Exam Week Zen

Colleges aren't just offering late-night coffee and cookies during finals week, but massages and other perks to soothe the stressed-out student.
December 18, 2008

At Pasadena City College, it’s Relaxation Week. Otherwise known as Finals Week.

“Basically we provide the students with breakfast, hot chocolate, coffee, water, lunch, and healthy snacks,” explains Lauren Crisci, a vice president of the Associated Students organization. Then, on two of the four days, they bring in massage therapists for free 10-minute massages in the library: “All of this is to help the students relax, de-stress and do well on their finals."

Colleges have long evolved beyond handing out free cookies or ice cream come finals time, offering massages, free apparel, and small doses of (legal and mild) stimulants. Though that’s not to say the requisite comfort food doesn’t continue to play a key role. At Hope College, in Michigan, where they hand out the coffee ("OK, we know you’re going to stay up a little later -- here’s a little cup of coffee; we don’t give them the big cups, we give them the small cups,” the dean of students explains), an evening breakfast is a campus-wide finals tradition.

“We pretty much serve about 1,600 students in two hours. They come and have as much comfort food as they can eat that Monday when finals week begins,” says Richard Frost, the dean and vice president for student development. Served by faculty and staff, “It’s kind of a way for faculty and staff to say good luck on finals, make sure they’re studying hard.”

At Crunch Brunch at the University of Kentucky on Monday, the first 2,500 attendees were to receive long-sleeved T-shirts. In addition to breakfast, served by faculty and staff, the university was bringing in two caricature artists and sponsoring other various carnival-like activities (including a Sandy Candy station – for a sugar high). “We have 10 massage therapists coming in who will be giving probably two to three minute shoulder and back massages. I’m sure they’ll be having hand cramps by the end of the night,” says Heather Yattaw, assistant director in the Office of Student Involvement.

The College of Holy Cross, in Massachusetts, is one of a number of institutions that offers reasonably-priced massages throughout the academic year ($25 for a half hour, $35 for an hour, and new this fall, $40 for hot stone). Debora Cain, the clinical coordinator of health services, says she sees an uptick in interest around finals time.

At the Oregon Institute of Technology, which brings in a massage therapist once monthly, the most recent scheduled session was during "Dead Week," just before finals. “We also open it to staff and faculty because we figure anyone can benefit. It's a stressful time for anyone on campus," says Marilyn Gran-Moravec, a nurse and administrative director at the Student Health Center.

On a separate note, there's the de-stressing associated with spontaneous, unofficial activity -- like when University of Virginia students recently gathered outside the library at midnight for a "flash mob library rave" during finals week. You can watch it on YouTube; to quote another great aggregator of information of our time -- the Wikipedia -- a flash mob is "a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse."

Like when finals end, and everyone goes home.


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