The whole point of studying is to learn and retain information. Largely, how long one studies is of secondary importance to how one studies. It’s possible to sit with material in front of you for hours upon hours and to retain nothing. It’s equally possible to study for just a few hours and to retain nearly everything. Your affinity for the material is also important. You will certainly need less time studying things that come easily, that you prefer, or both than you would studying something that you either did not like or that you found impenetrable or nearly so. The trick is to apply the same tactics that make it easy for you to learn things that come easily to those that don’t.
One of the most important questions prospective students have about college life concerns the number of hours they will need to set aside for studying. Over the years, a number of so-called rules of thumb have been developed, but the truth is that the number of hours you will need to study per class will depend upon the difficulty of the class and how efficiently you study. Taking a good look at these two factors can give you a reasonable idea of how much time you will need to budget for studying.
How Many Hours Per Week Will I Have to Spend on Online Courses?
You must not only think about how many hours to spend studying but also the number of hours you actually spend in online class, how much you need to work to support yourself, especially if you’re a nontraditional student, and how much free time you need to allocate to “keep your sanity.” First, from the total of 168 hours per week, deduct 56 for the eight hours sleep you’ll need per night not to burn out. That leaves 112 hours. You will spend roughly three hours in class per class each week. A standard load is 12 credits, which is usually four classes. That means that you will spend 36 hours per week in class, leaving you 76 hours for study and other things.
The Difference Between an A and a B
Conventional wisdom holds that a B student should plan two hours of study each week for every credit hour and an A student should hit the books for three hours per week for every credit hour earned. This isn’t necessarily bad advice. However, most classes don’t require that much studying, and some actually require more.
Let’s say we have an online student named Gail. Gail is taking four classes online. As stated, she has 76 hours with which to work. Budgeting her time, and shooting for an A in every class, she studies three hours per week for each of her credits. That adds up to 36 hours a week of study, leaving her with 40 hours for other things, which equates to a little less than six hours a day. Now, during that time, she has to plan for actually doing the work required of her in her classes. Estimates are that college students should plan for two hours of homework per credit per class. That’s 24 hours of homework per week, leaving Gail with 16 hours per week for other things, which is a little more than two hours a day. That’s not a lot of time, especially if Gail has to do work study to pay for college. She could cut back on the sleep, but that’s not healthy.
Of course, these are average numbers. Some professors heap the homework while others might not assign any other than papers, expecting Gail to do the required readings on her own without spoon feeding. If Gail is shrewd, she will work part of her homework into her study time and use the “learn by doing” strategy. Also, remember that some classes will be a snap for Gail, and she can save a bit of time off of her study. If she does these things, she might be able to cut her homework time in half, or even more, which would leave her with at least 28 hours per week for other things. If she has a job in the school coffee shop for 15 hours a week, then she’s even got a couple of afternoons for leisure time. That “break” from the grind will be as essential to her mental well-being as much as getting enough sleep is.
Harder Subjects Require More Study
A slightly more realistic approach is to base your study schedule on the difficulty level of the class. Figure two hours of study time for every credit hour for elective classes or classes in subjects that come easier for you. Plan four hours a week for every credit hour for difficult classes and three hours for the classes that fall somewhere in the middle. A handy formula that you can use to help determine how many hours of study you should schedule using this rule of thumb, along with other resources for new students, can be found here.
Study Smarter, Not Longer
You can dramatically reduce the amount of time you need to spend studying by studying at the right time. Allow yourself a half-hour before each log-in to review your notes and downloads from previous classes and schedule a half-hour after each log-in to go over what you have just learned. This will trim hours from your weekly study schedule. Each week, review all online notes and downloads, personal notes and old tests or quizzes. Read your textbook as you go along. It will make it much easier to understand the work. Complete all assignments by the date on the syllabus, even if they aren’t due until the class ends. These steps will usually take much less than the traditionally recommended 2-4 hours of study each week. However, you will need to schedule in extra study time before tests and quizzes.
