Students who major in engineering and the physical sciences can expect to spend more hours in the library than those who take a concentration of courses in business and social sciences, according to a national survey of more than 400,000 undergraduates at nearly 700 colleges and universities.
The annual survey, known as the National Survey of Student Engagement, is being released Thursday by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and offers particular insight this year into university students’ study habits. (And, for our purposes here on The Choice, it also provides something of a reality check for high school seniors who will soon be bound for college.)
The average college student, the researchers reported, studied for 15 hours each week. Engineering students fell on the higher end of the spectrum — devoting roughly 19 hours to class preparation — while students with majors in business and social sciences were on the lower end, spending about 14 hours preparing for class. (Meanwhile, the survey found, students of business were more likely to hold a job during the school year.)
Majors that were moderately demanding were biological sciences, arts and humanities (both requiring about 17 hours of study) and education (requiring 15 hours of study).
Although they tended to study longer, on average, than their peers in other disciplines, engineers were the most likely to head to class without having completed all of their assignments.
Even as seniors, the workload of engineers did not seem to abate, at least for those in the N.S.S.E. sample; they were twice as likely as business majors to spend over 20 hours a week on coursework.
Eighty-five percent of all students surveyed — engineers and business students alike — reported that they took careful notes during class, but only 65 percent said they wound up reviewing those notes afterward.
Students who studied education reported the highest rates of learning (86 percent reported significant gains), while engineering and business students also rated their academic growth highly (80 percent reported what they considered to be great gains). In comparison, about 65 percent of those who studied biological, physical and social sciences or arts and humanities described their learning as significant.
Separately, the survey found that students whose parents had attended college spent more time preparing for class than those who were the first in their families to attend school. At the same time, those first-generation students were more likely to employ “effective learning strategies,” including studying in groups and meeting with professors.
The survey also asked after involvement in Greek life, concluding that while membership in a fraternity or sorority was good for personal development and community engagement, its benefits might have been overshadowed by “increased risky behaviors and smaller cognitive gains.”
Notably, students involved in Greek life reported studying, socializing and working at rates comparable to non-Greek students, suggesting that their extracurricular commitments did not displace any other activities.
Meanwhile, transfer students, the survey found, were more likely to work off campus and care for dependents, decreasing their sense of connection to the college community. They were, on average, older and more racially diverse than broader undergraduate populations.