Avoiding a Total Mental Breakdown in My Final Semester

So it’s week 5 and I’m drowning. Anyone else out there in your final semester? Final year, even? My kindred spirits; you’ll know my pain.

I’ve kind of cruised through uni up until this point. First year was a total breeze; I barely did any readings, assignments were 1,500 words maximum, and my professors treated us as though we had no clue what we were doing (they were right, we didn’t) (I still don’t). Second year was a little bit tougher. I actually had to do my readings to understand the content, lectures got a little more dense, assignments became a little longer, and our professors no longer spoon fed us and rocked our cradles. Even last semester—my first semester of my final year—was relatively cruise-y. I managed to get away with not listening to most of my lectures and skipping a good portion of the readings, totally winging it come assignment time, and coming out the end of the semester having done okay. But nobody prepared me for my final semester.

In high school, I relied pretty heavily on my older brother to impart on me his nuggets of wisdom and sage advice. He’d already gone through the motions and could tell me what to expect. But then we decided to do totally different things once uni rolled around. He set the bar higher than I thought possible by choosing to do a double degree in Commerce and Law. True to my nature, I decided to be a disappointment to my parents and everyone else around me by pursuing the humble Bachelor of Arts. A second gut punch for my parents came when I told them I was planning to major in Sociology (neither of them knew what that was) (I didn’t really know what that was either, but it sounded relatively easy) (to their immense relief, I added on Media & Communications as a second major in my second semester). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I was completely on my own when I got to uni. I didn’t have my crutch of an older sibling to lean on for advice, so I had to figure it out on my own; since his degrees take about 100 years to complete, I’ve reached my final semester well before he will.

The first shock of this semester came when I saw how many assignments I have to do. Most of my subjects have had two or three essays throughout the semester, 10% of my grade being dedicated to that pesky class-attendance-and-participation trick. But this semester, I’m barely keeping my head above water with my workload. As well as having weekly readings that span hundreds of pages for each respective subject, I also have weekly quizzes, presentations, group assignments, and essays. I was not prepared. Add that on top of a 2-day-a-week internship and you’ve got yourself a Martha Stewart-worthy recipe for a breakdown, folks. I can only imagine what my mental state would be if I had a job (PS someone please hire me, I have no money).

The second shock came when I realised that I have to start thinking about my future. Now. NOW now. The future is no longer the future; it’s the present. I have to start submitting applications pronto. Do I want to pursue a Master’s degree? Will I even get into a Master’s program? Do I want to apply for work? Will anyone hire me if all I have is a BA? What do I even want to do for a living? Why are companies only hiring copywriters and social media managers? What even is copywriting, really? Am I meant to move out of home as soon as I get a full-time job? Can I bring my dog with me when I move out, or should I leave her at home to wonder why I left and never came back? What is superannuation? Is it normal to cry as often as I do?

So. If you’re wondering, or if you want to prepare yourself for what’s to come, here’s how I’m managing to avoid having a complete and total mental breakdown:

Write stuff down. Simple, but effective. I write down a to-do list each day and categorise it by what needs to be done right now, what needs to be done by the end of the day, and what can wait until tomorrow. It makes everything feel so much more doable (plus it’s just so satisfying crossing stuff off the list).

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Don’t procrastinate. Don’t. Don’t do it. I know The Bachelor is on and you’re promising yourself that you’ll get started on [insert thing that immediately sprung to mind when you read this] after this episode. Get started now. At least have your laptop or book open in front of you while the TV is on. Try to guilt yourself into doing at least some of it. Future you will be so, so grateful.

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Dip your toe in every pool. Or however that saying goes. Don’t know what you want to do after uni? Apply for everything and see where it takes you. If you haven’t been offered a job or accepted into a grad program (or whatever else it is you want to do) by the time you graduate, you’ll simply be in the same position you’re in now, but with one more degree and infinitely less essays to write.

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Coffee. If you’re not a coffee drinker, now’s the time to become one. And if you’re a one-cup-a-day kinda person, it’s time to up the ante.

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How To Not Flunk Uni

Not flunking uni: it seems like such a simple goal when you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in week one with your fresh, clean notebooks and your new uni clothes and your will to live—then all of a sudden it’s week seven and you’re somehow ten weeks behind and you have a million lectures to watch and you don’t even know how to access your readings and you’ve got three tests and four assignments coming up and now you’re thinking stripping doesn’t sound that bad after all.

Remarkably, I’ve made it to my third year without failing a subject (Ps get degrees, Ps get degrees, Ps get degrees). I can’t sit here and give you tips on how to get straight HDs or ace every single test, but I can give you advice on how to avoid failing your subjects.

Actually go to your classes

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know lectures are recorded and put online. And I know some classes don’t have attendance requirements. And, yes, I know that it’s way more convenient to sit at home in your undies with week-old leftover Indian food while your lecture plays in the background than it is to actually put some clothes on and sit in a musty lecture hall for an hour or two. But seriously, I learned the hard way that you’ll do so much better if you go to class whenever possible. It may be less convenient, but it’s so much easier to pay attention when your mum isn’t telling you to clean your room or your housemate isn’t blasting the ABBA Gold Greatest Hits album at full volume in the next room (it’s me, I’m your housemate). Plus it gives you the chance to ask questions if you have any.

