Trying to figure out… Dealing with Academic Struggles

Honestly, looking back at my first two years of college I realized there were steps I wish I was able to take if I had known them and had the time to minimize some of the struggles I already faced in the academic sphere. The day before my first day of college, I received news that my cousin’s diagnosis was terminal. In the coming weeks, I was required to engage in classroom discussions, socialize with others all the while I was hearing the shortening timeline of my cousin’s life. I was emotionally drained, but I used my school work as a distraction to get through the reality of what her death meant to me and my family. I was lucky that the first semester was an easy and non-challenging classload. Surprisingly, I ended up doing really well.

The second semester of freshman year, my uncle passed away suddenly. For me, it was a hard shock to my system. He is part of the reason I am on the path to becoming a counselor. In fact, my college application essay was about him. To say I was shattered to hear another person I loved passed away doesn’t really capture how I felt. But I dealt with the brokenness and lack of hope in an unhealthy way; I again delved deeper into coursework.

When fall semester sophomore year rolled around, I was not prepared for how the grief and loss would hit me with my cousin’s death anniversary. I started off that semester pretending I was okay and able to handle it, but my grades gave me my reality check. I was barely passing exams and completing assignments. That’s when I started to register my thoughts: I did not want to show up to class or hear what my professors had to say. When I got my grades for that semester, I passed by a narrow margin a course required for my major. 

During winter break, I knew that simply getting a head start on tasks would help me in the future. I joined a research team. I emailed a bunch of professors off my program site and waited for responses. I eventually got one and found a stable circle of people to interact with in my academic life. The stability of having people who I could talk to about coursework, professors and potentially personal matters became a game changer. 

Looking back I wish someone would’ve given me the advice my advisor gave me when I interviewed her about this post. She said you have to self-advocate from the beginning of your college experience to build a foundation to fall back on whenever you need it.

From my conversation with my academic advisor Amanda Holda, she wanted students to keep the following in mind before they get to a point where they can’t anymore with academics:

From NYU Steinhardt: Applied Psych Advisor Page

  • Make sure you build support systems in your academic world from the beginning even if its informal networks like fellow club members & co-workers
  • Make it a habit to reach out to those individuals you feel comfortable with and start building a relationship with your advisors
    • Take it from academic advisor Amanda Holda. She stated that it’s their role on campus to be students’ support systems, so utilize them. They may not have the answers, but they can definitely guide you where you want and need to go. 
  • Be open to making connections (Professors probably aren’t going to be the main connection)


If there is one thing you should take away from this piece, I want it to be an urgency to help yourself when you are in a healthy positive state rather than stuck in a tragedy forced to make changes. Start easy with email exchanges and build to face to face meetups with individuals. With Professors, say hi before and/or after class eventually, start going to Professors’ office hours to talk. 

If you are someone who started off college without having time to build connections, remember “it is your right to reach out and ask questions.” Work to overcome the internal messaging that you have about connecting with staff and faculty. Take care of yourself and allow faculty and staff the opportunity to support you. They won’t know what’s going on without you telling them!


By Sanjidah Chowdhury

Sanjidah is a rising senior at NYU Steinhardt majoring in applied psychology. She aspires to become a mental health counselor to understand intergenerational dynamics and better serve the needs of women, Muslims, and the South Asian community. She currently works with NYU’s Office of Alumni Relations. Throughout the academic year, she works on a research team under Professor Niobe Way and volunteers for Nordoff -Robbins Center for Music Therapy. Most of the time you can find Sanjidah with her nose in a book and music blasting through her headphones. 

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