By now, you may have read my Advice on Negotiating Financial Aid, How to Save Money and Help Your Child Graduate in Four Years, and The Practical Title IX posts. Next up is the second in the series of 10 Things Every Parent and Student Should Know About College But Didn’t Know to Ask. This time? 168 Hours and What to To Do With Them!
I know. Sounds weird, right? But there are 168 hours in a week and 16 weeks (usually) in a semester. And most people who work in academic support, advising or college counseling will tell you that the by far, the biggest pitfall for college students is a lack of ability to manage that time. If you want your student to succeed in those first two semesters, find a quiet hour or two in the next few weeks, and speak with him/her about this. Come up with a system and a plan. Help them understand this. This is one of the places that managing time is going to mean (at least for you) also managing money. If your student cannot manage his or her time, and falls behind and needs to withdraw from a course or fails it? That’s money you are going to spend for him or her to take it over again, and it’s going to delay graduation. It will also be demoralizing for your child, upsetting for him or her, and it will impact a GPA that might matter for grad school.
Heading off to college means a lot of freedom; in fact, if your student is moving far away, it means more freedom than s/he has ever had. And I know that you are saying that your snowflake has always been good about managing his/her responsibilities, and this doesn’t apply to her. And I’m going to tell you that yes, in fact, it does. In my experience, it’s often the very best students in high school who do the very worst with this practice.
Back when I was deaning at Swarthmore, the Dean of the College, who really loved students, would give a Time Management talk to first year students at orientation. I often thought that it was wasted at that time; they were excited about new roommates and getting to know one another and choosing classes. The reality and importance of what he was discussing was lost on them so early. A month in? Might have been better. But he always started by writing “168 Hours” on a whiteboard.
There are 168 hours in every week, and your student, living away from you, has the ability to decide how to spend each of them. So, let’s break it down the way Bob Gross used to do it. We start with 168 Hours.
First, we think about the things that are necessities.
- Sleep. Everyone needs to sleep. The occasional all-nighter aside, let’s guess an average of 7 hours/night.
- Grooming. Everyone needs to wash, brush teeth, shower, go to the bathroom. Let’s guess an average of 30 minutes (or .5 hours)/day.
- Eating. Everyone needs to eat, and meals are social. Breakfast, if eaten, is going to be quick. Lunch might be a meeting of friends, and dinners tend to be social. Let’s guess 1.5 hours/day for meals.
Now it’s time for some math…
– (7 x7) for sleep
– (.5 x7) for grooming
– (1.5 x7) for meals
And now we have 105 Hours
Next, let’s think about classes and coursework:
- Classes. If your student is taking 15 credits, then s/he should plan to be in a classroom for 15 hours per week. College classes run on “Carnegie Hours” which means a 50 minute hour, but we’ll round up for settling into a seat and gathering things up when class is over. Let’s guess 15 hours week.
- Getting to and from class: Let’s guess that will be about 15 minutes per class.
- Preparing for class: The general rule of thumb we tell students is that for every hour of class time, you will need to devote three hours to homework, reading and working on projects. So, now we have 3 hours per class.
- If your student is taking lab sciences, each lab will be 3 hours, instead of 1, and prep time is about 3 hours. Adjust accordingly when you think this through with your student!
– 15 for in-person class time
– (.25 x 15) for getting to class
– (3 x 15) for homework/assignments
And now we have 41.25 Hours
And there is a part-time job and other activities:
- Approximately 80% of college students work at a part-time job between 10 and 20 hours each week. Let’s split the difference and say 15 hours.
- Most students want to be involved in one or two clubs or activities on campus. Let’s say that will take about 4 hours per week.
- Many students participate in athletics or team sports, either recreationally or on a team. Practice can be 1 – 2 hours/day. Let’s say 2 hours/day and you can adjust for time getting ready and cleaning up and so on.
Still more math:
– 15 hours (part-time job not counting travel if that is a factor)
– (1 x 4) hours for clubs/activities/extracurriculars
– (2 x 5) for athletics
And now we have 12.25 Hours
Okay, so it looks like there’s some room there, yes? Well, we’re missing some things. Like the social life that your student is going to want and need. It’s a vital, critical element to their happiness, well-being, and success on campus and in later life. So I will not minimize it. You should not either. These are very conservative estimates.
