Managing Time in the First Year: Time to Burn or Time to Learn?

One of the biggest challenges first-year college students face is learning to manage time well.  How effectively they do this has been shown over and over to significantly impact their success during the year.

Most first-year students are surprised at how little time they spend in classrooms.  Most expect to spend about the same amount of time in class in college as they did in high school, but might spend three hours a day in class instead of six or seven.  Suddenly, they have more discretionary time than they have ever had, without parental guidance or personal experience to help them manage it. 

The problem with this unallocated time is that most students don’t understand at the beginning of their college careers how much time they need to work outside of the classroom in order to succeed academically.  Students need to spend at least two hours on course-related work outside of class (reading textbooks, studying notes, writing papers, doing creative work in the studio/practice room, etc.) for every hour they spend in class in order to learn successfully and get good grades.  Students are informed about this expectation often during the first few weeks on campus, but many don’t take it as seriously as they should.  Most understand intuitively the need to study more at BYU than they did in high school, but they don’t appreciate how much more is required.  Most do spend more time in academic work than they expected to before getting here, but many don’t increase those efforts enough—especially early in the semester when it is critical for making a good start. 

Why the gap?

Some of these discrepancies occur because incoming students have been so successful in the past.  Freshmen last year averaged an ACT score of 29 (36 is perfect, the national average is 21) and a 3.85 high school GPA.  Most incoming freshmen are confident in their ability to do well in school, even though they might be anxious about doing well here.  While that confidence is great, it can blind them to the need to fully apply themselves to the more rigorous coursework and expectations they find here.  Also, since BYU attracts so many high-caliber students, many who were in the top ranks of their high school find that they are “average” here.  That realization can be overwhelming and paralyze students who are used to being top dog.  It can be especially overwhelming to those who come to BYU with less developed study and learning skills. 

Another factor is the fact that most freshmen spend more time socializing, playing video games, cruising social network sites, and surfing on-line than they expect to at the beginning of the year. 

The bottom line is that students need to manage their time well and spend adequate time focused on their academic work in order to make the most of their first year.  The beginning of the new school year is the perfect time for first-year students to hear this message repeatedly, both from us on campus and from you at home.

Steve Wygant earned his PhD in Psychology from BYU in 1993.  He taught Psychology at Fort Hays State University, Eastern Oregon University and BYU before joining the office of Institutional Assessment and Analysis at BYU in 1998.  He enjoys time with his family, photography and a good jazz trio.