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Academic Burnout in College Students: How to Prevent It

happy young woman studying.

College is supposed to be a safe place where learning, growth, and fun interconnect to give young adults a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, the quest for academic validation, success, and the natural human desire to learn new things can become a daunting experience—leaving students with nothing but stress and apathy.

We call that academic burnout. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), academic burnout is the mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged study time. We can also think of it as a reaction to chronic stress that deprives you of advancement in your personal and professional life.

The good news is that despite it being an occupational hazard we can all fall victims to, there are ways to prevent it.

Causes of College Apathy Due to Academic Burnout

Academic burnout is the accumulation of several factors that over time become unmanageable. These have a profound impact on young people’s stress levels, mental health, and overall well-being. Depending on the context and particulars of someone’s life, these factors may be:

Work Overload

Sometimes, assignments with tight deadlines cause sleepless nights when large amounts of coffee are involved. However, living with a constant work overload is not the standard and can have detrimental effects.

For some, achieving high grades is the reason for their self-inflicted exhaustion, while for others, it is the combination of poor study habits plus the lack of understanding of a given subject. Regardless of the reason, work overload forces students to study until it becomes a stressful and problematic activity.

Poor Mental Health

Studying requires commitment and discipline, which can be challenging for someone dealing with mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, emotional numbness, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, substance use, and low self-esteem are some issues that can take a toll on students’ mental health.

Now imagine if, on top of that, they have to keep up with college. Not to mention the stigma around mental health and the courage it takes to open up and seek help. One of the most common traits of people fighting mental health issues is apathy in all aspects of their life – college is not an exception.

Financial Stress

Paying for housing, tuition and fees, courses, books and supplies, transportation, food, and entertainment, is a challenge for most students, and therefore, a sensitive subject. Many take out loans and find a job to pay the bills or live on a limited budget with money sent by family members.

Besides, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy to the point that thousands of students lost their part-time jobs and were still required to pay for empty dorm rooms. This situation can add to students’ stress, pushing them to give up on college.

Multiple Activities

Some students really enjoy the multi-task lifestyle of college, but sometimes, being part of too many clubs, making time for the sorority/fraternity, going out with friends, exploring the city, and studying become too much.

You cannot expect top grades and steady academic growth without a solid time management strategy that allows you to keep up with your responsibilities. Otherwise, you may blame college for keeping you from enjoying your life, which can lead to academic burnout and college apathy.

Social Life or Lack Thereof

Going out with friends, spending time with family, and exploring new places is part of life and feels incredible. However, it becomes a problem when students make their social life their number one priority and neglect their academic responsibilities.

Likewise, it also becomes a problem when students sacrifice family time, nights out with friends, or pursuing personal interests to devote their time to study. The lack of balance prevents them from having a healthy college experience.

Substance Use

Unfortunately, some substances (like alcohol and marijuana) are widely available on campuses, while others (like cocaine and psychedelics) are easily accessible. A study published in 2019 showed that nearly half of participating college students were affected by at least one substance use disorder.

Sadly, many students use substances to deal with the high levels of stress and pressure they experience. The most worrying part is that substance use is associated with several harmful experiences such as poor academic performance, sexual assault, academic apathy, and an increased risk of unemployment after graduation.

Choosing the Wrong Vocation

One of the rules to enjoy college is to do what makes you genuinely happy. Forcing yourself to select a major for the approval of others will only make you miserable in the long term.

Finishing essays, taking tests, doing projects, and being fully involved in college requires passion and interest. A person who lacks those is prone to experience college apathy.

How To Prevent It

Learn Time Management Skills

Learning to manage your time wisely is a skill that will help you enjoy the things you love—like any hobby, spending time with loved ones, or exploring the city—without leaving your academic work behind. Besides, setting a specific time frame to study every day helps your brain get accustomed to focusing and absorbing new concepts at a particular time each day.

Set Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is essential to surviving in every aspect of your life. By saying no to things that do not contribute to your professional and personal growth, you prioritize what helps you move forward. Any good friend would understand if you decide to stay at home to catch up with your homework instead of going out.

Incorporate a Wellness Routine into Your Life

Many associate wellness with luxury, which could not be further from the truth. Creating a wellness routine can be as simple as meditating/stretching/walking for 10 minutes after waking up. The goal of incorporating wellness into your life is to make you realize that happiness is a choice and everyone has access to it.

Set Realistic Goals

The pursuit of academic validation and unrealistic goals can prevent students from enjoying life and celebrating small victories. Setting realistic goals and underestimating your abilities are two different concepts, and you should not confuse them.


No matter your age, goals, or challenges in life, do not forget that you are alive and that college is an experience, not a competition or a prize to show off to others. Enjoy it at its fullest, have fun, stay present, learn something new every day, and when things get hard, take a break and pat yourself on the back because you are doing an amazing job! 

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About The Author: Regina is a well-being freelance writer with extensive knowledge of mental health and wellness. She finds it rewarding to fight stigma and help others on their mental fitness journey.

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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