students walking across the Quad during autumn

How to Help Students in the Home Stretch of the Semester

Greg Vander Wal

about the AUTHOR

Dr. Greg Vander Wal is the executive director of The University of Alabama Counseling Center and a licensed psychologist. Vander Wal has over a decade of experience in collegiate mental health services.

We are more than halfway through the fall semester! We’ve reached the time when students need to bear down on their studies for the final push. Not only must they wrap up those final projects, papers and exams, but they must also choose how to spend their time during holiday and semester breaks. This will go smoothly for many; but for some, it can be challenging.

Some of the challenges students may face include:

  • Realizing they don’t have much time to recover from ongoing procrastination.
  • Cramming their study time, which can result in poor sleep and impaired cognitive functioning and can lead to last-minute panic and problematic communication patterns.
  • Realizing they may not recover from poor academic performance earlier in the semester before they visit home.
  • Dealing with high anxiety over maintaining high, unreasonable standards regarding their grades.
  • Facing parental pressure to live responsibly, along with the rewards or consequences that may be involved.
  • Preparing themselves (or not) to manage stressful situations at home and/or with their friends.
  • Making conscious choices about healthy behaviors during school breaks.

Faculty and staff can help support students during this time in several ways:

  • Be aware that all of us can experience these themes, so take time to take care of yourself, too! Many helpful options exist for you through UA Human Resources.
  • Refresh your memory concerning effective stress management skills for students. Also, visit Health Promotion and Wellness for great information concerning many health and health-related behavior issues for students. 
  • Spot the signs of seasonal stress in students, including fatigue, agitation, feeling jittery or shaky, muscle tension, headaches, feeling drained or overwhelmed, restlessness and poor concentration. 
  • Engage the student in a brief conversation about how they are doing. Should you notice they are so distressed their overall functioning is impaired (in college students this can mean not eating, not sleeping, missing classes or work), refer them to the Counseling Center, Student Health Center, Student Care and Well-Being and/or other supportive and academic resources as appropriate.

As always, consult with the Counseling Center at 205-348-3863 with any questions you may have. We are here to help.

Myth-Busting: Appointment Wait Time

One refrain we hear from students, faculty and staff is that it takes a long time to get appointments at the Counseling Center. We’ve heard anywhere from a month to six months! Though there are times of the year when new client screening appointments have a longer wait, this has rarely exceeded two weeks. Generally, students can get a screening appointment within one to two weeks. For fall 2023, the average wait time for a new screening appointment is six days. Also, same-day consult appointments are available every weekday and are only scheduled the day of. These are 30-minute appointments with a therapist, either in person or over the phone, and can be used by any student at any time.

If you hear reports that it takes “months” to get an appointment, this is simply not true. Please encourage students and staff to reach out to the Counseling Center directly at 205-348-3863 for information on current availability of appointments.

Online Resource for Students

Students have access to an online peer support community called Togetherall.

Togetherall’s online community is clinically moderated by mental health professionals and offers students a safe and anonymous place to express their thoughts, concerns and triumphs. Resources are free for students (aged 16+) to use and are available 24/7/365. Students can give and get support from others as well as use mental health and well-being courses and resources. To learn more, watch this short explainer video. It’s free, anonymous and available now. Students can sign up online.