Is Your College Student Investing Enough Time Studying?

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 hours 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 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.

Related Posts:

Helping Your Student Be a Better Student: Twelve Questions to Ask

Location, Location, Location: Where’s Your College Student Studying?

Are There Secrets to College Success?

Beating the Procrastination Monster:  How College Parents Can Help

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20 thoughts on “Is Your College Student Investing Enough Time Studying?”

  1. And totally not because students have found ways to efficiently study?
    – Recorded lectures and online class: student don’t have to atttend classes and can freely arrange their time
    – online forums and communications: students don’t have to scratch their heads for hours trying to solve a problem
    – doing homework, studying, and class time are somewhat interchangeable. For science classes like Math or Physics, doing homework enforces understanding of the subjects, and therefore reduces the study time.
    And other things as well.

  2. As a first timer on this online class, i find it very challenging but i know that i can make it work only if i stay on top of my assignment.

  3. Students also come across a lot of distractions. As they determine how many hours they need to allocate towards studying, they may not have the ability to stay focused and stick to it.

    Explore: to get a guide that college students can use to learn the skills needed to create and stay in control of their school days.

  4. I completely agree with Nicole, study time isn’t that simple and it depends on the person in question. As a recent graduate, I spent a lot of time studying for classes that required memorization of terms, such as science. This is a personal weakness for me. My younger sister however can look at a terms list once or twice and remember everything on it.
    On the other hand, I found that several classes such as world religions and humanities covered things I already had some knowledge in. While I didn’t know everything covered, it often cut study time in half.

    Also some of it depends on your high school choices. A lot of the general classes such as the English and math courses might cover a lot of familiar topics if you took more advance classes before college. I also took some web design classes in high school on top of already being pretty good with a computer. This meant I mostly found the lower level computer classes easy.

    I think a good way to judge your study time is to look what you did in high school. You will probably at least triple what you did in high school per a class.

    • Kristina – Thanks for adding to this conversation. Many of the comments on this thread support your statement that it depends on the person. Also depends on the subject. “Studying” looks different for every person and for every subject. Time spent writing an essay, and editing and rewriting, is study time. Time spent taking a concept from a textbook and doing some extra research to understand it better is studying. Time spent looking up the definition of a word used in an article is studying. It’s not just time spent memorizing. For me, one of the biggest issues is not the exact measure of how much time students spend, but that so very many college students underestimate the time that they need to spend to really learn the subject matter at hand.

  5. I think that the time needed for studying differs for every student. Some need more time and other can get away with less. It’s all about the students individual ability as well as planning/scheduling their studies.

    • I agree, Mark. It also depends on the subject. Not every class is going to require the same amount of study time. It helps, as students build their schedules, if they take that into account and try to balance “tough” time-consuming courses with one or two less demanding classes.

  6. It is interesting, isn’t it, how very different student needs around studying are. So much depends on the subject, the student’s abilities, and even the student’s background or ability to be organized. While there is no hard and fast rule, the unfortunate thing is that many students are either not studying enough or not studying well. They may need more help than they realize to find the best balance.

  7. I can say from experience that few people in engineering, mathematics, computer science, or natural sciences do well without a huge amount of studying. Those who do are generally (very) highly intelligent (often with a parent in a related field) or skilled cheaters.

  8. Sadly, I think the comment above supports rather than contradicts the post’s point. However, it does expose an interesting ambiguity around the generic word “study,” and perhaps this could be another surprise to students – the purpose of study isn’t just to fill our head with facts. Especially not in a rush, just before an exam. (*That* is what “makes students go crazy at college .”) Different courses and disciplines require different kinds of study. The type study I might apply to a writing course would certainly be different from the type of study I would apply to a chemistry class. Maybe you can “cram” for a chem final, but writing is more about clarity, technique and expressiveness. It is for this reason that an appropriate investment of time, outside of class time and spread out over the semester, is recommended.

  9. This is the most idotic post I have ever seen. As a current student in college I can tell you for a fact that every major and every student do not nor should they be spending 30 hours a week studying. There are classes that you simply can’t study for firstly eg. English. You may need to look over some of the terms but for writting and essays which is mainly what my english final was there was nothing I could study and considering that class was 2 hours long there is no way I could of found 4 hours worth the stuff to study. Also overstudying stresses people out and makes them forget stuff that they already know. I have had many of test that were I studied for 3 hours and forget everything, including things I knew before I started studying. I finished my freshman year of college with a 3.5 gpa, higher than it was in high school, while studying way less than I did in high school. This is what makes students go crazy at college is people who are not college students thinking they know best and telling you if you don’t pratically kill yourself studying and doing school work you will fail and that is simply not the truth.

    • I completely agree with you. This isn’t even including the time we go to class which is about 3-5 hours a day! 30+ hours a week as the minimum for studying [not including class time] is insane. Where’s the balance? Where’s time to apply for jobs, get good sleep, and work out?

      Shouldn’t we be focusing on SMARTER and more EFFECTIVE ways to study instead of the amount of time? You can spend 6 hours a day doing ballet, but if you’re not doing the correct technique, you haven’t learned a thing. This is why students are stressed out because they are advised to read and memorize for extensive periods instead of using class time to actively learn and process information so that they don’t have to study as much.

      We should be learning how to LEARN! But nope… we’re taught to keep our mouths shut while the teacher speaks and prove that we learned by taking tests instead of actually PRACTICING and DISCUSSING. I understand that in some subjects, taking tests makes sense, but this education system has become a joke.

      • Momo – Thanks for your comment and for engaging in this discussion. I agree with you wholeheartedly on two points – 1)
        our educational system needs improvement and students should be learning how to learn and 2) it is not JUST about how much time you spend but also about how you spend that time. Many college professors are working to improve the way they teach – to engage students more and use more active learning, but there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. And students need to learn, as an earlier commenter put it, that there are many different ways to study. Perhaps if students think more broadly about HOW they study, they would find it easier to put in the time. I know we are all trying to do many, many things in our lives and you are correct that we all need balance. But finding the time for your full-time job (being a student) is essential. An interesting experiment is to track your time and do the math. There are 168 hours in a week. Track how much time is spent in class, at a job, socializing, sleeping, etc. and usually you can find some time that could be put to studying – in its broadest sense. Worth a thought? Thanks again for being part of the discussion. – Vicki

  10. Students need to spend enough time studying to learn the ideas, skills and subjects for the class but also for what they’ll need to know and what would be beneficial to know in the competitive job market. Too many students don’t really know how to study and get frustrated so they spend less time at it, or put in the time but waste time being ineffective.

    Today’s students need a study system – with study skills, academic coaching to get a good direction in his and her academic pursuits and plan for a career and know what employers want

    Check: to get a study system that college students can use (and students in secondary grades)


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