At the Engaging Minds blog, we frequently discuss the topic of time management, as it’s an important element of student success. But as much as we believe it’s important, we still wanted to know and understand the experience and perspective of college students themselves.

Accordingly, in the latest Student Engagement Insights survey, conducted this spring, we asked: Do you struggle with managing your time? We heard from 3,004 students. Here’s how they responded:

Do college students struggle with time management?


According to our survey, fewer students identify with the more extreme poles of experience. A relatively small percentage of students (9%) said they always struggle with time management, whereas a very competent—or confident—segment of 13% state that they never struggle.

However, a healthy majority, 78%, stated that they “sometimes” struggle with managing their time. Many of us can likely relate. Sometimes, we feel like we have it all together… our calendar’s up to date, we’ve carefully crafted our weekly schedule, and we’ve made the day’s to-do list. We’re able to stay on top of things. But at times, each of us will encounter conflicting responsibilities, unexpected situations, or serious setbacks that render our plans relatively obsolete. For college students, this may occur during the busy and stressful finals week, when they’re having transportation issues, or when they experience a particularly challenging time within their relationships or on the job. In those cases, college students can (just like the rest of us) benefit by taking a bit of a step back, reassessing their priorities, and realigning their schedules so that we can deal with their key obligations in a more realistic—and organized—manner. By putting those time-management skills into practice now, they’ll be better prepared to handle those types of struggles in the future.

Instructors’ perspective on students’ time-management struggles

Now that we’ve heard from students, what would instructors have to say about students’ time-management struggles? In our recent Instructor Engagement Insights survey, we asked instructors a similar question: Do your students struggle with managing their time? 

Percentage-wise, instructors’ responses seem to parallel students’ responses. Among instructors, 80% told us that students do struggle most of the time, and 11% said that students always have this problem. Only 9% stated that their students rarely or never struggle with time-management issues. Therefore, if you’re like most of these instructors, you may want to offer students some practical tips that will help them better manage their time, and thereby accomplish and achieve their academic and personal goals more effectively.

Helpful time management strategy: turning “down time” into study time

One practical strategy for effective time management is to make the most of your “wasted” time—that is, those minutes you’re left waiting for a bus or train, standing in line at the post office or coffee shop, or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. College students can benefit from this practice as much as any of us can!

In her book  Practicing College Learning Strategies, Seventh Edition, Carolyn H. Hopper writes, “The cardinal rule of time management is to always carry pocket work—something that you can do easily while waiting” (31). If students are prepared, any time can become study time. She offers a few specific study ideas that college students can use if they’d like to adopt this strategy, which we’ve paraphrased below:

  • Keep flash cards handy for a quick review of terms and concepts you expect to find on upcoming quizzes or exams. Love your smartphone? Check out one of the many flashcard apps available! (If you use MindTap in your course, the new MindTap app has them… as well as other helpful interactive study tools.)
  • If you know you’ll have ten or twenty minutes to spare, bring a text with you, so that you can progress a few pages further in your assigned reading.
  • Make or print a copy of a homework assignment, and work on some of the assigned questions or problems.
  • Download chapter summaries, review questions, or your own course notes, and go through them at the laundromat, dining hall, gym, or wherever you’ll have a few minutes of downtime. (Hopper, 30-31)

By picking up some of these practices, students will find that the minutes they’d normally spend idly waiting can, then, become ways to make more efficient and effective use of their time.

Reference: Hopper, Carolyn H. 2016. Practicing College Learning Strategies, 7th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

What are your time-management tips for college students? Share them in the comments.