Is College Easier Than High School?

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Alex pulled his first all-nighter as a sophomore in high school. He toiled over research papers, lab reports, SAT prep books, and literary analyses. Studying and homework took up a huge chunk of his day. By the time he got to college, he was so practiced at poring over his books that it took him a few months to come to the realization that college seemed somehow… easier than high school.

As the competition for a spot at a top college becomes ever more fierce, high schools have had to ramp up their game, giving students a rigorous and extensive preparation for their future education. But not all colleges have kept up. While the average college student fifty years ago spent 24 hours a week studying, today’s undergrads devote only about 15 hours to preparing for class. “I was expecting it to be a lot harder,” Ashley Dixon, a sophomore at George Mason University, told the Washington Post. “I thought I was going to be miserable, trying to get good grades. And I do get good grades, and I’m not working very hard.”

Consider this:  in 1961, the average student studied for 24 hours and spent 16 in class, so college was akin to a full-time job. These days, students’ time spent on college endeavors averages out to about 27 hours a week, or, as the Post puts it, “roughly the same time commitment expected of students in a modern full-day kindergarten.”

The blame for this shifts depending on who you ask. For starters, there’s the culture of grade inflation. Terrified of negative course reviews, professors give high grades for minimal effort. Then there’s the increasing prominence of all that non-academic stuff on campus:  climbing walls, chocolate-appreciation societies, Quidditch clubs, and the like. Colleges invest heavily in these extracurricular treats in order to appeal to prospective students, who then spend their entire freshman years distracted by all the summer camp-style activities — and skimping on homework. And then, of course, there’s the fact that skyrocketing college costs mean that more and more students are spending their spare time working to offset college costs.

Of course, some students are still driving themselves nuts with studying stress; just walk into the library at Johns Hopkins at finals time for proof. Study time varies by major as well; according to data from the National Survey of Student Engagement, marketing majors spend only 12 hours a week preparing for class, while architecture majors put in twice as much time. Unsurprisingly, some schools are more rigorous than others; according to stats obtained by the Post, students at the universities of Maryland and Virginia study an average of 16 hours a week, compared with 18 at St. Mary’s College of Maryland; 17 at William and Mary; and 15 at American University. (Other Maryland and Virginia schools declined to report their numbers.)

So, what do you think:  is high school the true education?



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