CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - At 10 p.m. on Thursday, more than 200 students at the College of Charleston emerged from the college library and nearby streets and descended like locusts on a patio table holding boxes of cupcakes.
It is final exam week at the downtown Charleston, South Carolina liberal arts school founded in 1707.
Cupcakes and other snacks, massages, yoga classes, Zumba dance sessions, guided meditation and peer counseling are offered to stressed-out students through next Wednesday.
"There's different ways to cope with stress besides eating," said sophomore Tommy Werner, who pronounced himself "about as ready as I can be" for an exam.
The "Cougar Countdown," named for the College of Charleston mascot, brings together many campus organizations to sponsor activities. Popular after three semesters, the program now has a dedicated budget of $5,000 a year, said Lindy Coleman, Study Skills Coordinator at the university.
Earlier this week, students found puppies from a local shelter to cuddle and a pancake breakfast was prepared by the college's president.
The program also uses social media to post exam tips from professors and study groups, so there's a cerebral component, Coleman said.
"People were wild for the puppies," Coleman said.
Other colleges and universities offer similar services during exams, when libraries are often open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
About 20 hammocks are stretched between palm trees on the campus of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. University President Donna Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, came up with the idea.
"I was looking for a surprise for students to perk them up during exams," Shalala said.
"It's very tropical, very Miami, very South Florida," said Pietro Bortoletto, a graduating neurobiology major. "You see students taking a nap, reading a book. It's a great way to get out of all the negative energy of being in a packed library."
"I love the weather here," said freshman Bessie Nolan who is from Chicago. "At my residence hall the night before every exam, they have free cheesecake and ice cream and doughnuts and coffee. Only at night."
Harvard University's StressBusters program trains volunteer teams of students to offer back rubs and wellness information "wherever the stressed gather," according to the university's Center for Wellness website.
The Residence Hall Association at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sets up board games, video games, Wii stations, arts and crafts and lots of free food during exam week, said student Clare Kurdys.
One exception to the nationwide pampering during exam week is the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. There, students had more important things to worry about after a huge tornado flattened parts of the town on Wednesday, killing some students. The school canceled final exams and postponed graduation ceremonies until August, according to its website.
But at College of Charleston, President P. George Benson, marveled as he watched the cupcake frenzy.
"When I was an undergraduate, our only options for stress relief were poker, touch football, and beer," said President P. George Benson, a 1968 graduate of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
"The level of student services has increased dramatically over the years. We have writing labs, speaking labs, peer mentors, students teaching students, students leading students," he said.
"Look at this library. It's full of computers and it has a coffee shop. It's a whole different world," Benson said.
Editing by Greg McCune