Overcoming Academic Apathy

By: Kaitlin Schluter

You’ve been there before. It’s the night before that ten-page paper is due. It’s already nearing midnight. You’re on your second cup of coffee and all you’ve typed is your name. You begin to write when that little voice pops in your head. “Go on Facebook,” it says. “Go get Donut Man,” it continues. “You can skip class tomorrow, even though you missed last week,” it teases. “Who cares about homework anyway?” It grows louder.

This voice is what experts call ‘academic apathy,’ an unruly behavior characterized by a lack of enthusiasm, lethargy and indifference in the classroom setting. It’s what keeps us from being successful and staying on top of the workload. For those who can’t master it, the consequences are severe: failure, academic probation and eventually dismissal.

With finals week approaching, getting back on track academically is possible. It starts with saying no to the voice and yes to sleep, better study habits and a planner. These experts weigh in on their tips to overcoming academic apathy, before it’s too late.


Kantis Simmons, motivational speaker and author of “Playing Your A-Game,” is no stranger to academic apathy.

Although he held the highest male GPA in his senior year of high school, he almost didn’t graduate. He nearly failed an advanced placement English course, letting apathy set in. He became complacent and lacked motivation.

“I had to stop, get it together, and discipline myself to get back on track,” Simmons said. “My mom came up to me and said, ‘Dude, you basically need to get it together.’”

Simmons eventually got it together in time for graduation but it wasn’t easy. He now tours the nation, encouraging high school and college students to get back on track with their studies. The first step, said Simmons, is finding your purpose.

“What students don’t realize is whatever door you want to get through in life, whatever door you want to access with your career, you’re going to need a certain key,” said Simmons. “In most cases, that key is a certificate, a diploma or a degree. By understanding the keys you need in life, that helps you identify the purpose.”

Simmons advised students to look down the road and keep asking why, questioning their actions. It also helps to treat school as a full-time job. Students should plan their schedule accordingly, working throughout the day. He suggests working two hours outside the classroom for every one hour in the classroom.

Being academically successful also means picking up good study habits, starting with study location. Doing homework where you sleep is like bathing in the kitchen sink, according to Simmons. It’s not a smart move.

“If it’s one place in the library that you go to all the time to study, the only thing you do in the place is study,” Simmons said. “Just like the bathroom is made for bathroom things, the kitchen is for kitchen things. Define that study location and the only thing you do in that location is study.”

Simmons also encouraged taking a nap as soon as your “work day” ends. Students should take a little rest and then continue studying, keeping in mind when their energy level is high during the day.


Paul Svagdis, head coach for the Azusa Pacific University baseball team, is a firm believer of “grinding it out.” That’s baseball terminology for practicing something you don’t like to do in order to get better at it.

He sees this both on the field and in the classroom. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics requires athletes to maintain a 2.0 GPA and at least 12 units per semester. When athletes are on the brink of failing these requirements, Svagdis’ role shifts from coach to advisor.

He encourages his athletes to look at their major and ask why they are pursuing it. When he attended Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, he pursued an economics major and felt he couldn’t change. Although having a structured schedule helped him keep on top of classes, he wish he had more passion for his studies.

Svagdis encourages students feeling unmotivated to take a second look at their passions.

“I would sit down a do a little self-reflection,” Svagdis said. “As a Christian, I would pray and ask God where are you directing me in my life? If I don’t know what I’m passionate about at this point I need to pray, what have you gifted me in?”

Svagdis also encourages students to know that “slumps” are typical in life. A “slump,” in baseball lingo, is a period of time where the player is not playing well or up to their initial expectations.

“Sometimes you’re in a season of life and you’re in a little bit of a slump right now academically, but I would encourage you that life is about overcoming slumps,” Svagdis said.


If there’s anything Dr. Jeanette Wong wants students to know, it’s that they can have a second chance. Wong is the director and professor of academic advising at APU. She and her office colleagues deal one-on-one with a majority of students on academic probation.

When students fail to meet a cumulative 2.0 GPA, APU’s policy places them on a semester of academic probation. Students are then required to meet monthly with an advisor, like Wong, who keep them accountable to their studies.

“The reason for doing this is to put a face to APU’s resources for these students, so that they don’t feel they have to make the journey out of academic probation alone,” Wong said.

