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Colleges With Fun Finals Week Traditions

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Exam week background, with various study and educted related items, such as a highlighted reader with standard (lorum ipsum) text, a cup of coffee, electronic tablets, music player and ear plugs, and a calendar with the exam date marked

The word “finals” strikes fear in the hearts of most students, as it’s the culmination of a semester’s worth of work and sometimes the determining factor of a final course grade. The end of the semester can be especially distressing for first-year students, who have never taken a college-level final before. Students may not know what to expect, and the anxiety can leave many feeling lost. 

Colleges know the pressure that students are under when it comes to finals and often aim to curb this anxiety by offering on-campus events to ease the stress. Over the years, quite a few colleges have developed finals week traditions as a way of bringing the campus together and easing the stress of exam time.

What Is Finals Week?  

Just like in high school, finals week takes place at the end of each term. This is when students complete their final exams for their courses, which can be an intense and stressful experience. These exams are often a big percentage of the overall grade, so having a good strategy to prepare for finals is crucial.

Common Finals Week Traditions 

Schools offer all sorts of events to help students blow off steam. Here are some of the most common traditions celebrated at colleges and universities across the U.S.

Late Night/Midnight Breakfast 

Who doesn’t love breakfast at night, especially when you don’t have to cook it? Numerous colleges and universities help students de-stress before finals with bacon, eggs, pancakes, and other breakfast treats served at night — typically at midnight but sometimes slightly earlier. Students are often served by faculty and staff, and some schools even include entertainment.

It’s a chance for students to get together for a little fun and a hearty meal before exams. Schools that participate in this tradition include George Washington University, North Carolina State University, Barnard College, DePaul University, Carnegie Mellon University… and the list goes on.

Primal Scream 

If studying for exams makes you want to scream, then the Primal Scream is for you. It’s exactly what it sounds like — at a designated time just before finals, students scream to alleviate their stress. Schools that participate in Primal Scream include Carleton College, Stanford University, Swarthmore College, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago, among others.

Learn what it takes to get into Stanford University and Northwestern University, in case you want to add these schools to your college list!

Dog Therapy 

If you’re a dog lover, you’ll be pleased to know that a growing number of campuses bring in some furry friends to help students cope during finals week. Many colleges and universities have dog therapy programs — sometimes making pooch pals available to students throughout the semester — while others work with third party programs to help students de-stress before exams.

Dogs won’t help you ace your chemistry final, but they will lower your stress and your blood pressure. Besides, what’s better than cuddling canines? You can find this tradition at numerous campuses, including UC Davis, Miami University, Chapman University, Illinois State University, Mount Saint Mary College, Lafayette College, and more.

Unique Finals Week Traditions 

Looking for finals traditions that are a little more unique? These schools have their own special events to help students cut loose during finals week.

Yale University: First-Year Holiday Dinner 

The First-Year Holiday Dinner at Yale University kicks off finals week, where students wrapping up their first semester enjoy a grand dinner with classmates in a dining hall decorated with lights, ice sculptures, and a plethora of food. It’s a great opportunity for students to take a break from studying, plus it is a highlight of the first-year experience. Learn how to get into Yale so you can experience this tradition for yourself.

Brandeis University: Midnight Buffet  

Brandeis University takes the classic Midnight Breakfast up a notch. During exam week, the Brandeis Student Union arranges a takeout dinner known as the Midnight Buffet. Students can sample a variety of cuisines from restaurants around Waltham, Massachusetts, and the Student Union tosses swag off the balcony. Good food, friends, and fun prizes are a great way to decompress while studying for finals!

Harvard University: Primal Scream  

Harvard University’s Primal Scream isn’t the same as the tradition we mentioned above — it’s more primal, less screaming. Just before midnight on the night before finals begin, students line up outside Hollis Hall. As the clock strikes midnight, they remove their clothing and sprint around the Yard, accompanied by the partially clad Harvard University Band. Students do this each semester regardless of weather, so it can sometimes be a bit nippy! If you want to witness this tradition firsthand, learn how to get into Harvard.

Columbia University: Tree Lighting and Yule Log Ceremony 

Fall semester finals usually take place a few weeks before Christmas, so it’s no surprise that Columbia University kicks off its holiday celebrations just before finals week. Students meet at the Sundial to enjoy hot chocolate and a cappella music as they wait for the lighting of the trees along College Walk. Then, in a ceremony that dates before the American Revolution, the Yule Log is carried from the Sundial to John Jay Hall by students dressed as Continental Army soldiers. This is followed by readings, toasts, and songs. Learn how to get into Columbia University so you, too, can enjoy this tradition.

Finals can be extremely stressful, so it’s comforting to know that colleges are working hard to ease the anxiety in fun and creative ways. Wherever you end up going to college, you will likely experience fun traditions throughout the academic year, not just during finals week.

For many high school students, December is also a big exam time. If you’re struggling with course material, or just need some help with organization and a study strategy, contact us today for more information on our premier tutoring services.


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Choosing a College, Student Life, Traditions
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