How to Cope with Hardship or Tragedy while Going to School

When tragedy happens in your life and it feels like your world is falling apart, it can seem impossible to maintain your grades, friendships and personal health. It takes all your effort just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone complete any task on your to-do list.

I was in 8th grade when my dad had a heart attack and fell into a coma. I spent days in the hospital, praying he would wake up and be alright. My life was put on hold for weeks as I watched my father fight for his.

Seven years later, my dad has made little improvement. He remains in a coma-like state, unable to move, talk, or function on his own. He is always at the back of my mind, school is not always the number one priority for me, but I had to learn to adapt to this situation as I entered college and as my grandpa passed away a few months ago.

I must often put my family and their needs over my education. Some days are better than others and my schoolwork and social commitments seem less daunting. Some days are bad. On those days I have to force myself to get out of bed, and homework and class seem ridiculously unimportant in comparison to the hardship I face.

If you have experienced a tragedy or hardship during your time in college and feel overwhelmed, these tips might help you:


I know it seems difficult now, and I won’t lie and tell you it’s going to get better and everything will be okay, but it will get easier. You can handle this. Doing the best you can do under the circumstances is all anyone expects of you. Take a deep breath.

Utilize your support system

Learning to reach out to my friends was a pivotal moment for me. Without them, I never would’ve been able to find the strength I need to take care of myself and continue my education. They’re my crutch. I’ve leaned on them for support and they help me stand as I get my life together. They help me find the motivation to attend class, study and take care of my physical and mental health. Look to the people who care about you most for support. Let them help you.

Talk to your professors

Your teachers want you to succeed. They understand that tragedy happens sometimes. If you really need an extension on an assignment or are behind in the course go to your professors and tell them what happened. As hard as it may seem, they’re often very understanding and will do everything in their power to help you get back on track.

Reach out for more help if necessary

When my grandpa passed away, the previous tips did not help me. My grades started slipping, and I knew I needed additional help. I decided to look into CAPS, the counseling center on my campus. I spoke with someone a few times and found the practice to be therapeutic. Reach out if you need additional help. Most colleges have a wide variety of resources for students to use and the effects could be very beneficial if you open your mind to the idea.

Discover what helps YOU feel better

People cope with tragedy in different ways. Find a way to deal with stress or heartache in whatever way works best for you. When I need to relax or want a pick-me-up, I ask my friends to distract me with a fun activity, like going to the local humane society to pet animals or drawing. You know yourself best, so discover what improves your mood and do it.

It can seem difficult, but try your best. Your education is important, but so is your physical and mental health. Take care of yourself first and then focus on your grades after. You are strong and you can do this!

Do you have any tips for dealing with tragedy or adversity while attending school? Post your ideas in the comments below.


Jessica Bramlett currently attends Oregon State University. She is in the Honors College pursuing a degree in Biohealth Sciences in the Pre- Physician Assistant program. She also recently declared a minor in Psychology. She is extremely passionate about her education—she will be the first college graduate in her immediate family and has known she wanted to be a doctor since the age of 10. After her best friend was diagnosed with cancer in the 4th grade, she decided she desperately wanted to help take care of sick children. Now, she aspires to attend Physician Assistant school after graduating from OSU so she can work in pediatrics or oncology.

She is also very passionate about helping others and has volunteered for numerous organizations over the last few years. Her dad, one of the most compassionate men she has ever met, sparked her love for volunteering at a young age. In the last few years she has become very involved at the Heartland Humane Society and the Bridgetown Inc. Night Strike organization in Portland. She also recently went on a trip to Ethiopia last September to build an elementary school and is now considering internationalizing her degree so she can work as a doctor overseas if the opportunity arises. That was actually her first time out of the United States! She definitely caught the “travel bug” and will continue to travel around the world to volunteer if the opportunity presents itself.

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