How many hours should a student spend studying?

Many students ask me how many hours they should spent outside of class on homework and studying.  Others complain that they’re having to work too long.

So, how many hours a week should a student spend outside class-time on homework and studying?

The short answer is: All of it.  If you’ve decided to get a University degree, you really should commit fully to the enterprise.  This is very difficult – it always has been.  But you’re preparing yourself for the rest of your life.  Suffering for four years really isn’t much when you consider the benefits you will reap for the subsequent 60+ years.

It is possible to actually calculate a more precise number.  I created a spreadsheet that produces two estimates.  You start with 24 hours per day, then subtract hours for each significant activity.  There’s about 5.2 hours per day in 2nd semester of our program in MIE.  I also expect students to get 8 hours sleep per day, to waste time commuting to and from school, etc.  Estimate #1 makes rather liberal allotments for time – like allowing 2 hours a day for relaxation and 2 hours a day for “other obligations.”  Even so, it turns out that you should be spending 4+ hours each week for each course you take – i.e. you should be spending 25 hours per week on homework and studying beyond normal class time.

I would give this value – 25 hours per week total for all courses – as the bare minimum.  Many of my colleagues spent twice that – 50 hours per week – on their homework, and are convinced that most students should do likewise.  You can see one breakdown that results in 50 hours per week as Estimate #2 in the spreadsheet.  Their arguments – and they are good ones – are simple: you want to be an engineer?  You have to work hard and long, because when you make a mistake, people die.

In the end, though, the best rule is this: study till you know the material – really know it.  If you can that in 1 hour, that’s great.  If it takes you 10 hours, too bad.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to learn.  If you want your degree, you will have to learn.

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