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How Many Hours Should A Full Time College Student Work? Plus Tips to Help You Study

Tough question! I wish I had a hard and fast rule here, but reality says each person is their own person, and therefore learns their own way. But that’s not a good answer when you are trying to balance schooling, job, homework, etc. The generalized rule of thumb is to allow 2-3 hours of homework time per credit per week. Adding essential skills and knowing how you best learn can make that time shorter and more effective.

2-3 hours for course work plus class time

When you take the time to do the math, it actually makes quite a bit more sense. Let’s say you have 15 credits for the term. For every credit, expect about one hour of class time, in addition to the time you do homework.

  • 1 hour of class x 3 days a week x 5 classes=15 hours for class time
  • 2 hours a day X 5 classes= 30 hours for homework
  • Plus any Labs you have, usually 2 hours a week.
  • 15+30+2= 47 hours in a week.

Between 12 and 18 credits is considered a full-time student and expect it to be your full-time task.

Everyone learns a bit differently

While 2-3 hours a day may seem daunting, identify how much time you actually need. I am incredibly fast at reading, and once had to read a textbook in two sittings. (Trust me, I don’t recommend it. Don’t procrastinate.) I learn well through the lecture style most classes were formatted in, and my strong note taking skills aided me. But non-traditional students, perhaps those who struggled in HS, may need to spend more time working. My sister has very slow reading comprehension, so reading textbooks took her more time than it did me. But my sister also has a very good memory, and hardly needs sessions at the math lab, or tutors, etc. She has a “Tactile Learning style”; a perfect learning style for her chosen field of nursing.

Don’t expect it to be easy

This isn’t High School where you can bluff your way through, or feed your teachers “Engfish: that canned fishy type of prose made up by bright but bored students to please their teachers.” (See footnote 1) In those grades, the government pays for the service and teachers care deeply. At a college level, professors may have over 500 students, caring about the unspoken struggles of a single student is hard.

Go to class, read the book, and do the homework

I quickly learned that the more effort I put into a class, the more I understood it. The consequences of zoning out during my classroom management class almost ended my teaching career, and I often wish I had put more time in. Remember the goal here is not necessarily to pass the final (although that is important) but to gain knowledge you will use the rest of your life. So go to class, read the book, do your homework. You won’t regret it.

Tips to help you study more effectively

  • If you are struggling: Ask for HELP.
  • Find or make a study group.
  • Find what times you study best
  • Discover your learning style
  • Set aside time to work
  • Learn any study skills you may be missing

Ask for Help

College is much, much different from High School. Regularly assess how you are doing, and if you are struggling, don’t remain quiet. Elementary and secondary teachers have to assess how you are doing–after all their jobs are tied to student test scores. Professors may not know or care you are struggling. You need to be an advocate for yourself. Ask peers for help, sit near the front and ask questions, do the readings, and make yourself known to the professor.

Find or make a study group.

Sometimes being accountable to other people can make the difference between a finished assignment and a closed book. The social expectation to met at a certain place at a certain time can be a huge motivation. You can then work through the problems or concepts with someone else, an influence that could help them learn as well. Be brave enough after class to stand up and say “I’m forming a study group, who wants in?”

Some colleges offer math labs or writing help. Find these resources and use them. If you can’t find any help, BUY some help. A private tutor could be the difference between a pass and a fail. (Hint Hint is a great place to start) You are learning concepts and skills that will guide you through your future. Skills that will help you have and do a job. You can’t afford to give up.

Find when you study best

For me, classes in the late afternoon were an awful idea. Between the warm room, the dim lights, and the professor’s drone–I almost always fell asleep. Early morning classes were hard for me too because I had a hard time waking up. I choose to do all my course work between 9:30 and 1:30, and any homework between 7:00–12:00. I quickly discovered that the later I stayed up, the longer my work took. This is what worked best for me.

