Low in Motivation? 8 Tips To Improve Your Motivation in College.

By Julie “Jules” Troyer Ph.D.

Do you have to convince yourself not to ditch class? Are you finding excuses like cleaning the bathroom or doing yard work are looking good over studying? Are you struggling to stay awake in class, even though you got a good night sleep? You are in a classic situation of low motivation….here are eight ways to improve your motivation for a class and get yourself back on track.

Pay attention to the “role model” teachers you have had. Did they give their presentations with passion and enthusiasm?.  Did they provide personal anecdotes from their lives or professional experiences to illustrate the material? Didn’t this motivate you to want to know more about the subject? Internalize the material and you too can find personal stories that show the relevance of what you are learning to your own life! Share your story with other students in the class and ask them to do the same.

Socialize and learn about the interests of your peers and professor.  Socialization is a great key to motivating yourself to sustain interest in a subject. If you find yourself waning in motivation in a class, make the extra effort to go out to coffee with a classmate, show up in your professor’s office hours and ask them about their hobbies or research interests, or simply go online to a chat forum on the topic of your class and start up a conversation with someone. Adding a little dose of social fun to the subject you are studying can do wonders for your motivation.

Connect to real life. Many people want to be told why a topic or skill is useful prior to wanting to study it. Do a little research online or talk to some professionals about how your course prepares you for future opportunities.

Study with a partner. It is often very helpful to partner with a fellow student to maintain a disciplined study routine and stay excited about accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself. Similar to the accountability that athletes have to one another on a team, studying in a group or with a partner can create a “team spirit” that helps motivate you even when things are tough.

Set realistic performance goals for yourself.  Realistic performance goals are attainable and thus keep you motivated. If you set goals that are unrealistic you will lose motivation quickly. Also, if you are finding that it is hard to maintain your motivation toward an ultimate grade in a class (You are working toward a B in your Psychology class), break up your goals into mini-goals like: get above a 90 on my paper, get at least a B on my final exam, come to class every day for the rest of the semester, etc.

Do not focus entirely just on the test. Remember, tests are only part of the educational process. Focus on what you have learned, how you have improved, and how you will be able to use what you have learned in life or in your professional career in the future. Focus on how you are a better person for taking the class and studying the material. Just focusing on tests can reduce your motivation…let’s face it, tests alone can be boring.

Pat yourself on the back and offer yourself constructive criticism. Be generous with yourself and give yourself some props! Be your own cheerleader and motivate yourself by recognizing the things you are doing right or are improving on. Any negative observations you make about yourself should pertain to particular performances, not you yourself the student.

Remember you are in control of your grades and your education. All of us can sometimes get into the habit of blaming others for our circumstances but motivation for achieving goals and improving performance has to come from personal accountability and an acknowledgement we are in control of our own destiny! You are indeed the master of your own ship and this should excite you as you embark on the wonderful voyage of whatever subject you are studying.

Bain, K. (2004).  What the Best College Teachers Do, Harvard University Press, 32-42.

DeLong M. & Winter, D. (2002).  Learning to teach and teaching to learn mathematics: Resources for professional development, Mathematical Association of America, 159-168.

Nilson, L. (2004).  Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors, 2nd edition, Anker Publishing, 41-44. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, Motivating students. Retrieved from: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-guides/interactions/motivating-students/#strategies

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  1. Christopher Hawkins says:

    Motivation is definently needed when it comes to education. Students need something to push them to WANT to learn. Every students want good grades, but when it is a class that they do not like teacher or subject then it will be a long semester.
    Having a “role model” teacher is an oppurtunity that students should be greatful for. I had one in middle school and she is the reason that I aspired to become a teacher. She took the time out to see what students had going on outside of the fifty minutes she had with us each day. I broke my anke and she had a card for me when I returned to school. Things like this motivate me to do well in her class because I did not want to dissapoint her.
    Being interested in a class is another motivational need. I took sociology and loved it. I looked forward going to that class. I made ninety and more on all test. The material was so relatable that I wanted to learn more.

  2. Diane Carter says:

    I enjoyed reading the article on motivation. I did the same thing…..looking for something else to do or making excuses. What I discovered was I had some medical issues that prevented me from concentrating. My iron was really low and I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I am still struggling with the current job market and wonder if working so hard on my education will pay off? My doctor assures me that once my levels return to normal my focus and motivation will return. My point in all of this is that when we lack motivation sometimes a medical issue can contribute to the problem. Anxiety can also contribute to how we feel.

