How (and why) to stay motivated in a class that doesn’t interest you | Ask Kelly

woman puts head on the table while looking at a laptop

Dear Kelly,

In general, I’m a good student. I struggle, however, when I’m in a class that I have no interest in. Do you have any advice to help me stay motivated?

The first thing I want this reader to know is they are not alone; so many people share this same problem. It’s easy to stay motivated and engaged when you are in a class that teaches content you find interesting. It is in those other classes, the ones that don’t necessarily speak to your passions, that so many students find challenging and difficult.

For me, this was always history and language arts. I love math and science! I’ve always had a passion for figuring things out and solving problems, so I excelled in those subjects. History and language arts, on the other hand, relied more on reading and the ability to comprehend and retain information, and with my Attention Deficit Disorder, I’ve always battled with comprehension. I had history teachers in high school that would become so frustrated with me, they regularly kicked me out of class. If my world history teacher was having a bad day, the minute I walked into class, he would say, “Kelly, I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay in here today.” (Thank goodness for my economics teacher, Coach Stuth, who always kept an empty desk for me).

When I got into college, just after high school (1991), I had a very difficult time staying focused in my English and history courses. Math and science classes were A’s and B’s, but English and history classes were mostly C’s and D’s. Not too long ago, I found a paper I wrote on May 5, 1992, for my ENG 1102 class. It was the first week of class, and my professor had assigned us essays to introduce ourselves. My paper was horrible! Basically, I just rambled for seven pages as if I had no idea who I was as a person. I actually remember writing the paper and being bothered by it because I believed the assignment had no value. I even ended the paper with, “At least I am almost finished with this paper. Maybe one day, professors will come up with a new topic to write on the first day of class.” (Trust me, I’m not proud of this moment.) My professor’s response was, “Well, Mary Lewis (my first and maiden name) has written at length, but I do not know much about her except that she has a very low boiling point. So, if you are challenging me to keep you interested for twelve weeks, forget it! Just pack up your spiral notebook and go!” Then, he gave me a check minus, as if to say, “I’m not even going to take the time to grade this.”

If you’ve read my previous columns, you may know I dropped out of college not once but twice in my 20s. It took me 22 years to build up enough courage to try again; only this time, I wanted things to be different. I knew if I wanted to succeed, I had to change my frame of mind and not see my classes as “good ones” or “hard ones.” Instead, I chose to see each class as a separate step that would eventually carry me to my final goals. Some of the steps in this academic staircase are steeper than others. Some take more work, more focus and more reminding myself that if I want to reach my goals, I must conquer each step equally.

What I have learned is success lies in how you choose to approach the challenges in your life. As someone once said, “You get out what you put in.” In the example from my 1992 ENG 1102 class, I put absolutely zero effort into that assignment, and in response, understandably, my professor put very little effort into grading it. In addition, because of that paper, I presented an image of who I was as a student and what that professor could expect out of me. I painted a portrait of a student who was uninterested, narrow minded, disrespectful, and with zero goals or ambitions. Whether any of that was true, that’s the impression I left him with.

This simple act of changing my thought process has changed my life in ways I never could’ve imagined. In the past three years, I have maintained a 4.0 GPA, despite having to take both history and language arts-related classes. I graduated as the No. 1 student with my associate’s degree from Southern Crescent Technical College. I have represented both Mercer University and Southern Crescent by speaking at graduations, meetings and conferences. I have been asked to be a leader in helping Southern Crescent kick start its alumni association and have been afforded the opportunity to work with Mercer’s Enrollment Management team on multiple occasions. In addition, for a student who constantly struggled with language arts years ago, I find it captivating that a change of mindset has now led me to writing my very own column for one of the top universities in the nation.

Yes, it can be a struggle staying focused in classes that don’t interest you, but what are your goals? Where do you want to end up after your academic journey is over? What do you aspire to be or do? And most importantly, what do you want people to see, truly see, when they look at you? Your courses aren’t individual, unrelated chunks of academia; they are all individual steps in the staircase that will lead you to your goals and ambitions. Your mindset and what you put into each and every fraction of your journey will affect your final outcome. As I used to tell my preschool students, “Always do your best and always let your awesome glow.”

In conclusion, always put your best foot forward. Rather than facing a challenging course with the attitude of “I’ve just got to get through it,” meet it with the determination to put in the extra effort needed to completely succeed in it. That may mean that you reach out to the professor to meet them during office hours to gain better clarification of lessons or assignments. It may mean that you set up an appointment with the Academic Resource Center to get tutoring. Success in this class may even involve spending a lot more time studying and researching. Regardless, the end goal is that when you reach the finish line, you can truly say that you gave it your best, and that you stared a challenge in the face and won. True success is being able to see challenges as opportunities to grow and evolve.

As always, I wish you health, happiness and unimaginable success as you continue throughout your journey.

Do you have a question about coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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