Recent Survey Debunks Myths About How College Students Spent Their Time

Posted By Terri Williams on December 15, 2015 at 11:24 am
Recent Survey Debunks Myths About How College Students Spent Their Time

There is an assumption that full-time college students spend the majority of their waking hours engaged in educational activities. However, that’s not the case – in fact, they don’t spend half or even a quarter of their waking hours in class, labs, studying, or preparing for classes.

According to the American Time Use Survey, sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average full-time college and university student spends 3.3 hours on educational activities.

So how are these students spending their time?

On an average, non-holiday weekday, full-time college students between the ages of 15 and 49 spent their time as follows:

Sleeping 8.7 hours
Leisure and sports 4.1 hours
Educational activities 3.3 hours
Working and related activities 2.4 hours
Other 2.3 hours
Traveling 1.4 hours
Eating and drinking 1.0 hour
Grooming 0.8 hour

Balancing work and study

The time use survey reflects the changing face of college students. For example, a recent GoodCall article examined a Sallie Mae survey that revealed nearly three in four students are working to help pay for college, and 44% worked anywhere between 11 and 20 hours a week. Sometimes, working a part-time job can actually enhance the educational process, especially if students gain practical experience and develop skills related to their major. And even if the job is unrelated, students can develop discipline, in addition to customer service and teamwork skills.

However, working while attending college on a full-time basis may also interfere with a student’s ability to focus on their academic obligations. Depending on the mental or physical rigors involved in their job, in addition to the time required to commute to work, they may be too tired to devote the amount of effort required to excel in their classes.

In addition, the National Survey of Student Engagement found that some majors require more – or less – study and prep time than others. Engineering majors spend an average of 19 hours per week prepping, while those in computer science, math, and the physical sciences average 17 hours weekly. At the other end of the spectrum, students in communications, media, and public relations typically spend 12 hours each week in class preparation time, and social service majors need 13 hours.

Time management

Another statistic that stands out in the time-use survey is the 4.1 hours spent daily on leisure and sports activities. As the cost of attending college spirals out of control, is this an excessive amount of daily time to spend having fun?

Melissa Cohen, the author of ParentKnowledgy – A (Simple) Guide to Surviving Your Teen, recommends letting college students find their own tempo. “College is usually the first opportunity that many students have to manage their own lives, especially if they go away to school,” Cohen tells GoodCall. Up to that point, she says that a variety of other adults – parents, teachers, coaches, family members, et cetera – have both determined and managed their time.

And as a result, Cohen says it may take a while to adjust to the newfound freedom and decision-making responsibilities. “And remember this is just an average.  Some students may spend more or less time on each activity, depending on their needs,” she says.

Clearly, time management is vital to success in college. And extracurricular activities may help students become better masters of their time. Jill Krebs, Academic Programs Coordinator at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, tells GoodCall that she frequently sees students who manage their time better when they are involved in sports or campus organizations because it forces them to learn to manage the limited time that they do have.

“When students are involved in clubs or sports teams, they may recognize that there are only so many hours in a day and plan accordingly,” says Krebs. She adds, “Some sports teams, as well as sororities and fraternities, hold mandatory study halls, which helps students to designate time for school work.” And Krebs notes that student athletes learn to budget time for sleeping and eating, as these activities affect their performance.

However, she also acknowledges that when students are involved in too many activities, other areas of their lives will suffer. “Clubs will sometimes schedule meetings quite late at night to accommodate members’ busy schedules, and these meetings may impact sleep and study time,” says Krebs. “Coaches sometimes require team meetings or strength and conditioning training on top of regular practices.”

To help students visually see how much time they spend, Krebs says her team will ask students to average the number of hours per day they spend in class, studying, writing papers, reading, sleeping, eating, doing laundry, spending time with friends, and so on. “When they multiply this time by 7 and add up all of the time, it should equal roughly 168: the number of hours in a week.” Being able to actually see how much time they spend on various activities can help students make adjustments as needed.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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