Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
A Guide to Gap Year and Semester OpportunitiesCambria Pilger
Have you ever tried to get in touch with your college student only to have your text or phone call ignored while you wondered where they were and what they were up to? Or perhaps you’ve called and woken them from a nap … at 6 p.m.?
I recall being shocked when I texted my son at 8:30 one Sunday morning, figuring I would hear back later in the day, and he replied immediately. I asked why he was up so early and he replied that, since he had just returned to campus after a weeklong break, he wasn’t back “on schedule” yet.
What is that schedule? I asked my sons as well as other college students and this is what I found out.
Although some students take 9 a.m. classes, most try and start their day a little later — a first class at 10 or 11 is more typical. My middle son, now a college senior, generally sets off to class alone. However, some students like to travel in packs. “I almost never walk to class alone,” one student told me. She explained that, “there is usually a scheduled meeting place to get iced coffee or a snack before heading together to class. This meeting place becomes a ritual and is usually never broken except for someone who is sick, in which case they will typically notify the group of their illness prior to the meeting time.”
Something important to know: College classes do not meet every day and college students spend less time in class than they did in high school. However, for each hour of class time they will have a minimum of 2–3 hours of outside academic work.
Coffee and meals are a huge part of a college student’s day. Unlike the meals-on-the-run our children eat when they are home, meals at school are a social activity done in groups, can last one to two hours, and are preceded by protracted discussions about the time and place they will occur.
Some schoolwork may be done in the afternoons after classes are over, although after dinner seems to be a preferred time for study sessions, both alone or in groups. Almost all the students I spoke with mentioned going to the gym, doing laundry and food shopping (for those who have kitchens in their living spaces) as part of their routine.
Evenings are when meetings for various organizations take place; my son attends his fraternity’s chapter meetings certain nights and if I forget and text or call, I will likely receive a terse text back which reads, “Can’t talk now, in chapter.”
My middle son’s small university has more than 250 student-run clubs and activities, including service organizations, cultural awareness groups, performing groups, spiritual and religious groups, sports and games clubs, student publications, and television and radio stations. Big state universities boast over 1300 student-run clubs and organizations.
My son has participated in quite a few activities, including an entrepreneurship program in which he and his friends created an online company. He also plays club soccer — another big time commitment. Although my son receives a monthly allowance from us, my husband and I encouraged him (and his older brother when he was a student) to work at a campus job a few hours a week to supplement his funds.
I know his busy schedule, plus the different hours we keep, contribute to the limited communication we have with him when he’s at school. Truth be told, I am glad that my sons have taken advantage of all that college has to offer.
According to my sources, at the end of the day, after studying, athletic practices and meetings/rehearsals are concluded, “there is usually late night Netflix binge watching or movie sessions.” Bedtime is pretty late; the hours college students keep are definitely different from the ones they had in high school and those they will have to adhere to once they graduate. When they come home, it’s kind of like returning from a trip abroad — it can take a few days for “college lag” to wear off.
Weekend schedules often run even later — waking up in the early afternoon is not unusual after a party or activity the evening before. Studying is done Saturday and Sunday afternoons (after brunch) and Sunday night because Friday and Saturday nights are set aside for going out and socializing, at least on weekends that don’t fall around midterms or finals.
Weekends are also a good time to venture off campus and explore nearby cities. My son has spent some time in Boston and Cambridge, which are only a few miles from his campus, discovering museums, restaurants and shops.
Of course there is no one exact routine for all college students.
In fact, from semester to semester the same student’s schedule can vary tremendously.
Between classes and studying, friends, work and activities, our students lead a hectic existence. I try to encourage my son from afar and not take it personally if I don’t hear from him too often. I know how much he has to pack into a short amount of time; the college years are fleeting but hopefully the friendships he is making and the things he is learning will last a lifetime.
Our holiday shopping list is full of awesome ideas that are on trend with what students desire this gift-giving season.