    I saw this happen with my son who lost hope in going to college even though he had a full scholarship to attend. He felt like he wouldn’t get a good job just because he had a college degree. Many of his older friends graduated in debt and still can’t find a job. He ultimately decided to take another route and join the military.

    No matter what happens, I found that I needed to just stop and take one thing at a time when I feel overwhelmed or lack the motivation to study.
    when I set small goals it was easier to accomplish. If I looked at writing the entire 15 page research paper I got discouraged. I used to tell my children if you don’t like doing something, push through it and get it done so you won’t worry and stress about it as long. Sometimes this is easier said than done

    • Diane,
      You make an excellent point about the connection between physiology and psychology; undeniably they can effect each other. Your statement about taking one thing at a time is also very true, it assists in ordering things enough to focus and follow through.

  3. Brandon Grummer says:

    I enjoyed reading this article on motivation! I have been doing research on motivation myself, and the information I’ve found is fascinating! I especially like your points on connecting information to real life scenarios and setting incremental goals. I’ve learned that a students’ motivation is fueled by expectancy and value. If a learner can expect what is coming up (i.e. routines) in the classroom, and can see the value in any given task, then motivation is natural. Great article!

  4. Sydney Large says:

    I work two jobs and am a full time student. At the end of the day my motivation is running low. This is the reason I chose this article. I find all of these things very helpful when struggling to stay awake for a test. The biggest thing for me is knowing that making this good grade and actually learning the information not only makes me a more knowledgeable person but puts me one step closer to graduating. For me knowing that I am in control of my future and looking at the long term goals help keep me motivated. The most helpful thing throughout the semester, while motivations is severely lacking, is definitely the professors enthusiasm for the class. Having a professor that wants to teach and wants you to succeed as a person, not only a student, is extremely beneficial. If the content knowledge is not so interesting or pertaining to your life I find it helpful in applying it to real situations. Find a scenario that is applicable to the content being learned. Within my personal experience I have found that I have to budget my time accordingly to my schedule. Setting unrealistic goals only makes me feel worse when I am unable to complete a task. Regulating my time for large tasks, such as tests, projects, or finals is major key for my mental state. I find it very helpful breaking down the sum of a large task and working on it through a longer time period. It helps keep me sane. Throughout all of this the most helpful thought I can think is “It will not last forever”. Doing the work now and staying focused will eventually pay of. You will make it!

  5. Rusty Harris says:

    This is interesting.

    I say this because there have been numerous classes that I have taken that I was simply not interested in, but I was forced to take them. It is hard to focus and motivated to endure a class that I have no interest in. It is very much like the students I have. The vast majority is simply not interested in two step equations and positive and negative integers. I cannot expect them to go home at night and favor solving eqautions over the new “Call of Duty” or “Modern Warfare” video games.
    What I do know is that I am in control of my own motivation and the mind is stronger than the body. If I tell myself I am interested, then my body has no other option but to be interested in the class.
    Where am I going with this story?
    In the past, I have psyched myself into finding interest in the class.
    I talk about the information we are discussing outside of class with friends. It sort of develops into an interesting intellectual conversation. Of course, there are other ways to make yourself enjoy the class or become more interested in the class. Most I cannot put my finger on, which I think has alot to do with the mentality you enter the class with. If you think positive thoughts or negative thought, that is probably what you will get.

    DISCLAIMER: This class is not an example Dr. Troyer.

    I have never dropped a class that was required. I think I may have dropped one class in my college career and that was because I found out that I didn’t need it.
    It is funny how my students take the math seriously when I make real life connections to math and show them ways of how they will apply a concept. My favorite is the sales tax and big Christmas and Thanksgiving sales going on in the mall. I tell them, the next you go shopping with your mom or grandmother or whoever it may be carry a calculator. Find an item that is on sale and calculate the percent off and the sales tax. It is fun to see if you come up with the same answer as the clerk at the cash register. When I make this connection, they are instantly interested and begin to ask questions and work problems like mad men.
    It is the same for us as adults. If we can make a connection to real life with the subject, our interest grows and therefore we tend to concentrate and pay more attention.
    I have had great math teachers in the past and everyone of them had type 1 personalities. They were always on the run and multi-tasking. They were always ahead of the game. I like to believe I am somewhat similar to my past teachers. I feel like I am organized. I like to save headaches at the end by beginning assignments early. I have found out there is nothing that stresses me more than waiting until the last minute to complete an assignment. I often wonder why I would ever do this to myself. Instead of cramming all of these notes and powerpoints into my head in one night for a test, I could have studied a few minutes over a week and reviewed the night before while resting peacefully.
    As far as goals, I expect to make an A (preferrably) or a B in every class. Anything lower than this is unacceptable in my eyes. I have pride in my GPA and I tend to maintain or improve it.

