The “other” budget that could be the key to your college student’s success

By Vicki Nelson

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.

As a parent, you can guide your student as he develops a time management plan for himself. All students are working with the same 168 hours each week! Help him consider how to make those hours count according to his own individual needs, wants, and priorities. Help him think about the meaning of “free time” at college. This isn’t necessarily “time to do nothing” but rather time that is his to allocate rather than being scheduled by others. This is a new way of thinking for many students.

How does your student go about creating a time management plan?

  • Suggest he start by keeping a time inventory for a week. He will list his daily activities and record the time he spends 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 he currently uses his time.
  • Next, your student will create a time budget. As with money in his financial budget, he has a limited number of hours. How can he best align how he spends his time with his goals and priorities? It’s important to be realistic. How much time does it actually take to get ready in the morning, to travel to school or class, to eat or work? He 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. He’ll need to review the plan often and adjust it as necessary.

Your student may have difficulty at first, and protest that it takes too much time to plan his time. Once he has a system in place, however, he’ll discover that he feels more in control. Students who don’t manage their own time let others dictate how they spend it and often find it slipping away quickly.

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 student as he thinks carefully about how to budget his time, and he’ll be more likely to join that enviable group of students who experience a successful freshman year.