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When you are in college, it can feel like you need more than 24 hours everyday to accomplish all of your goals. Between taking a full course load, maintaining a social calendar, getting sleep every night, and maybe working a part time job, there is no question that college students have a full schedule. On top of all of that, there are external requests. Companies that want student input may advertise and ask for participation in studies. Many products target students, and many corporations value the perspective of students, but there is always one roadblock: getting students to actually do it. Motivating college students requires some tenacity and persuasion, which we will unpack in this article.

How can you motivate college students?

When it comes to motivation, there are a few tried and true strategies to keep top of mind. My personal favorite is the baby steps method. Whenever I have a big essay or high stakes project, I rely on this tactic. The essence is this: take whatever your monster is, and break it down into more digestible pieces. Doing one page per day is much easier than ten the night before the deadline. As the old saying goes, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Especially in college, when life is defined by projects and exams, breaking it down can help build up confidence and lighten your load in the long run. By bringing this approach into your own life, you can improve motivation by decreasing the difficulty and commitment of the task ahead. 

Another strategy is to start with your most daunting task, and leave room for the other ancillary things that pop up along the way. This technique is sometimes known as the Big Rock Prioritization strategy. The idea is this: if you have a bucket to fill with big rocks, pebbles, and sand, you have to start with the big rock and fill the space around it. If you start with sand and pebbles, the big rock will not fit. In practice, this looks like the common dilemma, if you spend all day checking your email, there will not be time to complete a big presentation. When you start by checking boxes on the presentation to-do list, your mind will be free later, and you can email all you like. This strategy takes a very rational approach to stress. Completing the most stress inducing tasks first not only gives you more time to complete other tasks further down the priority list, but it also eases the mental strain of having to jump the hurdle later. 

Stay motivated by taking all the help you can get. There is a common misconception that when something is hard, suffering through without asking for help makes you responsible and hard working. In fact, oftentimes, the opposite is true. Relying on resources to help your work will almost always improve the quality and quantity that you are able to produce in the same amount of time. That might look like going to office hours for a class, making use of online forums or friends in your class, or even making use of a division of labor. Anything you can do to better understand the material you need to know or share the load so that you are more likely to do it will improve your motivation to complete the task at hand.

How can companies use this information to maximize their impact?

Now that we have established some common ways that students keep themselves motivated, we can explore how to use that information. If you are trying to recruit students, keep these in mind. Students want their work to come in small doses. Do not try to draw them in with a time intensive task that has to all be done at once. Giving students the autonomy to make their schedule work around your assignment makes their completion and your satisfaction far more likely.

On the flip side of the Big Rock approach, companies can make sure to give students pebble sized work. If there is too much responsibility, the student will have to organize their whole life around the big rock of work, which will likely end in an incomplete task or a sacrifice in another aspect of their life. If the work is too much like sand (unimportant, tiny responsibilities that have no obvious bigger picture), it also will be an inconvenience for students, getting in the way of using their time on things that really matter, like crucial coursework. By keeping enough importance to be a rock while not overwhelming the rest of the student’s work life, you can make the most impact and maximize your chances of getting successful, quality work.

Finally, offer as much help as you can. Supporting students is a critical part of their trust in you and any subsequent success. Online resources, one on one check ins, company wide inclusion, and team events are great ways to maximize your student’s work and support their growth. Support increases motivation by showing people that they are a priority.