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What I Wish I’d Known About Finals Week As A Freshman: A Letter To My Younger Self

I’m five semesters into the eight it will take me to graduate, which means this is the fifth time I’ve gone through finals week (not counting the summer classes I took and the time I studied abroad…which I don’t because their finals were structured completely differently).

Finals week is still a rough time of the semester for me, but at least I have more experience under my belt than I did just a few years ago. With every semester that goes by, I get a little better at handling finals and, with that in mind, began thinking what I would write in a letter to my younger self. What advice did I most need to hear the fall semester of my freshman year?

Dear me,


All right, all right, I’ll stop roasting you. For now. But seriously, there’s so much I want to tell you. Hi, I’m your junior year self and I’m here to help you get your life together. You’re hanging in there, but life could be so much easier. It’s not your fault that you don’t know any better, though… this is the first time you’ve ever done this!

First things first, get more sleep. Get. More. Sleep! Listen to your elders (AKA me) when they say that it will make a world of difference. You’ve got a terrible sleep schedule, so it’s no wonder that it’s hard to stay awake, much less focused, as you attempt to study and work on final projects.

Eat healthy, too. I know it’s tempting to stress-eat, but try to limit the amount of sugar and carbs you inhale. Actually eating breakfast before those early-morning finals helps, too.

Make a to-do list, goddammit. Use that to create a schedule of what is due when and prioritize from there. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, but spending half an hour here and two hours there actually getting sh*t done, instead of napping or laughing at memes on your phone, will save you from so much stress down the road.

If some of your final assignments are easier than others and you have the time + energy to work on them now even though they’re not due for a while, do them anyway. Just because you can wait until the very last minute and still get an A, doesn’t mean you should. You never know if you might be tired or unmotivated later… and besides, accomplishing one major goal gives you just the boost of confidence needed to reach all the others.

Give yourself little rewards for accomplishing tasks. Go pet a dog or something.

Don’t be embarrassed to go to office hours, even at the last minute. As long as you’re there to actually get help and not to cajole them into raising a D to a A, there is no shame in what you’re doing.

Remember to take time off. Please. Spend time with your friends because they’ll help get your mind off of what’s troubling you and spend time by yourself because sometimes a little quiet is nice. Go for a walk. Read. Watch a movie that always makes you laugh.

Try not to compare yourself to others, or even to your past self, because you’re a different person. You’re you.

Write down your successes so that you can look back at them later when you’re feeling down.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not working as hard as you promised you would or if your grades aren’t what you had hoped for.


You’re doing amazing, sweetie.


Elizabeth in 2017

What advice would you give to your freshman year self? Unfortunately, until someone invents a time machine (physics majors, get working on that!) we can’t turn the clock back to have conversations with our prior selves, so be sure to pass on what you’ve learned about finals over the years to any freshmen you’ve taken under your wing!

Photos: cover, 1, 2

Elizabeth Chesak is a junior at the University of Iowa. She is triple-majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies to prepare for her hybrid dream job of picture book author/National Geographic photojournalist/activist. When not in class, studying, or sleeping, she can usually be found befriending the neighborhood cats.
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