your student to practice being optimistic. Giving an internal pep talk using positive affirmations or visualizing acing a test can be great tools. Students should make a plan before exam day to help reduce stress. They should find the locations of their exams, plan how they are going to get there, and arrive early to give themselves extra time. Encourage them to pack for exams the night before. Pens, pencils, water, snacks, and other small details and preparations can help students feel more at ease while taking exams.

Study Habits and Time Management

As students prepare for their final exams, it can be daunting to think about the next semester. But refining study habits and time-management skills now can continue to pay off in the future.

Students, especially those in their first year, may struggle in their classes because they approach college coursework like they did in high school. Encourage students to refer to their syllabi to map out their time, attend optional discussion sessions, and utilize office hours. You can help by encouraging your student to check in with an academic advisor. Advisors can connect students to learning support services; explain options if a student is considering dropping a course; and provide guidance on topics such as good study habits, test anxiety, and time management.

More resources for academic support:

Social Life on Campus

The end of the semester may serve as a time of reflection for students. Your student may start to think deeply about both their academic experiences and their social life.

If your student is still searching for a community on campus, remind your student that it can take time to adjust. Encourage your student to reach out to advisors and house fellows.

More resources for getting involved on campus: