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College Students Cram In a Little Fun

May 24, 2006|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

This is cramming for final exams? Free massages, movie screenings and shuttle service to doughnut shops?

Increasingly, colleges are replacing burnt coffee and sleep deprivation with cushy programs to ease the stress of finals week.

Cal State Fullerton kicked off its spring exam season Monday night with free billiards, back rubs, sandwiches and energy drinks. UCLA offers yoga and snacks. Cal State Northridge gives away temporary tattoos and caricature drawings. And UC Irvine operates Dial-a-Dog, which delivers hot dogs and soda to undergrad dorms.

Other campuses create "stress-free zones" with finger paints, Play-Doh, lava lamps, oxygen bars and aromatherapy candles.

"Students need this kind of stuff," said Cal State Fullerton senior Gabriel Rueda, nursing a beer and enjoying a free round of bowling after a marathon 34-hour study session. "You take in so much information that you stop learning. You have to take a break."

Hundreds of Fullerton students, some in pajamas, lugged laptops and books to the student union late Monday to line up for massages, candy and other goodies.

"If I study in complete silence at the library, I'll fall asleep," said Amanda Powrie. "This makes studying fun."

The luxury finals-week phenomenon began about a decade ago as part of a general trend toward better campus amenities. To attract students, many colleges have upgraded dorms, improved cafeteria food and opened elaborate gyms that rival posh health clubs, said Kevin Kruger, spokesman for the National Assn. of Student Personnel Administrators.

Finals week has also grown increasingly pampering. Clarion University in Pennsylvania once set up a tiki hut that distributed organic-fruit smoothies, snow cones and stress-reduction advice from a nurse.

The Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne has built a relaxation chamber outfitted with "zero-gravity chairs" and music headphones. The College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts has a free shuttle service to McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts.

A few campuses recruit corporate sponsors for their perks. Cal State Fullerton teamed with Knott's Berry Farm, Peter Pan and Kettle Classics for a "Peanut Butter Study Jam," which treated students to peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, chips and Red Jak energy drinks.

One of the most extensive programs is at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. In addition to late-night breakfasts, the school organizes hikes, sundae splurges and "doggy time," a chance to pet away frazzled nerves with canine visitors.

Some colleges have scaled back their finals week fare. Chapman University in Orange once sponsored foot massages but now just sells $20 "Finals Survival Kits" containing energy drinks, study aids and Pizzettos, a snack created in the school's food science class.

USC dropped yoga after it found that "students were only coming for the free massages and food," said Heather Larabee, director of campus activities.

But many campuses are looking for new twists in anti-stress programs, from balloon animals to tie-dyed-shirt workshops. Cal State Fullerton has experimented with various diversions over the years, including a recent "dive-in movie" at the campus pool. Students swam and gobbled pizza as "Without a Paddle" played on a 12-foot screen.

Monday's PB&J sandwich giveaway was also new, said Sara Danner, marketing manager for the student union.

As soon as this week's finals wrap up, she said, "we'll start brainstorming for next semester."

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