  6. Austin Chumley says:

    After reading through a few of your articles I felt this one has the biggest impact on college students and all students in general. Without motivation or a want to do something a human being will be less likely to put all their effort into that task. When a student is studying for a class and he/she is reading the information and it doesn’t relate at all to that person’s life then they will forget it shortly if they remember it at all. That’s why I like how you mentioned about asking your teachers how it will relate to you in the future so the student can have a motivation to learn this information and be ready to see it again down the road in life. For example I can tell you every quarterback that has played for Georgia since about 1998 but I couldn’t tell you the past 5 presidents, this is because I love Georgia football, I have an motivation to learn everything about it.

  7. Angela McLarin says:

    I think that these are great tips to drive motivation in college. I noticed how each tip involves how the student can be proactive and be responsible for their own motivation. Often times, myself and other students blame their lack of motivation on teachers. At times, I may criticize the teacher’s instruction, behavior, the classroom environment and how it can be disengaging. Although I do strongly feel that the lack of motivation lies partly upon the teacher, I agree that the student plays a part as well. Setting realistic goals for myself is very helpful and is a strategy I always try to use. If I set a goal that is too great or unrealistic, in the end I might feel overwhelmed and discouraged or less motivated if my goal didn’t come to fruition. Connecting to real life is also a great method I try to use to remain motivated. When attending my Education classes, I am typically interested and motivated to learn because I know that these courses will directly benefit me in the future once I become a teacher. However, I am typically less motivated in my Pre-requisite courses because I am not completely aware of how they may benefit me or connect to real life. Taking the time out to research how the courses could benefit me seems very helpful. The ultimate tip that is the key to motivation is to “Remember you are in control of your grades and education!”

  8. Katie Burford says:

    I decided to read this article because I do find myself having a hard time staying motivated from time to time. This article gives some awesome tips like looking outside the box. I usually focus on the main tests or end projects. However, I should be making smaller accessible goals. This way once I obtain one of these smaller goals, I can gain confidence in myself as a student. Today’s society can really distract students from going to class and doing the little day by day activities. When in reality, those little things can add up to increase your average. I sometimes use the technique of studying with a partner and found that it is very effective. There are a few times when it is not productive because we get off topic or on a rant of some sort. Yet, if it is productive studying, we usually tend to remember more. I really enjoyed reading this article and will be putting a few of these into effect. Even though I am a senior and just now going to start using some of these. I still think that reading this article is good for all years of school and when I become a future teacher. The same tactics can be alters to address teaching. Motivation is hard to come by and any help is always a plus.

  9. Brittany Swann says:

    I found reading this article incredibly useful, especially since I have zero motivation going into finals. I always try and find ways to increase my motivation but they very seldom do they work. My favorite tip is to connect what you are studying to real life. I have noticed that the more I know I will use the information I am studying in real life the more interested in the topic I am.

  10. Brandon Dowling says:

    Very interesting article! Personally in my college experience I’ve noticed my motivation “level” changed based on a few factors. I believe that different classes needed different types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Also, I have realized “time management” plays a big role in motivation. Like stated in the article, I’ve also noticed that a good relationship with your teacher plays a good role in college and does help your motivation to succeed! Furthermore, like stated in the article studying with a partner does seem to help keep me on task and also helps motivation. Something about me explaining a term or situation to someone else really helped me retain the information. Lastly, like you said, “you are in control of your grades and your education.” I believe this is a critical statement! Life is filled with many different choices and pathways. You are the only one who can make these decision and you are the only one that is liable. When I stumbled and looked for excuses, I kept reminding myself that and it seemed to keep me motivated. When I was younger and still today my father would tell me, “The road to failure is paved with excuses.” I find it a quote to live by!

