What can be done about killer college workweeks?


photo by Henry Pratt

Students attend universities to learn and to work. But as adults and high-paying clientele, students should be able to have reasonable expectations for this experience. If we consider the student’s week as a regular week in the working world, then students taking multiple classes in effect have multiple employers. These employers do not typically communicate with one another, and there are often conflicting expectations for deadlines.

It is the expectation that a student should be able to organize their own schedule, with attention paid to the work required in each course. According to the Trinity website concerning academic regulations, “One credit hour represents a minimum of three hours of student academic work per week,” and a full course load is between 12–18 credits a semester.

A 15-credit semester is therefore 45 hours of outside work, becoming a 60-hour a week commitment. In the working world, this would qualify as overtime.

Given the fact that there are four-credit, three-credit and one-credit classes, there should be a noticeable discrepancy between the course loads of these classes when designing the typical 15 credits. But this is not always the case. In the communications department, one-credit classes are usually pass or fail, which are not overly difficult. But there are one-credit classes for other majors, like music, that are much harder and more time-consuming.

With classes spread throughout the day and coursework fit in-between, the working week for students does not consist of “nine to five” days. Especially with coursework and exams coinciding in the middle and end of each semester, there are many late nights and weekend study sessions required. Heavy workloads and irregular schedules are damaging to a person’s mental and physical health.

According to the Guardian and USA Today, scientific studies have concluded that the perfect work week is 39 hours. USA Today, however, determined that the average work week for Americans is 47 hours a week. University policy for students is far more than this. And students are paying for it with loans and with their health.

It takes a minimum of 124 credits to graduate from Trinity, though there are a few degree programs that require more credits than this. It is not my intention to disrupt this system. However, it would be preferable if more professors valued quality over quantity in the work they assign, which would make achieving these credits in four years healthier and more manageable.

We are meant to be learning valuable skills, which make the assignments we have important. But at some point, the amount of assignments we have per course prevents us from spending time learning these skills. We are more focused on getting things done as quickly as possible than we are on absorbing information or perfecting techniques.

Extensions are not unheard of. However, there are also professors who assign heavy amounts of coursework and are not lenient with students unable to make deadlines. While visiting puppies and yoga day are great things for a campus to provide, it would be more helpful if students were given a voice when coursework becomes too heavy to get a decent night’s sleep.

This being said, problems with deadlines are not always about the amount of work assigned. There are measures that students can take in ensuring that both their deadlines and health needs are met. Students are able to research their professors and check syllabi during Add/Drop before committing to classes.

To plan ahead, it is also helpful to track all future deadlines in a planner. If you notice that deadlines are scarily converging, you will have ample time to ask professors for adjustments and extensions.

There is a saying that the three categories of college life are studying, socializing and sleeping. The joke is that you can only choose two. Sleeping and studying are the most necessary of these categories. College friends can be lasting friends, but don’t forget the reason you are burying yourself in loans! Study first and play later.