- Texting friends (.5 hours/day)
- Playing video games or watching YouTube or television (varies but say 1 hour/day)
- Making friends and socializing in dorms (minimally 1.5 hours/day)
- Going to parties/events (3 hours/week)
- Weekend outings (conservatively 2 hours/week)
And yet, still more math…
– (.5 x 7) for texting/Duo/Skype
– (1 x 7) for Nextflix, YouTube, Video Games
– (1.5 x 7) For Socializing in the dorms
– (1 x 3) for parties, sports events on campus, other events
– (1 x 2) trips to town, Target, Walmart, other places students go on weekends
And now we have -13.75 hours
Houston, we have a problem…
Because I left out things like laundry, cleaning up the room, getting sick, working with a tutor or seeing a therapist, visiting you and friends at other schools and being in a relationship. Funny story? At one point, Bob told my freshman, on a stage, that it was much more time efficient to “hook up” than have a boyfriend/girlfriend. I give myself a lot of credit for not going up on the stage, taking the microphone from his hand, and beating him with it. I did tell his secretary to tell him he was fired, though. Kidding aside, relationships are an enormous drain on time, whether on campus or long-distance.
Breaking it down this way is useful for students. It’s a stark reminder that they will need to use their time wisely. If they opt to sleep in until 10:30 three days a week because they have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class that begins at 11, they are using time that they would be wise to choose for other things. My estimates for social time for first-year students are very conservative. They will linger over meals. If they can have lunch at noon before a 2 PM class, that’s often a 2-hour lunch with friends. Dinners are usually happy gatherings at the end of the day and can last the entire time that a dining hall is open. Dorm life is generally social; it’s difficult to close a door and study when everyone on the hall is gathered in a lounge or your roommate has friends over or there are people out and about with whom to chat. And the first thing they will cut back is time doing homework/reading as preparation for classes.
Procrastination seems like a viable option. There is always this vast expanse of time in which the things can get done, but this (whatever this is at the moment they want to do it) is important now. The trouble is, there is not an unlimited amount of time in which to do their work. And that’s when they hit a wall that many cannot climb.
There is actually a kind of cool to being “sooo behind on my reading for X’s class” and “I have so much work to do for that lab” and “I haven’t even started studying for that exam!” The worst is “X doesn’t have an attendance policy, so I haven’t even been there for two weeks. 9 AM is not my time!” And kids tend to think that they can and will make up the time. It’s sort of like the last vestiges of magical thinking. They don’t, and they fall flat.
I know that you are saying, “Not my kid.” My kid has always been responsible. She gets her homework done. He managed to play two varsity sports and get great grades. This isn’t going to be a problem.
I’m going to tell you that yes, it is. Because high school is highly structured. They move from class to class, and their teachers are on top of them if they don’t do their homework or assignments. Friends are pressuring them to do well because “we have to get into college.” Coaches are monitoring their classes and grades. YOU are there to expect them home at a certain time, to know if they are eating well or sleeping enough or doing what they need to do. You can help out by doing their laundry, speaking with teachers and counselors and staying on top of what they are doing.
College professors are not monitoring your child’s progress. If assignments are not turned on time, there’s only a 50-50 chance that s/he will even mention it to your student. They don’t get midterm report cards. Some classes have only two or three exams in a semester, and doing poorly on one can have a huge impact. Not going to class, especially one they don’t particularly like or for which they haven’t prepared. That is a slippery slope because the more classes they skip, the harder it is to go back and feel like they are on certain ground. Some athletic coaches monitor student progress very carefully, in part to maintain their NCAA eligibility. Some don’t. Friends may have different schedules, talents, goals and abilities. The pressure to do well isn’t there the way it is in high school. In the end, it falls on the student to do what’s required.
168 hours is a lot of free time for your average 18-year-old inbound freshman. It’s easy to waste bits of it here and there and everywhere, and they tend to be blindsided when that happens. A good conversation now, before they get to campus, and an investment in a good weekly planner that they can keep, is vital.
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