2020 Vision: A first-year anticipates finals

Photo by Eva Zhan ’19  A student studies in the Reading Room in Williston Memorial Library. Stress and anxiety are a highly prevalent part of the Mount Holyoke College community, and many students find coping difficult. 

Photo by Eva Zhan ’19

A student studies in the Reading Room in Williston Memorial Library. Stress and anxiety are a highly prevalent part of the Mount Holyoke College community, and many students find coping difficult. 


As the semester winds down and due dates that seemed months away start to near, I’ve noticed my stress levels skyrocket. As someone who generally cares about her academic performance, I have become aware of the huge emphasis on finals at college. Often, the emphasis on finals I tend to observe is the stress that surrounds it. In many ways, I feel as though the stress culture at Mount Holyoke — the constant discussion of grades, assignments, and lack of self care — has impacted my mental andemotional healthand caused anxiety surrounding finals, especially having never experienced them at Mount Holyoke. 

Most of what scares me with finals is the hype I’ve heard about them from upperclass students on campus. Every time I check social media, I am bombarded with memes about staying up all night and about the suffering of students during finals that is often equated to death. Although many of these memes circle around college students in general, Mount Holyoke students overwhelmingly engage in stress culture for finals. 

Over the summer, I remember several students mentioned that finals are by far the most stressful times of the year in the Facebook page for the Class of 2020. The upperclassmen often made jokes about not showering, sleeping or skipping meals because they were so pressed for time and under so much stress. 

Furthermore, our administration is not shy to remind us about upcoming finals. Nearly every day, I seem to get a new email from one of our deans reminding us of upcoming events and workshops surrounding self-care, studying, time management and exam logistics, but sometimes the reminders are just as simple as, “Remember that you need to sleep in order to perform well!” In many cases, I appreciate these workshops and reminders; they remind me of the supportive environment that exists at Mount Holyoke. However, sometimes when I hear these reminders, coupled with the general stress culture from the upperclassmen, I start to wonder how my own stress levels will be during exam season.

When I talk about finals with my friends, most of whom are also first-year students, we anticipate them in fear. We do not really know what to expect. While we understand the concept of finals,  many of us ask questions such as “How much work will we have?”,  “Will I have adequate time to relax for a few hours a week and take care of myself?”, “Will I be expected to work as long and hard as possible with little breaks in between?”, “Will the stress accumulate so much over the next couple of weeks that we cannot properly function, let alone perform well on exams and write articulate papers?” The questions do not seem to end.

When I was in high school I took dual enrollment courses and I remember finals being a somewhat stressful period where I tended to do a little more work than I normally would to ensure my success. Finals typically were never as awful as my peers and I made them out to be. Often, we would over-dramatize our stress and experiences studying, either for humor or to brag. Often, it was my friends’ interpretations of how stressful and awful finals would be that would really make me anxious rather than the finals themselves. Now I wonder if this true for Mount Holyoke as well.

In order to combat early stress about finals, I create to-do lists. A week ago, I made a cohesive, detailed list of everything I need to do from now until the moment finals end. In making this list, I also included an estimate for how long each task would take. From there, I planned each week, where I would include tasks and goals that I would like to complete by a certain date. This helped me feel much better because rather than thinking, “I have three research papers, a final exam and a presentation to prepare in two weeks.” I now think, “By the end of this week I need to finish my presentation and have two rough drafts completed in time for editing and revision,” which seems like a much less daunting to-do list. I have also made a point to plan study break activities, like cookie decorating and holiday movie marathons with my friends who are also feeling the pressure of finals. 

As much as I anticipate finals, only time will tell how much stress I will experience. Perhaps, like when I was in high school, I will feel like the stress culture around taking finals is more stressful than my finals; or perhaps I will start to feel the stress of finals themselves next week. Either way, I know I’m looking forward to a stress-free break with my family in only a couple of weeks. 

On that note, I want to wish everyone good luck on finals and their stress these coming weeks. To the first-year students, let us hope that we get through this period with as little anxiety as possible. And to the upperclass students, remember that all of us firsties look up to you with pride, and that no matter what we are proud of you and happy to have you all as our role models and mentors.