Those on academic probation not only receive counseling and resources, but they are also able to explore what is causing difficulties. This includes the possibility of apathy as a cause. Finances and family issues can also spur a lack of motivation.

If students can overcome their struggles and get a 2.0 GPA, they are taken off of academic probation. Those that fail to meet the requirements beyond that are dismissed. Students can then petition to come back immediately after a first dismissal. After a second dismissal, the student needs to spend two semesters at another institution being considered for re-admittance.

Wong said a goal for academically apathetic students is to find self-motivation, also called intrinsic motivation.

“Every person is at a different point in their life,” Wong said. “Everybody comes to a point in their life when they make a shift in that they start doing things like studying for classes, brushing your teeth, whatever, for themselves.”

Dr. Nina Ashur, director for the Learning Enrichment Center, agrees. Although her office provides many resources and tips to help students, it is up to the student to take responsibility and seek those opportunities.

One of these steps is realizing the pace of a college education and taking action to handle it.

“In high school you meet daily and so a lot of work that is usually done at home is done in the classroom and also high school assumes they are teaching you how to learn but students don’t get it,” Ashur said. “When you have class two times a week, they will not do the learning for you.

Students need to make an effort to read material beforehand, especially when entering study groups. Ashur suggests breaking studying into smaller parts. Students should try to study earlier in the day and use waiting lines in the Cougar Den to review notes.

Ashur, who has pulled an all-nighter before, advised students to also schedule in other priorities like sleeping, recreation, exercise and eating. Above all, Ashur believes it’s important to start taking school and purpose seriously.

“There’s no substitute for adequate planning and taking responsibility for your degree and degree completion,” Ashur said.


Emily Nash is busy, to say the least.

After all, being a junior business administration major, an athlete for Track and Field, an Alpha Coordinator and an intern with the Scholarship Business Association is no easy task. But she’s found a way to overcome it and reach her goals: schedule ahead.

While she flipped through her planner, bits of color peeked out. She explained red stands for deadlines and hard tasks; blue for mediocre assignments, stars and heart symbols for important events and green for things she loves. Green is her favorite color, after all.

But getting to this point of organization wasn’t easy. She’s had her fair share of late-nighters spent guzzling energy drinks in Marshburn library. In response, she usually collects all her syllabi and plans out her homework schedule for the whole semester at the beginning of the term. This semester, she was delayed and felt the consequences.

“Maybe I didn’t necessarily do as poorly in my classes, but my soul was just not happy,” Nash said. “I’d go to classes and not know what was happening and I hate that feeling.”

Instead, Nash encourages students to plan way ahead of time. That, and get sleep. Her freshman year, it was easier to stay up late as she balanced easy classes. Now as a junior, her internal clock hits at a certain time telling her to go to sleep.

For Nash, apathy comes more in the form of distractions. She’s bombarded by many tasks but all involving activities she loves. She thinks students should chart long-term goals and keep it small.

“Try and identify what you’re important long term goals are and what classes or professors are going to help you get to where you want to go. I know a lot of time you don’t know at first, but seek out people that can help you find that,” Nash said. “Whenever possible, narrow it down so that you can invest time in more specific things I would tell myself that if I could go back.”


Having trouble finding motivation for classes? You’re not the only one. Finding the same thrill from a 20-page paper compared to an episode of The Office is difficult. But there’s hope, believe us. Here’s a quick list of tips to becoming a better student just in time for finals.

  1. Find Your Purpose: A big task to accomplish in a week, but students should evaluate what they are passionate and what is their calling. Studying something you are motivated in will have a positive affect on your studies.
  2. Do the Math: Experts say students should study two hours for every one hour of class. That means, the typical Tuesday and Thursday schedule requires at least four hours of study per week.
  3. Feng Shui Your Study Space: Plan out some favorite spots that can be used only for the purpose of studying. This includes a coffee shop, library or even a living room. Above all, don’t use the bed to study. You wouldn’t use a kitchen sink for taking a shower, now would you?
  4. Treat School Like a Full-Time Job: Just like a professional position with a company, treat the time you log in at school seriously. Use the 9-5 schedule during the day to get work done. Afterwards, reward yourself with a small nap before continuing to study.
  5. Schedule Fun Time and Game Time: Make sure to write some recreational time into your planner. Seriously. A strategy to overcoming apathy is creating harmony in your life. Schedule study time, as well as rest and eating times. Your body and mind will thank you.

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