The Second Semester Hangover: signs, symptoms, and cures

It rivals the strength of the strongest drink, and no supply of gatorade or Advil can soften the blow. Upperclassmen reminisce the experience bitterly, and professors greet the sight with a scowl.

I like to affectionately refer to it as the “second semester hangover.”

For so many, college is an opportunity for growth and self discovery. Sure, those words are nothing we haven’t read in the latest recruitment pamphlet. But could there be some truth to the canned statements we’ve heard time and time again?

You see, it wasn’t until December rolled around and I returned to my hometown for winter break, that it hit me:

I’d changed.

For better, or for worse? Eh, depends who you’re asking. If you’re like me and you favor positive vibes, steer clear of the opinions of anyone who in 2013 I:

  1. dumped. Attempting to maintain a friendship with an ex is somewhat like practicing taxidermy. “I’m sorry you’re hurt, Bambi. Let me make it up to you,stuff you back to life, and keep you around so you can stare at me coldly. No hard feelings, right?” Debatable. *cue Taylor Swift song*
  2. unapologetically criticized for supporting Phil Robertson during the whole Duck Dynasty “scandal”.  The family is just a cleaner version of other reality show stars, saying and doing whatever it takes to stay in the limelight….apparently, this is not a very popular opinion in the conservative South. When Southern duck lovers unite, they are a strong  force to reckon with. Be warned. It was a great PR stunt though, I’ll give my duck lovers that much.
  3. watched me twerk. I don’t even know why I try.


Nonetheless, I realized that who I was when I left for college in August was entirely different in comparison to who I was returning to the STL for winter break.

Now, don’t be mistaken-reuniting with family and friends back home is comforting and joyful in more ways than one. Close family and friends are the ones who build us up and encourage us to reach our full potential. This beautiful and rare support system generally lies only in those we’ve known our whole lives. Unconditional love is hardly something to be taken for granted or undermined.

But in some ways, winter break as a college freshman is the equivalent of a caterpillar that’s on the edge of becoming a butterfly crawling back into it’s comfortable cocoon. The familiarity of our surroundings can make us, but it can also break us at the same time. It’s a bittersweet symphony, winter break. All too often, venturing back to “home sweet home” can cause us to hit “pause” on the progress we’ve made as individuals, out on our own. With ease, we begin to unknowingly digress along with the winter temperatures, and we often slip backwards into the roles we once held while in high school. Rather than continuing to develop the independent individuals we are becoming and the personality traits we’ve only recently discovered within ourselves while away from home, we fall back into the familiar patterns of the past… both good and bad.

Thus, as we return to school from winter break, the buzz brought by first semester begins to wear off,  and the second semester hangover sets in.

Sure, it makes for a pretty nasty headache. But never fear…. 19 is NOT the new 49. No need to remain static in the face of growth. You, too, can overcome a second semester hangover and regain motivation, despite so much time back home.

Treating a Second Semester Hangover

Step 1:

Admit you have a bit of a problem. Or a lot of a problem. 

Do you feel a bit blasé as you open your new textbooks? Do you find yourself missing that hometown hookup, despite the obvious observation he will probably never leave your hometown? Is that 8:30am class suddenly a struggle to get to on time? Have you found yourself explaining why, when, with whom, and where you’re going out on a Friday night to your roomie, as though she’s your mother?

If you even had to consider your answer to any of the above, stop right there.

The first step to self improvement really is the practice of realism. It’s natural to be a bit out of step as you return to Arkansas after so much time off. Be proactive, and start by accepting that you’ve fallen victim to a second semester hangover. It’s the first step to any kind of progress and improvement.

Open your eyes, and take a good look around. I’m not talking about taking in the beautiful Fayetteville landscape (I know, it can be distracting. Apologies to the pledge I checked while taking an Instagram photo of the campus about a month ago. Luckily, you and I both know you hate wearing that suit everyday, anyways) It’s easy to coast along and sugar coat what’s going on in your life. However, nothing worth having comes easy.

Moving along as though you don’t have a raging headache will only cause you more pain in the long run. Be honest with yourself in regards to where you stand.

On a scale of a functional headache, to unable to get out of bed…how hungover are you?

Step 2:

Make a list.

We’re not talking about half-baked (or fully baked, if you happen to be from Colorado) new year’s resolutions here….we’re talking about actual goals. Make a REAL list. A list of things that will continue to challenge you throughout second semester. A list of things that will help you rise from that winter break Netflix slump and prepare to tackle the end of the year with grace.

For instance, this semester I’m going to do lots of super-duper things. Super-duper things like:

  • start learning a new language. No habla Espanol? YES HABLA ESPANOL.
  • Take less selfies at the gym. Potentially work out* while I’m there.

*Work Out (noun): just enough exercise to fit into my best friend’s wardrobes. Because they have adorable shirts to share. And sharing is caring.

  • Write more. On napkins, in notebooks, on sticky notes, the internet, and even the palm of my hand. Occasionally my random thoughts string together to create something (mediocre at times) worth holding on to, and I’d hate for that to get lost in the shuffle.
  • forget, even when I have forgiven.
  • Come to terms with the fact that I’m most likely allergic to most animals….petting one will never end well, no matter how cute and fluffy it may be.
  • Remove the phrase “forever alone” from my vocabulary. Although personally, I always use this in the context of a joke, it’s a toxic phrase that all women should consider ditching, no matter the context it’s in. The term is WAY over used by a generation that is far too progressive and empowered to even give such a thought the time of day. No one is alone in this life. Chances are, even if you don’t have a man, you’ve got great girlfriends who would go above and beyond for you, at any hour. If you’re lucky, you also have a solid support system of guys who are like brothers, unconditionally protecting you.

…“future cat lady,” however, is still on the table for use in everyday vocabulary.

Step 3

Get to it.

Bite off more than you can chew. Put too much on your plate. Suck all the goodness that’s out there up like it’s free beer on a Friday night. But remember, goals and ambitions are nothing without the follow through. The morning after will, without a doubt, be harsh if your ambition lacks action.

All to often, we rationalize with ourselves, using “timing” as reasoning for static decisions. However, “timing” isn’t a reason- it’s an excuse.

The time is now, and second semester is calling.



  1. Madison Smith · January 24, 2014

    May not be a college student, but for a second semester senior trying to make it to the end, this still was an amazing article! Thanks Shelb! Hope you’re enjoying it!

    • shelbyleigh94 · January 24, 2014

      thank you!!

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