Time management is self-reported as one of the largest challenges facing college students, particularly during their freshman year. Why is building good time management skills such a struggle for many students? What hurdles make it difficult to overcome?

By taking a look at some of the reasons students struggle in building a concrete skill set to help them manage their time, you can gain a firmer perspective on how to help them gain those skills—and achieve academic success.

College students and work

In Taking Charge of Your Career Direction: Career Planning Guide, Book 1, 5th edition, Robert D. Lock pointed out that 80 percent of undergraduate students work during their college career. While this statistic includes nontraditional students who are full-time workers only enrolled as students part time, two-thirds are traditional college students. Lock wrote, “most are full-time students, younger, financially dependent on their parents, and work an average of 25 hours per week” (Lock, 380).

Lock goes on to say that workers who take on under 15 hours per week see a positive result in their ability to stay in college until graduation. It’s possible that the structure offered by that limited number of hours actually helps them develop time management skills they can use to study more efficiently. But students who take on more than 15 hours per week struggle to stay in college, often miss classes, and many times end up dropping out before they can graduate.

Managing work and classwork together can be a huge hurdle for undergraduate students. For students you see struggling to financially make ends meet, advise them to seek out the financial aid office and see if there is any way they can reduce their work hours by taking advantage of student grants.

Too much freedom

For other students, it isn’t the competing financial obligation that makes it difficult to manage their time, it’s the lack of structure. As the Georgia Southern University staff wrote in the First-Year Experience article, “Time Management,” during freshman year, students have “probably never had this much freedom: no one is telling you when to go where, and in many cases, class attendance is not required. Your time is very unstructured, and this is where the problem sometimes sets in.”

For students struggling with lack of structure, you can offer a number of tips that will help them develop time management skills:

  • Read your syllabus and plan ahead. Offering students a detailed syllabus at the beginning of the year with a calendar of important due dates and project deadlines gives them a framework for their time during the semester.
  • Create a short-term priority list or checklist. Help students prioritize long-term and short-term projects: while short-term projects have quicker due dates, if students lose sight of their long-term deadlines, they’ll have to rush to complete that work at the end of the semester.
  • Stay organized. Recommend that students have separate notebooks and folders—or file folders on their laptops or tablets—specific to their classes to keep their coursework separate.
  • Keep your goals in mind. Encourage students to set a goal for themselves at the beginning of the semester, and then check in with them on how they are reaching those goals.
  • Attend study sessions. By creating a solid block of study time with peers, students can more easily set aside those necessary hours to achieve their course work—and learn from their peers.

How do you encourage your college students to develop time management skills?

Reference: Lock, Robert D. Taking Charge of Your Career Direction: Career Planning Guide, Book 1, 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Books.