Danielle Straub

Motivation Matters: How to get college students engaged in learning

Blog Post created by Danielle Straub Employee on Jul 19, 2017

More often than not, college students are completely overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to complete. They often have lengthy lists of tasks they have to do from professors who seem to love to pack on the workload. Although this may be a generalization, the majority of students are exceptional procrastinators and will take the easiest way out when doing their work, trying to get the least amount of work done in the shortest amount of time. Students try to balance their academic studies with their social lives and sometimes the latter trumps the former.


A lot of times students start the semester off strong: being on top of their assignments, up-to-date with readings and reassuring themselves that this semester will be different from the last. They tell themselves that they’ll continue to be organized, study for exams, and get projects finished on time. By the middle of the semester, professors’ assignments are more frequent and students are suddenly faced with a daunting list of time-sensitive tasks to complete. This is the point when some students give up and start showing serious signs of sleep deprivation, procrastination, and overwhelming anxiety. Things like Netflix or going out to a party easily distract students and sometimes hinder their productivity. At the end of the semester, all hell breaks loose. Students are especially sluggish and seriously slacking with their work, and they may start scrambling to recover their grade in a class.


Many different factors influence whether or not students will be motivated to do work for a class. Most factors are situational: where they go to school, what professors they have, their upbringing, their economic background, and the state of their mental health and so on. Every student is different in how they work best. As stated earlier, some are great at time management and others are better at procrastinating, or some are a mix of the two. In the fall of 2016, the American College Health Association conducted a survey of over 30,000 university students that measured their physical and mental health. One specific section of the report found the biggest factors students reported that affected their individual academic performance within the past 12 months. 32.2% of students reported that stress was the biggest factor in their academic performance, followed by anxiety at 24.9%, sleep difficulties at 20.6%, and depression at 15.4%.

To ease students of their stresses, professors can take simple steps to encourage students to be more motivated in and out of class. As a college student myself, I find that when professors exercise these techniques, I, along with other students, are more likely to be interested in the class as well as more willing to work to receive a good grade. Some specific practices include:

  • Inform students on the value of a college education. A lot of students view college as something they have to do because their parents expect them to, rather than a time to be as invested as possible in their education.
  • Get to know your students. Students often need to be told what to do and need significant guidance during college. Giving students the opportunity to have a relationship with their professor is often extremely beneficial. Students are more comfortable to ask questions and are more motivated to excel in a class. Be flexible with office hours times and always be available to be reached by students.
  • Get students engaged in class by having class discussions frequently. If students are comfortable to speak in class, they will actually enjoy coming to class, participating, and being friends with other students.
  • Keep the information during lectures current by relating the topic to students’ lives. References to media and pop culture spark students’ interests and are easily identifiable for them. The more interesting the topic is to the student, the more they will want to learn about it.
  • Give students an incentive to do well. Giving them a participation grade, extra credit opportunities, or reward for a job well done will make the students appreciate you and motivate them to do well.
  • Treat all students equally. Students pick up on a professor who favors certain students and can dislike them for that reason, making them care less about the class.
  • Ask students for feedback on the teaching techniques that work and the ones that don’t. Give students choices on project and paper topics. If the topic interests them, the more likely it is that they will do well when graded.
  • For more tips on motivating students click here.



About the Author 

Danielle Straub is the Communication Editorial intern this summer at Macmillan. She is a rising junior at Hunter College in New York City. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, Danielle plans to go into publishing when she finishes college. Danielle enjoys spending her time traveling, cooking, reading, and volunteering.