Motivation is the foundation for success. College motivation is especially important, because with the pressure of academics and the non-stop nature of the semester, we quickly run out of steam. I’ve written about college motivation before in my college eBook, but today I thought I’d share how to get motivated for a new semester (or the rest of your college years) on the blog itself. Let’s get motivated.

This guide is modified from the second chapter of my eBook, How to Succeed in College, which was available on Sara Laughed August 2015-August 2016. The eBook is no longer available.

This post also comes with a free packet of college motivation worksheets for those of you who want to follow along. It is specifically designed to help you boost your motivation, set goals, and help you have more productive days. You can download the workbook here in my free resource library for College Compass subscribers. You can get the password by subscribing to my mailing list!

College Motivation: Things to Keep in Mind

I have a few quotes and reminders that I like to remember when I’m not feeling motivated to do work:

  • Everybody started somewhere. Whether your personal hero is Steve Jobs,  Beyoncé, or your mom, they started just where you are. They got to where they are now with hard work and dedication.
  • Anything can be learned. It just takes time and effort.
  • Intelligence is not fixed. You have the opportunity, every day, to learn more and grow as a person.
  • Your past doesn’t define you. Just because you got a C in math last year doesn’t mean you can’t get an A now. I know this better than most.
  • Everyone faces obstacles. Your struggles do not define you; what matters is how you deal with them.

Making a College Motivation Chart

The first thing I do to get motivated is make a motivation chart. Remembering the concepts that motivate me to work hard helps me stay focused. For that reason, having a visual reminder to hang up on my wall is useful for me. This exercise is word-oriented, so if you are a more visual person, skip on to the next section for how to make a motivation collage.

Here’s how I make my motivation charts: take out a pen and paper. Now draw a little box in the center of the paper, and write “My motivation” in it. (Yes, really. I’ll wait!)

The ultimate guide to college motivation! - Sara Laughed

Next, think about the things that have motivated you in the past to do well in school. Here’s an example: one of the things that helps me motivate myself is remembering what a big chance I’ve been given by going to college at all. Not everyone is given the opportunity to go to university, and the fact that I am able to be here is a huge gift. I want to make the most out of that experience.

I also want to make sure that I can one day find a fulfilling career and provide for a family. In order to do that, I need to do well in school, to prove to future employers that I am hard-working, committed, and capable of handling difficult work. So from the “My motivation” box, I draw two lines. At the end of one, I write, “make the most out of this opportunity.” At the end of the other, I write “prepare for a future career.”

The ultimate guide to college motivation! - Sara Laughed

Now it’s your turn. If my examples don’t motivate you, that’s fine! Find a few things that do. Brainstorm for a little while about the things that make you feel excited and passionate about work, then plot them down on your chart. Here are a few options to consider:

Making your parents or family members proud.

  • Impressing your professors.
  • Learning as much as you can about an interesting topic.
  • Getting the grades to qualify for study abroad or an internship you want.
  • Making the dean’s list.
  • Getting into a competitive graduate or medical school.
  • Growing your own self-confidence.
  • Leaving the future as open as possible to opportunities and success.

Tack or tape the chart to the wall or above your desk, to remind yourself when you get discouraged of why you’re working so hard in the first place!

Making a College Motivation Collage

A motivation collage is a good alternative to a motivation chart for those of you who are not word-oriented. If you don’t see yourself being motivated by a motivation chart, try making a collage, similar to an inspiration board. Again, looking at a collection of things that inspire or motivate me to work helps me stay on track when the going gets tough. I also really enjoy motivation collages because they become a beautiful collection of the things that matter to you.

The ultimate guide to college motivation! - Sara Laughed

Here’s how to do it: gather magazines and newspapers and cut out the images and words that inspire you. The images don’t need to make sense; my motivation collage has a suitcase (travel!) next to a bookshelf (learning!) next to a girl in a gold sequin dress (celebrate life!). As long as it makes you feel inspired, don’t question it. Glue the snippets onto a piece of poster paper, and hang it in your room to look at when you get discouraged. I keep mine on the cork board next to my desk. It takes up a lot of space, but it motivates me and makes me happy when I look at it.

Setting Goals in College

The next thing I do to stay motivated is make goals. Setting goals is a great way to keep yourself accountable, and they also break down your bigger hopes and dreams into actionable steps.

Make goals activity-based; for example, “I want to turn in all my assignments on time,” or “I want to do all the extra credit opportunities available.” Activity-based goals are a better alternative to achievement-based goals, like “I want to get at least 3 A’s this semester.” Here’s why: there is only so much you can do to control the grades you get; if you try your best, you may still not get the grade you want. A healthier approach is to focus on what you can control, and make the most out of that. Results are important, but they’re not the most important thing. What matters is that you’re applying and challenging yourself.

There is also a special chart for setting SMART goals in the free college motivation worksheet packet!

College Motivation Long-Term

Here are a few tips and support systems that you can put in place to set you up for a motivated semester:

  • Acknowledge your achievements when they happen. Recognizing that your hard work has paid off, and rewarding yourself when that happens, may make you feel more capable and successful when the time comes to start your next task.
  • Reflect on your goals. Every few weeks, look back on your goals list or your motivation chart or collage, and see if it still works for you. If not, change it, or scrap it and start over. You change, and so do the things that motivate you. Your goals should reflect that.
  • Build a support network. I would not be where I am in life if it wasn’t for my family and friends. They help me by spending time with me when I need to relax, but also by being honest with me when I’m procrastinating and need to get to work. More than that, they support me and make me feel capable and confident. Try to build a network of people you can trust and rely on during the hard times, and who will celebrate alongside you when things are going well. If you already have friends at your college, leaning on them in stressful times will hopefully deepen your friendship.

These tips help me stay not only motivated, but also happy and balanced as the school year goes on.

If You Need College Motivation Right Now

Sometimes, despite the ground work you’ve done in motivating yourself, you get stuck. It happens to all of us. Here are three tips that help me break through that kind of procrastinatory rut:

  • List three positive results that will come from completing whatever you’re putting off.
  • Think about the parts of the task that you enjoy. Do you get a rush from writing? Does it make you feel good about yourself when you cross things off your to-do list? Whatever it is, if you can think of a single thing you enjoy about the work you do, write it down or keep it in mind.
  • Give yourself a short break. Sometimes I can’t get to work because I’d much rather be doing something else, like writing or blogging. Giving myself twenty minutes to do that fun thing makes it easier for me to put it out of my mind and get to work afterwards.

Next Steps

Feeling motivated, but not sure what to do next? Take the next step by organizing yourself for a good semester, or check out some of the following articles:

How do you get motivated in college? Comment with your best tip below!

The Ultimate Guide to College Motivation

This post was originally published It has been modified and improved for use at College Compass with permission of the author.