Is Your College Student Investing Enough Time Studying?

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As a college parent, you probably have very little influence over the amount of time your college student spends studying.  That is appropriate, as you begin to allow your student to gain independence and control over his choices and decisions.  However, you might help your student understand the importance of investing enough time in his work in order to do well.  As a parent, you may be able to help your student think through the realities of how he spends his time.  Then, of course, it will be your job to step back and let him find his way.

The college experience is about more than just coursework.  College is a time to meet new people, experience new things, and work at gaining independence.  But college is also about classes, exams, studying, working with professors, and, hopefully, gaining a wealth of useful knowledge and new ways of thinking.  In order for students to succeed, they need to put in the time.  Unfortunately, many students either do not understand the amount of time necessary to do well in college, or they do not prioritize the amount of time they need to spend studying.

What is expected?

 The general rule of thumb regarding college studying is, and has been for a long time, that for each class, students should spend approximately 2-3 of study time for each hour that they spend in class.  Many students carry a course load of 15 credits, or approximately 15 hours of class time each week.  Doing some simple math indicates that your student should be spending roughly 30 hours of study time and 15 hours in class.  This 45 hours is the equivalent of a full time job – the reason that your student is called a full time student.  For many students, this number is a surprise. 

For students who were able to get by in high school with very little study time, this is more of a shock than a surprise.  Many students spent little more than 4-5 hours per week studying in high school.  (Yes, there are students who spent significantly more than this studying in high school, but they are not the majority.)  One study has suggested that many students in college study an average of 10-13 hours per week. This is the equivalent of less than 2 hours per day. Only approximately 11% of students spent more than 25 hours per week studying.  Clearly there is a significant gap between the reality (10-13 hours) and the ideal (30+ hours). 

Students come to college expecting it to be harder than high school, and expecting to spend more time studying.  However, they may not realize the degree of difference with which they will be confronted. These students want to do well; they simply do not yet understand what is required from them to do well.

Additional issues

There are some additional factors that may affect the amount of time students spend studying. 

  • Expectations – Some researchers have suggested that there may be a correlation between the amount of time a student expects to study when she comes to college and the actual amount of time that student spends.  Students who come to college with lower expectations about required time may spend less time.
  • Attitude – Some students may not only have an unreasonable sense of the amount of time required, but they may feel that once they have spent what they consider a reasonable amount of time studying they “deserve” a good grade.  These students equate amount of effort with good grades. (“I deserve an A because I worked really hard on this paper.”)  Students who couple unrealistic expectations with a grade entitlement attitude are going to be disappointed, unhappy, and angry.
  • Social media – One small study has suggested that those students who spent significant amount of time on Facebook spent less time studying.  This study suggests that these students spent an average of 1-5 hours per week studying rather than the 11-15 hours per week that the non-Facebook users spent.  This should not suggest that college students should not use Facebook or other social media.  This is a way of life for many students.  It does suggest, however, that students need to be aware of how they spend their time and that they need to be cautious.  Certainly, much more research will be done in this area.
  • Alcohol – Another interesting study was conducted in 2008 by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. This study surveyed 30,183 students who took the Alcohol.edu on-line alcohol education course.  This study suggested that first year students who used alcohol spent approximately 10.2 hours per week drinking and 8.4 hours per week studying.  Again, this study should be kept in perspective, but it does remind us of what is obvious: students who spend significant amount of time in college drinking spend less time studying.

Most of these factors are not surprises.  Obviously, students who spend significant amounts of their time doing other things – whether that is spending time on-line, drinking, working, or simply socializing – spend less time studying.  What is important, however, is that students may not realize how much time they should be studying and they may not realize how much time they are actually studying. 

Parents may need to help their students think about expectations and habits.  It might help a student to think about the 168 hours in a week and keep a log of how he actually spends his time.  It might help a student to rethink her college education as a full-time job, requiring the approximately 40 hours per week that a full time job would.  It may help a student to plan a realistic study schedule to manage study time more efficiently. 

Once you help your student consider his study time management, however, it is important that you, as a college parent, let your student take the lead at actually putting a plan into action.  Your student will need to make her own choices and decisions.  Hopefully, she will use her time wisely, and if not, she will learn important lessons from her choices. 

(Photo: English106)

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