My College:

The Time Management Challenge

Vicki Nelson

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Every fall thousands of freshmen head to college and parents cross their fingers and hope their students will be successful. Many students transition smoothly, but others do not. Is there a secret? Maybe.

In his book, Making the Most of College, Richard Light shares a study of hundreds of college sophomores. Interviewers talked with two groups of students — one had an outstanding first year, both academically and socially, while the second group struggled.

Interviewers asked all the students about their transition to college. A single word appeared to be the key. The first group brought up the word, unprompted, and used it repeatedly. The second group hardly mentioned it, even when prompted.

You may have guessed the word: TIME. The successful group recognized that they needed to work at managing their time. These students understood they had to make intentional choices when allocating this scarce resource.

I just met with a freshman class today and talked about time management, and the self-management that needs to go along with it. It’s probably one of the biggest keys to success.

As parents, you can guide your students as they develop time management plans for themselves. All students are working with the same 168 hours each week! Help them consider how to make those hours count according to their own individual needs, wants and priorities. Help them think about the meaning of “free time” in college. This isn’t necessarily “time to do nothing” but rather time that is theirs to allocate rather than being scheduled by others. This is a new way of thinking for many students.

How do students go about creating a time management plan?

Suggest they start by keeping a time inventory for a week. They’ll list daily activities and record the time they spend on each: studying, working, going to class, eating, sleeping, texting, browsing the Internet, socializing with friends, etc. The object is not to make judgments or changes (yet!) but simply to see how they currently use their time.

An old-fashioned planner like many students used in high school is more useful than ever in college. Encourage your student to buy one at the campus bookstore or any office supply store or pop one in your next care package. There are some good apps, too.

Next, your student will create a time budget.

As with money in their financial budget, they have a limited number of hours. How can they best align how they spend their time with their goals and priorities?

It’s important to be realistic. How much time does it actually take to get ready in the morning, to get to campus or class, to eat or work? They should be sure to allow enough sleep time, build in some downtime, and be wary of planning to do multiple things at once — multitasking usually doesn’t work as well as students wish. They’ll need to review the plan often and adjust it as necessary.

Your students may have difficulty at first, and protest that — irony of ironies! — it takes too much time to plan their time. However, once they have a system in place, they’ll discover that they feel more in control. Students who don’t manage their own time let others dictate how they spend it and often find it slipping away.

The “time budget” conversation is a valuable one to have with students about to enter college, and it may be even more constructive for those who have spent a few weeks or a semester at school and come to recognize the importance and the challenge of good time management. Support your students as they think carefully about how to budget their time, and they’ll be more likely to join that enviable group of students who experience a successful freshman year.

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Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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