How Many Hours a Day Do You Have to Study for College Classes?

by Mary Wroblewski

    Whether you are a high school student who is preparing to go directly to college or an older, returning student, the question has probably crossed your mind: How many hours a day will I have to study for college classes? While the exact number of hours will depend on the rigors of your course of study and the requirements set by your instructors, there are some widely accepted rules of thumb that can guide your time management efforts. Moreover, developing several good habits can help you make the most of your study time so that you can efficiently master the course material.

    Step 1

    Count on spending two or three hours a week of outside class time for every credit hour in which you are enrolled. Most college courses are three credit hours, so that means you should expect to spend between six and nine hours a week studying for one course every week. A full-time course load is 12 credit hours – or four courses – so in this scenario, you would spend between 24 and 36 hours a week studying each week. Many students take 15 credit hours – or five courses – and should expect to spend between 30 and 45 hours a week studying outside of class. Err on the high side of this equation and further assume that you will confine your earnest study time to five days a week, perhaps Sundays through Thursdays. This means that you would carve out nine hours a day for study time. In all likelihood, this will be on the high side, but if you plan for the “worst” scenario, you won’t find yourself struggling to keep up with your studies.

    Step 2

    Conduct a full accounting of how you spend your time during the week and what activities you may have to sacrifice to devote to studying. Factor in the number of hours you work full- or part-time as well as your commuting time. Consider how much time you spend on meal preparation and eating. Don’t forget your sleep time, although many students find they have to cut back an hour or two a night to make their schedules work.

    Step 3

    Review each course syllabus and identify structured activities that may consume some of your out-of-class study time. For example, some science courses require lab time, some art history courses require special excursions and some teaching courses require the accrual of teaching assistant hours. Factor in this time to your daily and weekly study time commitment.

    Step 4

    Review each course syllabus and scrutinize the reading assignments. Some courses, such as pre-law and pre-medicine, are reading-intensive. Further, the type of reading required at the college level is more reactive, meaning that you may have to re-read tricky concepts several times, take notes in the margins or write questions for class discussions. Learning how to read reactively is one of the biggest adjustments college students must learn to make. So whereas you may have been able to coast through a page of high school text in three minutes, one page of college text may require 10 minutes or more.

    Step 5

    Designate blocks of study time every day and remain committed to this time just as you would to attending class or going to work. In reality, you may end up dividing your study time into two blocks every day – for example, in two, four-hour chunks of time. Make the schedule work for you and be sure to give yourself valuable rest periods to rejuvenate.

    Step 6

    Maintain a calendar so that you can keep track of due dates for papers and the dates of quizzes and tests. Being able to see the week ahead should help keep you on-task and focused – and motivate you to waste precious little time during “crunch weeks,” such as mid-term week.

    Step 7

    Minimize or eliminate as many distractions as you can during your study time. You know your habits and predilections better than anyone, so if your home is unbearably noisy during the early evening, perhaps this would be a good time to settle in at the library. The “work” of education requires a steady commitment, so do not let anything interfere with the time you set aside for studying.

    Tips

    • Remember that there are no incentives for speed reading in college; it is important that you understand the material you read, no matter how long it takes.
    • Give yourself some time to settle into your classes. After the first few weeks, you should have a good sense of the actual time commitment each course will require. And if you’re in doubt, ask your instructor for guidance.

    About the Author

    Mary Wroblewski has been writing professionally since 1994 for publications such as "Woman's Day," "The Chicago Tribune," "The Chicago Sun-Times" and "Crain's Chicago and New York Business." She has a B.S. in mass communication from Illinois State University and a M.A. in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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