How to Harrow “Hell Week”: Tips from Matt O’Sullivan

Written by Aaron Andrews

Matt O SullivanThe very prospect of hell week makes me sweat beads of pure terror. Who am I to give advice when I can’t even think about hell week without my stomach twisting into a contorted mass of anxiety?

So, I decided to ask for advice. I got in touch with Matthew O’Sullivan, an alum who graduated in 2015 with a 4.0 grade point average. That’s right, people. This guy actually graduated with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. He is one out of three people within the last thirty years to do so.

Freshmen and fellow sophomores, let us bend our ears to the advice of such a student. I give you Matt’s seven tips for surviving hell week.

  1. Let hell week be the last lap of the semester—not a full marathon. You already know what many of your projects for hell week will entail. Don’t just file that knowledge away! If you’ve got a term paper, project, or lab assignment, let it be just that: a *term* project. Good work and ideas take time to develop. You get more mileage out of thirty-six hours put into a paper over the course of a month than you do over the narrow stretch of three days. That’s because you will have plenty of time for unplanned and oh-so-helpful aha moments while you steadily pluck away at your assignments during the semester.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others.  Whether it’s Facebook statuses, conversations over dinner at Saga, or the people who look like they’re working way harder than you in the library, there are too many things that can suck away your confidence during hell week. This may sound trite or obvious, but you are not in a competition. Your time here is about pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness—not building up a reputation for the amount of academic pain you can endure. Don’t worry about how many pages anyone else has written. Focus on, and enjoy, the task set before you.
  3. Study your study habits. One of the biggest struggles for me during freshman year was figuring out how to be a good college student, which can be surprisingly different from being a good high-school student. A lot of this will come with time. The key to accelerating your study skills is periodically observing what works for you and what doesn’t. Some folks write best in the morning, others at night. Some people love study groups, some hate ’em. Look back on the semester so far. Try to determine what has and has not worked for you. Then pour your energy into what works well in order to maximize your effectiveness.
  4. Take some time to do something with your friends that will help relieve some of the stress of hell week. Remember those eerily endearing toys from the late ‘90s? A couple of buddies and I smashed and then ceremoniously buried (in a neighbor’s toilet, of course) a Furby that we found at Salvation Army during one hell week. Barbaric? Maybe. Satisfying? Oh, heck yeah! Is there a point here? Yes. Don’t be afraid to say yes to a crazy, once-in-a-lifetime, oddball shenanigan that college students are known for—even though you’ve got a ton to do. You’ll find that your focus and determination are improved when you return to your work!
  5. Eat and sleep. There are no two ways about it. You’re going to get less sleep than normal during hell week. But you don’t have to pull three all-nighters in five days. Nor do you have to sustain yourself on a diet of Monster, McDoubles, and Doritos. Just remember: if you burn yourself out during hell week, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable finals week.
  6. Get it done! This is sort of like the first point: Don’t let your hell week assignments spill into finals week. Once finals hit, you won’t have time to get that paper done until you complete your exams. You will feel awful and struggle to find motivation to finish a late paper at the end of finals week when everyone else is done and hanging out or going home. If you do find yourself in this situation, be sure to talk with your professors about it, and definitely keep in mind the next point…
  7. Maintain a long view of things. Remember why you’re in college and at Hillsdale in particular: to pursue truth and to defend liberty. Your education is more than your degree, and you are more than your GPA. Work your heart out, yes, but remember that you’re not a workhorse. Go for the good grades, absolutely, but let them be the evidence of and not the end (telos) of your education. Do you remember how much stock you put into your high-school GPA and SAT/ACT scores before you came to Hillsdale? Now, how much have you thought or talked about them since arriving on campus? I’m not even five months out of Hillsdale, and I can tell you this: The things you take with you cannot be measured by your grades—and that goes for both your personal memories and your academic growth.

Aaron Andrews

Aaron Andrews, ’18, is studying English, Latin, and whatever else crosses his fancy. He spends his summers in northeastern Washington, rural Stevens Country, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where he goes for weeks on end with no internet. He spends his free time photographing local herds of cattle, and frolicking in Washington’s famous amber waves of grain.