  11. Sarah MeLinne Moon says:

    I completely agree with every aspect of this. I can relate to this blog a lot. I am not an all A student, I work hard to be a B student, and occasionally I will get a C in a class that I find really hard, like any kind of math. I know if i was more motivated my grades would improve. Whenever I start studying, especially if I’m not in the library, I get distracted and do different “productive” things other than studying. Cleaning my house is a huge distraction for me and also my phone. I will start studying for like five minutes then I will play on my phone for fourty-five and think where did the time go? Also, trying to balance school, work, practice for sports and other activities I do for my sorority is challenging; but I have to remind myself that school comes first. School is why I am here. I have a problem with setting unrealistic goals for myself. I will procrastinate and then make these outrageous goals when they are practically impossible. Then when I don’t reach my unrealistic goals, I freak out and get stressed, when the solution to this problem is to just stay motivated and focused and get things done in a timely manner. I do want to get good grades and I would say i’m intrinsically motivated but sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes I wish I did have someone pushing me to do better and giving me a reward, but if I did I would never learn how to become motivated for the right reasons. Hopefully when I actually start my major I will be more interested in my classes and like the things we do. I know what I want and how to get it, I just need to stay motivated to accomplish it.

    • Sarah,
      You can always use extrinsic rewards with yourself if you need a little push. Sometimes I promise myself a little treat when I complete a task if I am feeling especially unmotivated to accomplish something.

  12. Crystal Johnston says:

    (Re-posting!) I think this whole article is based on the most important way to succeed in education: intrinsic motivation. If your goals are based on your -own- joy, not on grades or making your parents happy, education is fun. Personally, I do not see reading textbooks as a chore; it is something I enjoy, something I want to do. Thus, motivation to do tedious or hard tasks is easier for me than the extrinsically motivated student.
    However, I think something important is missing from this article: picking a major that you actually want to study; this is the ultimate way to make education intrinsic, and thus increase your motivation. I see far too many students in college who are studying a major that they just do not care about, and this is something I cannot wrap my head around. Yes, getting a good career is the ultimate goal, but, there are more important things than making money; success is nothing without happiness. I personally, could not see studying anything but psychology, thus, studying is intrinsically motivated for me. When you truly have found your calling, studying and reading is fun, learning is fun, life is better. And, I think many students don’t understand me when I say I like studying, because they have chosen the wrong major because of this or that, but not because it’s what they want to do. If you take a step back and really think about it, it’s not hard to see how intrinsic motivation affects your grades, general enthusiasm, and happiness.

    • Crystal,
      You are so right about more important things than money; many people forget that! Intrinsic motivation and passion for what you are doing in life propels us naturally towards our goals. When you really love what you are doing it is very easy to stay focused and accomplish great things. They key is following our passion.

  13. Jakela Black says:

    As a senior in college, most people would think the motivation is extremely high because we are “almost out of there.” However, when you compile all the things on top of a senior its gets extremely draining. Work, classes, studying, organizations, bills, and trying to manage a social life, while looking for a good nights sleep will put anybody in a situation where they find their motivation beginning to decline. I personally believe I have developed ‘senioritis.’ My motivation and even desire for education has diminished these last few weeks of the semester. This article shed some light into how to get back on the high horse. For example, connecting it to real life. I have to think about it like, this is your future career, you’re in college to become a psychiatrist, so I think about the things I want to accomplish and how my school work applies to it. Setting goals foe myself, I think will also be helpful. I always set extremely high goals for myself because I know I can achieve them. However, when I have a lot of things going on at one time, I do not change my goals to be more realistic, I still believe I can score high on everything that is thrown at me, so I begin to over study and over work my brain, which leads to me being drained. This article is not only helpful to college students, but anybody who is finding a hard time setting and achieving their goals. Achieving anything is hard if you do not have a great deal of motivation or ambition to do so. Great read.

    • Jakela,
      “Senioritis” is a serious condition (chuckling here but it is true)! The last leg of any race can be the most difficult and true winners train to be able to push themselves especially at the very end when you are exhausted.

  14. Chrisie Mooneyhan says:

    I found this article very useful and accurate. I struggle with motivation daily when having to divide my time between teaching, college, and my family. Normally, college gets whatever is left of my energy. When I was taking undergrad classes, I had one professor who intimidated me at first but then he started telling his personal stories and making the content fun and interesting so I gained motivation for that class. I also agree with study partners providing motivation. I have a friend that I teach with who is also in college and we encourage each other to power through and reach our goal. The area of setting realistic goals and remembering that I am in control are two things that I need to work on. I think that I would have more motivation if I did not set my goals so high. Throughout this program, I have been determined to finish with honors. By pushing myself too hard, I loose motivation. I do tend to blame other people when things are not going well with school work. I need to remember that it is up to me to be motivated. I get frustrated when I try to finish something and beat the deadline, but most of the time that deadline has been in place for months and it is my fault for waiting until the last minute because I wasn’t motivated to work on it sooner.