That bit about doing assignments on the date on the syllabus is a good piece of advice. If Gail knows the subject well and understands the concepts, there’s no reason at all that she can’t “bank homework time” and get ahead. She could complete the assignments ahead of time so that when the semester goes on, she has less to do. That could be a complete lifesaver for her if she starts to bog down in her tougher classes. Gail can also easily edit the assignments if new material gives her a different viewpoint. By doing this, she can also show her professor her initiative and build a rapport with that person. If things get tight for Gail, and she needs an extension on an assignment or two, if she’s built a good rapport with the professor beforehand, then it would likely be easier to get the needed extra time. That’s good networking practice for her life after college too.
A good way to study is also to teach. In every class, there are bound to be people who struggle. If Gail knows her stuff, she could become a tutor paid either by the college or by the person she’s tutoring. That way, she can earn a little extra cash while actually learning the material by teaching it. Again, this is good networking practice. Say Gail has trouble with a class that her student excels in. Gail could get help with her trouble class by switching roles with her student. She wouldn’t make any extra cash this way, but she could gain a better understanding of the difficult content, which could reduce the amount of time she has to study on her own. Lightening the load is always a good idea to avoid burnout.
Nontraditional students who are going back to school later in life often have extensive lives outside of the classroom and all the studying that’s required. If Gail were a mother of three and had a job, there’s no way should could cram all of that into 13 hours free a week. Gail might have to take only one or two classes at a time, which is quite common among older students going back to school.
Even if Gail doesn’t have kids, she might have a full-time career and need 40 our more hours a week free to work. Many nontraditional students do things over a much longer time than “regular” college students. Online study gives people the option to do things are their own pace and still maintain their lives with minimal disruption.
When it comes to graduate school, the workload will be much more intense. People can still take classes as they can, however, and still achieve good results. Working on a thesis or dissertation is a multiyear project, too, so students can do it alongside of their other classwork. In fact, a college will most of the time treat the dissertation as its own class worth 12 credits. When doing her dissertation, Gail will have to set aside time to meet with her adviser and to prepare for her oral defense toward the end of her graduate study.
Such preparation should involve mock panels asking her questions that showcase her knowledge and ability to think critically on her feet if the question is “from out of left field.” Gail should also spend some time weekly contacting other students who have completed their oral defenses to get some idea of what to expect. The same holds true regarding people who have completed their theses or dissertations. Both of these are great networking opportunities for life after graduate school.
Other Advantages to Online Study
Aside from the life-study balance essential to most people’s lives who study online, the biggest advantage is not having to sit in a giant lecture hall with 200 other people as a nameless face. Students all have the opportunity for personal attention from the instructor. That could help Gail get the individual constructive criticism she needs without her problems being outed to 199 other people, which is also good for her mental health.
Another advantage is that there are no meal-plan costs, room-and-board costs, or other things involved with living on campus. Gail is likely already paying all of those things for her house or apartment. The books might be virtual, so they might also cost less than their physical counterparts. As stated, there will probably be no travel time. The only exception would be classes that required lab work. Some colleges require the students to come to the school to perform the lab work while others have satellite locations for such work that are closer to the students’ homes. It could also be possible for Gail to do some lab work at home.
Studying online is also more comfortable than on-campus study. Gail doesn’t have to worry about “getting ready” to go out. She can study and attend classes in her pajamas and be relaxed in her own home. Should she want to, she can take her laptop outdoors on a beautiful day and attend class in the shade of a magnificent oak with a glass of lemonade in her hand.
Online Courses Make Fitting Classes into a Tight Schedule Easier
In the end, whether or not you have the time to take an online course depends more on you and your willingness to stick to a regular schedule and learn to study effectively than on any other factor. While it is a common misconception that online course don’t take much time or are easier, online courses do still have a huge advantage over courses taught in bricks-and-mortar classrooms. In a virtual classroom, there is no commuting time, and no time wasted while the roll is called, the instructor takes off his overcoat or a half-dozen teaching assistants pass out test papers. Many students can easily fit all of their studying time into the time it would take just to drive or ride a bus to and from a traditional classroom.
Online study has come a long way in a short time. The classes are more and more like their brick-and-mortar counterparts with every passing year. Students like Gail can control their study to fit their lives, which contributes to their long-term success as students in both college and afterward.
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