A budget is nothing more than a realistic plan to allocate a fixed resource over a given period of time. It is extremely important for a student to have both a financial budget AND a time budget.
Note the word “realistic” in the definition of a budget. For any kind of budget to succeed, it is crucial that the person planning it begin with realistic assumptions. You’ve probably heard the joke about the guy whose retirement plan is to “win the lottery.” Most of us make more subtle mistakes when trying to be realistic. For example when we plan to lose weight we underestimate the calories we’ll consume and the exercise we’ll perform, or when we charge a major purchase we overestimate how much we’ll be able to pay off each month.
One of the most important needs of a well organized student is a time budget. There can be no more fixed asset than time. None of us, no matter how privileged, smart or rich, have more than 24 hours in a day. Every realistic student needs to take into account one of the most important and time-tested formulas developed for college students: you will need to spend two hours studying for every hour you spend in class. Most of us who have a college education thought at one time that this rule was absurd and that it did not apply to us personally; most of those who have a college education found that, for the most part and on average, it is true! If you’ve always loved math and zipped right through all of your math in high school, you probably won’t need to devote anywhere near two hours for every hour in math class. Some of your facility in math will probably carry over into Chemistry, Astronomy and Statistics. But what about Western Civilization? French? Yiddish Literature? Psychology? And maybe you won’t spend two-to-one this week, or next, but what about the one after that where so many assignments are due, or that week when you have quizzes in three courses, or finals week?
I am well aware that the majority of my students do not spend two hours studying for every hour they spend in class. I am also well aware that only about one in ten of my students earn a grade of “A.” If you expect to obtain grades of B or better, I honestly believe you will almost certainly have to adhere to the two-to-one rule. I feel certain there is a directly proportional relationship between time spent studying and grades achieved.
You should set up a simple time chart and make a specific budget for how you intend to spend this time – click here for a chart you can use. We all begin with 168 hours in a week. Subtract, say, 56 for sleeping (somewhere between 7 and 9 hours per day), leaving you with 112 hours. If you are taking 13 credits, subtract 13, leaving 99 hours. You need time to take care of your hygiene, your clothing, clean your room, run errands, and so forth, so count an hour and a half per day for these, leaving you with 88.5. Undoubtedly you have friends and a social life, so you probably spend quite some time talking on the phone, going out, hanging out, playing games, going to the movies – say about two hours a day on average? That leaves 74.5 hours? Do you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend? Take off another 6 hours (let’s face it, probably more!). You’re down to 68.5 hours. How do you get to the campus? That’s probably another 45 minutes per day, give or take, leaving you with about 65 hours. If you actually study two hours for every class room hour, that’s another 26 hours, leaving you with 39 hours with nothing to do. That’s not bad. (See a sample completed time budget for a hypothetical student who takes fifteen credits and works part time by clicking here.)
But I am sure you noticed some important details. First, this imaginary student is taking only 13 credits. Second, this student shows no sign of having a job. Third, this student has budgeted no time for watching television (many Americans watch 4 or 5 hours of television per day). What about someone who has parental responsibilities (especially a single parent), or is the principal manager of the household. Most students work at least 14 hours per week, and that means not just deducting another 14 hours, but deducting more time for travel, dressing and running errands.
Think ahead. These are considerations you MUST make when you register for the semester. I have encountered hundreds of students during my thirty year plus career who come to me near tears to report that they are studying hard and can’t understand why they are doing so poorly in college. In nearly every case it takes only a few questions for me to learn that they are doing poorly academically because they are spread so thin between job, family, personal and academic responsibilities that they could not reasonably be expected to succeed in ANY of them.
You also need to think ahead in terms of things that affect all of us. For example, don’t expect to be able to maintain your ordinary schedule in December. Not only will you have final exams in most of your courses and several semester projects due, you will also have to prepare for holidays and will probably find that friends and family will all expect you to fully participate in festivities they have planned. You will probably also have to do gift shopping. Your job might expect you to work extra hours, too. Meanwhile, you’ll probably have a cold. PLAN FOR THIS; it WILL happen.