First-year students deal with stresses of first-semester finals

Jens Krogstad

When it comes to dealing with the stresses of school, Rhonda Schwalbe has good days and bad.

Lately, though, it seems the bad have outnumbered the good. For Schwalbe, the days are too long and the nights too short.

“I think today I’ve concluded that I’m not meant for college,” she said in a moment of exasperation last week.

That is not to say that she does not like college. In fact, in many ways it has become her new home.

She said when she made some time for fun over Thanksgiving – partying with old high school marching band friends two nights in a row – there was not nearly enough time to finish all her homework.

The Wisconsin native said the reunion was a bit awkward because many of her friends went to smaller colleges in her home state, which sometimes left her out of the loop.

She said being home felt strange for other reasons as well. For the first time, she no longer felt certain that with her family, she was home.

“My family had stuff going on and I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “I don’t call any place home anymore. I have all my stuff here and I have, like, a mattress at home.”

For that reason, she is not sure how she feels about going home for winter break. For starters, she said, it is long – the equivalent to a third of a summer.

“It’s going to be different,” she said. “Not ‘bad’ different, but not necessarily ‘good’ different. Just different.”

She also had to adjust in the classroom. She said the difficulty of college classes surprised her. Used to getting high grades in her high school classes, she now realizes that is not always possible with a schedule that includes a challenging chemistry class. Because of this, finals week is a dark cloud on the horizon.

“I’m thinking about starting to study for them, but that is as far as it’s gotten,” she said, laughing.

In the meantime, Schwalbe said she is just trying to make it through the end of the semester before school’s weekly grind becomes too much.

“Sometimes I feel like a rat. You run your little maze: Go to all your classes and then come back to your little cell,” she said. “It’s the same thing week after week.”

Joey Torke

End-of-the-semester stress can even get to students like Joey Torke, whose attitude for finals is, “Just let it flow – it’s going to happen anyway.”

He said the pressure of major projects and homework due since he got back from Thanksgiving break has been building.

His final project for ceramics class was a sculpture. But things did not go as expected, and he had to rush to finish it before deadline.

The result was not good.

“It’s so ugly. I don’t want to ever see them again,” Torke said. “I think I’ll smash them.”

But other than ceramics, Torke said, his first semester of college went well.

He said he had to adjust to a major change in his life, but that it was for the better.

“I’m more focused on school, more than I was in high school,” he said. “I think I’m more mellow, more laid back.”

He said in high school he worked about 30 hours per week at his job and was responsible for his car and payments, which distracted him from school. In college, school is all he has to worry about.

Even so, adjusting to University classes was a challenge.

He said the first couple of tests he took were “really bad,” but that he has made adjustments since and is getting good grades.

Looking to next semester, Torke said, he just wants to get his first year of college done.

“This semester went really fast, and I think second semester will go even faster,” he said.