Find what works for you. Are you a morning person or a night owl? One of the beautiful things about college is that you get to determine your own schedule. Some times a class you have to take is only offered at a specific time, and you will need to work around that. But choose the times you want to learn.

As an aside and fun fact, studies have proven that high schoolers tend to learn better at times later in the day than with very early start times. Why do schools maintain that strict schedule then? I’m guessing bus schedules.

Discover your learning style

How do you learn best? Do you enjoy working with other people, or alone? Do you remember concepts better when you tie them to a song, or make a movement to go with it? Do you remember every word the professor says or do you need to write it down? Introspection can be tricky, but figuring out how you learn best makes a huge difference.

My first semester, I discovered a few things: 1. I don’t do well with online classes 2. I don’t do well when I miss class 3. This wasn’t like high school–I couldn’t just coast through on my intelligence alone, 4. (and most important) my study skills sucked.

I had to change how I did things so that I could be the most successful. I avoided taking online classes, opting for in-person. I went to class. I put in effort. I looked at how I learn best.

Different learning styles is a huge topic in itself, but here is a brief overview. People learn in different ways and may adapt to many different styles. Most schools use a Visual and Verbal and Mathematical style of teaching, so if you struggled in school it does not mean you are stupid. It means that you learn in a different way. Modern schools and teaching has gotten better at incorporating more learning styles as we learn more. Here are different styles of learning and some famous people who learn that way.

  • Bodily/Kinesthetic (or movement based) with sub category Tactile (touch and move), eg: Micheal Jordan, Lionel Messi
  • Interpersonal (with others), eg. Bill Clinton, Sir Isaac Newton
  • Intrapersonal (alone or self motivated), Online classes often use this. Eg. Albert Einstein
  • Musical, eg Beethoven, Mozart
  • Logical/Mathematical, Jeff Bezos
  • Visual-spatial (are you good at Tetris?), eg Pablo Picasso, Steve Jobs
  • Naturalistic (nature smart), Temple Grandin, Jane Goodall, Charles Darwin
  • Verbal/Auditory/Linguistic. Eg George Orwell, Benjamin Franklin
  • Or maybe a combo.

I learn best through the verbal and linguistic style. I can listen to a lecture, take notes and understand. I also can be very logical and mathematical, but I have to write things down to remember the concept. I don’t learn as well through visual and bodily, but they are my secondary learning types. Intrapersonal does not work for me, and as a result I loathe online classes. Know that you can learn in many different ways, and with different effectiveness.

If you are having a hard time figuring it out, think about what classroom activities you enjoyed the most? Was field day heaven or hell? Did moving counters help you learn math, or can you visually imagine the problem?

Set aside time to work

Managing a job, school work, and a social life is challenging. But make sure you set aside time not only to go to class, but to do homework. Consider college your primary job. Take the time to read the book and do the homework and attend class. It will be time well spent.

Learn any skills you may be missing

Don’t know how to take effective notes? or write quickly? or do mathematical proofs? Each of these skills can be taught and learned. If you don’t have the tools you need to learn, more energy would need to be exerted to correct that lack. Graphic organizers or a mastery of basic multiplication can make your life much easier. As a teacher, I recommend you learn the following skills:

  • Type fast
  • Write quality work quickly
  • Mastery of multiplication facts
  • The ability to convert fractions to decimals
  • How to take notes
  • Comprehend what you read
  • Make graphic organizers or diagrams

In conclusion, How much time should you spent studying? That’s up for you to determine. But understanding how you learn, when you learn best, and having an arsenal of skills to aid you in study will cut that time down. Daunting it may seem, err on the side or studying more.

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1. Harris, M. (2006). Prentice Hall Reference Guide. Pearson Prentice Hall.
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Emily Tuckett is a Middle School Science Teacher, and mother of two delightful girls ages 3 and 6. She lives in Utah with a great view of the Rocky Mountains. She enjoys panning for gold to teach about density, and watching Bluey with her daughters. She is a writer and scholarship coach.