On that note, ASK QUESTIONS!

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There’s that common saying “there are no stupid questions”, but let’s be real: there are tons of stupid questions, and yours may very well be one of them. Chances are, though, lots of people in your lecture/tute/seminar/lab/wherever the hell else you might be have the exact same question. Plus, who really cares? You’ll most likely never see those people again—and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that no one really cares about you anyway so you might as well just ask the stupid question.

Take notes

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I know you can buy class notes online for $20 and not have to worry about listening to your lectures all semester, but it’s actually been scientifically proven that taking your own notes helps you retain the information better—bonus points for handwritten notes over typed notes! If you’re sitting in a lecture, it won’t kill you just to jot down a thing or two. It’ll make assignments and exams way easier; then at the end of the semester, you can sell your notes for money.

Stressed? Go step-by-step

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I’ve spent tons of nights freaking out about assignments that I should’ve started two weeks earlier (what can I say? Gilmore Girls was calling my name). Over the years I’ve developed a very sophisticated, very scientific three-point method of dealing with assignment stress:

  1. Give yourself a moment to freak out. Allotted freak-out time will vary depending on your approaching deadline—it can range from one minute of panic to a whole day. But never freak out for more than a day. A couple of hours should do the trick.
  2. Plan. Get down to business. You’ve had your time to cry and scream and complain and stress-eat, and by the time you get to this step you’ll have realised that none of those things wrote your essay for you. Creating a step-by-step plan for writing your essay or studying for your exam is going to make it infinitely easier for you.
  3. Actually do the damn thing. Hands down, the worst part of doing an assignment is doing the assignment. But the sooner you do it, the sooner you’ll be free and you can treat yourself to ice cream or wine or something more student-budget-friendly like a high five.

When all else fails, coffee

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Coffee is $2 from 7-Eleven and 80 cents from Coles Express. Enough said.

51 Thoughts I Had On My Last First Day Of Uni

Call me a nerd, but I love going to uni. I don’t know what it is—the pretty buildings, the abundance of good coffee, the feeling of accomplishment after actually going to a lecture (even if I sit on Facebook the whole time), or maybe all of the above. And between you and me, I actually enjoy writing essays. I mean, it’s eight uninterrupted pages of me telling everyone what I think—that’s my kinda party.

This morning marked my last first day of uni (or at least, my last first day of undergrad) and I was really, really sad about it. Here’s a peek at what was going through my mind today.

  1. Wow, I actually forgot what waking up at 8am feels like.
  2. I hate it.
  3. Why didn’t I do any laundry yesterday?
  4. Black jeans and a white t-shirt? For the first day of school? Groundbreaking.
  5. So we meet again, 9am train. I hope you know how much I loathe you.
  6. This is a coffee-scented, commuter-filled hell.
  7. It’s 9am. Shouldn’t everyone on this train already be at work?
  8. Maybe I should invest in a fake pregnancy belly so I’m always guaranteed a seat on the train.
  9. I should’ve bought coffee.
  10. Why didn’t I buy coffee?
  11. Okay, and I left my water bottle at home. Great start to the day, Monique, nice job.
  12. Omg. I had actually forgotten that I catch the tram.
  13. Dear Metro gods, why didn’t you bless us with a Parkville train station? Why must you force me to ride the tram?
  14. Honestly, the tram is just a humbling experience. It keeps me grounded.
  15. Okay, definitely don’t remember UniMelb being this big.
  16. And definitely don’t remember it having this many people.
  17. And definitely don’t remember first years being this small.
  18. Was I that small when I was a first year?
  19. Surely not.
  20. Do I look that small now?
  21. I’m 100% positive that when I was a first year I looked exactly the same as I do now.
  22. And I distinctly remember the third years being tall and scary.
  23. I’m not that tall.
  24. And I’m definitely not at all scary.
  25. Okay, first class. Media Psychology. Physics building.
  26. Where the actual hell is the physics building?
  27. I didn’t even know we had a physics building.
  28. I’m running 10 minutes late and I don’t even know where my building is.
  29. I swear, if this lecture theatre doesn’t have a back door, I’m leaving.
  30. Should I just ditch? I still haven’t had that coffee.
  31. HoHo’s is calling my name. I can hear it.
  32. No, Monique, find your class.
  33. Okay, so the physics building is literally the farthest building on campus. Great!
  34. Perfect, there are only 3 other people in the back row. Plenty of space for yours truly.
  35. Left my glasses at home. Awesome.
  36. Literally cannot read a single word in this powerpoint.
  37. Should I leave?
  38. No, stay. She might hand out free stuff at the end.
  39. When has that ever happened? Literally never. That has never happened.
  40. Oh, hang on. She sounds like she’s wrapping it up anyway.
  41. 20 minutes in and the lecture is over. I could definitely get used to this.
  42. What did I learn from that?
  43. Nothing.
  44. Except that I need to bring my glasses.
  45. And that I should’ve caffeinated before I got here.
  46. I’m coming for you, HoHo’s!
  47. I swear, if they spell my name Monic one more time I’m boycotting.
  48. Just kidding. I could never.
  49. My favourite barista! It’s been a long few months without you, Fabian.
  50. Damn. My last year getting HoHo’s in the morning.
  51. Gotta go take a depression nap now.