    I believe this list of tips for motivation would also benefit my high school students. They lack motivation frequently, especially during this time of year when two major holidays are approaching. I have noticed that students who try to connect with me tend to be more motivated than those students who never try to socialize. This article was very beneficial and I am going to apply some of these tips with my students and see if motivation can increase in my class.

  15. Patrice Eluett says:

    I found this article relevant because it very closely relates to a lack of motivation that I have previously felt during college courses. Connecting knowledge that I had obtained from a class to real life situations was a great tool that helped me become more motivated. The connection showed me that what I was learning was important, not just something I was learning to get a good grade. Also, Studying with a partner is a great help. Seeing someone else with the motivation to study and do well usually helps a person get on track themselves. Lastly, My largest problem was most definitely placing too much priority on tests alone. Tests are usually the largest portion of a student’s grade and causes us a lot of anxiety. Focusing on thoroughly learning the information as a opposed to merely memorizing the information for a test was as well a great tool to achieving motivation.

  16. Christina Wright says:

    This is the topic for me!! Being that I am a senior in college you would think I would have already known that certain things were important and critical to a successful college career. I only did enough to get by (or to just pass the class), that is really all I thought I had to do. It wasn’t until recently that i found out that your GPA amongst other things are important and critical to furthering your education and going to graduate school, which are things I want to do. Learning this information discouraged me in many ways, my future became very bleak, and I begin to tell myself “no one is going to want you at their school” or “why are you even trying anymore it’s to late”. But because I want more for myself, my self-motivation kicked in and “lit a fire under my butt”. I started actually applying myself in all my courses instead of “just getting by” with a C grade. Even though my GPA does not meet graduate school requirements I will NOT let it define me because like you said I am in control of my own education and i take full responsibility for it, I lacked motivation in school period, but now i find my self actually enjoying and participating in classes and motivating myself to “do more so I can be more”.

  17. Brenda Meeks says:

    I decided to read this article because I have participated in online learning for the first time this semester. I am an older student who recently went back to college to finish my bachelor’s, (and did so successfully at VSU). I began graduate school this semester, and am taking all my classes online due to the demands of life. Although I enjoy the scheduling freedom provided by online learning, I have definitely struggled with motivation to do my work. I associate my lack of motivation to the fact that, for me, online learning seems very impersonal. Several of the suggestions in the motivation article seem to be socially-centered and I find this validating for the way I have have felt towards this semester. I have definitely missed the social aspect of classroom learning. I find it much more difficult to read everyone’s thought rather than just hear them. I feel that it takes me much longer to complete and understand my work than it did in a traditional classroom. This artlicle backed up the conclusion I have already drawn for myself, next semester I will have to make some study buddies and maybe participate in a class on campus in order to more successfully transition into online learning.

    • Brenda,
      You point out the biggest deficit I see in online learning-the lack of direct social contact. Although the modern era supports increased digital socialization via Instagram, Facebook, texting, and email; there is something intrinsically human in face to face contact. I think for online learning to address this issue we need to integrate more options for Skype or video conferencing. This at least allows a more direct line of communication to form between professor and students, as well as student to student. I think your decision to get “study buddies” is excellent and will likely help you increase your interest and motivation.

  18. Jessica Purvine says:

    I found this article very interesting to read. I find myself many of times lacking motivation when it comes to my education. I liked the point you made about not focusing on solely taking the tests. I tend to focus all my energy on making good grades on the test that I tire myself of the class in general. I also took to the point that I am in control of my grades and education. Many times I blame my failures on outside things when realistically I was just too lazy to study the material. I very much enjoyed this article and I will be sure to apply these tips to my life!

    • Jessica,
      Sometimes focusing on just the test gives the effect of “not being able to see the trees for the forrest.” The thing about education and learning that motivates most people is being interested in the material, at times testing can detract from this and ultimately reduce motivation to even put forth the effort to learn. I love your candor and honesty about sometimes just being “lazy”, your ability to accurately self-assess allows you the consequent ability to regulate your future behavior-it will carry you far in life.

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