You've probably already wondered what college will be like. Will it be like home? Will it be like your high school experience? Will you be able to handle it? Will it be fun and exciting? Will it be scary and nerve-wracking? Well, hopefully a glimpse at a day in the life of a college student will help sort some things out!
High school vs. college schedules
The college schedule is very different than the traditional high school schedule. Typically, there is a lot more flexibility with your college classes. In high school, you were probably told that you had to take US History, which was offered every day at 10:00 am. In college, you’ll probably need to take a history class, but you could have 10 choices, which would be offered on different days, at different times, and for different durations. The other cool thing about the college schedule is that you usually have more opportunities to explore your interests and passions. For example, you will be picking a major that will determine the types of classes you will specialize in. In high school, you have a set curriculum of classes you have to take across all subject areas. In college, think about your schedule as a pyramid. Your freshman and sophomore year, you’ll take more general education classes (a mixture of everything so you walk away well-rounded) and a few classes in your major. But during your junior and senior year, you’ll take fewer general education classes and more classes in your major.
A lot more flexibility and independence
Another big difference you should be aware of is the time structure. Right now, you’re probably in school from about 7:30 am–2:30 pm, Monday through Friday. This will not be the case in college, where you usually take four or five classes at different times throughout the week. You might have a science class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10:10–11:00 am. Perhaps you’ll have a Spanish class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:15–3:00 pm. Then, you might have your Introduction to Education class on Wednesday evenings from 6:30–9:00 pm. Maybe on Mondays you’ll have three classes, and on Tuesdays you’ll have two classes. There will always be some courses that are only offered on certain days at certain times, but for the most part, there are a lot of options to think about! If you’re a morning person, you might want to schedule your classes to be done by noon. If you’re more of a night owl, having that first class start at 1:15 in the afternoon might be the best thing to ever happen to you. And you definitely won’t be in class for seven hours straight! However, college is like high school in that you will have the opportunity to get involved by joining different clubs, organizations, and maybe even by getting a part-time job. Most schools have hundreds of extracurricular activities, and it is pretty easy to start one as well. So, as you can imagine, your schedule can get crazy with meetings, band practice, sport practice, play rehearsal, work hours, etc.
Related: How to Know If You're Ready for College
A day in the life of real college students
Of course, the best way to see what a true day in the life of a college student is like is to actually get the schedules of some real students! We asked a few students to share their schedules and stories so you can get a glimpse of what juggling classes, homework, internships, practices, and more is really like. Check out these hour-by-hour breakdowns of an average day on campus for five undergraduates.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Major: Business Administration
- 9:15 am: I woke up early this time! Let’s get some breakfast! On second thought...snooze button.
- 9:45 am: Finally up and ready for 10:00 am class. Don’t need to worry about being late with my trusty Beach Cruiser.
- 10:00–11:50 am: Entrepreneurship class, listening to fellow classmates give their business elevator pitches. Awesome!
- 12:00–1:50 pm: Break for lunch at Commons and head back to the dorm to watch that episode of The Walking Dead I missed last night.
- 2:00–4:50 pm: Ugh, three-hour class; it’s a design class though, so I get to use my laptop.
- 5:00–7:00 pm: Hang out at the dorm and get dinner with my residents. It’s a lot of fun being a resident advisor!
- 8:00–10:00 pm: Rehearsal with my a cappella group. I’m president this year, so I need to make sure I’m there on time!
- 10:15 pm–1:00 am: Homework, reading, and dorm hall shenanigans. Did someone say Halo 5? Sweet...
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Major: Biomedical Engineering
- 7:10 am: First alarm goes off. Prepare to ignore it for the next 20–30 minutes.
- 7:20–7:50 am: Slowly convince myself to get up after pushing the snooze button for too long.
- 8:40–9:00 am: Make the long walk to class on the opposite side of campus.
- 9:00–10:00 am: Intro to Fiction, my only non-technical class; I love having a legitimate excuse to read good books!
- 10:00 am–12:00 pm: Head to my professor’s office hours. I would not be able to complete this homework without help!
- 12:00–1:00 pm: Dynamics lecture (a crazy mechanical engineering class), where I eat my lunch of stale chips and PB&J, trying not to crunch too loudly. Normally, I get angry looks from the professor.
- 1:00–2:00 pm: Modeling Human Physiology, an interesting class; I just wish there were fewer equations!
- 3:00–6:00 pm: Research! I analyze musculoskeletal motion data to better understand the balance and gait of people.
- 6:00–7:00 pm: Dinner with my friends at whichever campus restaurant has the best deal.
- 7:00–8:00 pm: Engineering Council meeting.
- 8:00 pm–12:00 am: Work on homework at the library!
Central Michigan University
Major: Integrative Public Relations
- 9:25 am: The first alarm goes off with a series of snoozes to follow.
- 9:45 am: Finally out of bed. Take a quick shower.
- 10:00 am: Make it to the first class of the day (just in time).
- 11:00 am: One class down. The second class of the day immediately requires in-class writing. Time to get creative!
- 12:00 pm: Check my schedule and see I have a meeting with the Director of Campus Life. Not much time for lunch today! Grab something quick.
- 1:00 pm: Ready to make it through the last class of the day. We're learning the ropes of InDesign and Photoshop.
- 2:00 pm: Quick stop to get some things ready for an event later in the week. Can’t forget to pick my roommate up from work either!
- 3:00 pm: Three-hour work shift at the residence hall desk. At least I have time to catch up on some work. Interacting with residents makes for a great work environment.
- 6:00 pm: Off work! Time to grab some dinner before the night’s Program Board meeting.
- 7:00 pm: Catch up on emails and messages in order to stay on top of things.
- 8:00 pm: Cap off this busy day with a meeting with CMU Program Board to discuss upcoming events taking place on campus.
- 9:00 pm: My boss wanted to talk to me after the meeting tonight but I really have a lot of work to do before tomorrow. I'm ready to head home and get working.
- 10:00 pm: Work on homework, paperwork, and loose ends for a few hours. I always make time for dorm shenanigans with my roommates. It might be a good idea to order a pizza—or three.
University of California, Riverside
- 7:00 am: Alarm goes off, but I actually get out of bed around 7:15 or 7:30.
- 7:30 am: Shower, eat breakfast, check the New York Times, CNN, reddit, etc.
- 8:00 am: My research group meets, and all attendees connect electronically, which means I get to attend from my desk in my apartment.
- 9:00 am: Take bus or walk to campus and check email along the way.
- 9:30 am: General Chemistry class.
- 10:30 am: Take a break. What I do during this window depends on what I have later in the day, any upcoming deadlines, or problem sets due. It gives me time to work on homework, research, watch TV or movies, talk with friends, or all of the above.
- 1:00 pm: Class (Differential Equations, Thermodynamics, Senior Seminar Thesis/Guided Research, etc.).
- 4:00 pm: Go to the gym. Depending on the day, I’ll lift weights and do cardio or play basketball and/or racquetball.
- 5:30 pm: Back to my apartment.
- 6:00 pm: Make and eat dinner.
- 7:00 pm: Work on homework and research. Check email.
- 9:00 pm: Depending on the season, watch Netflix or sports to relax.
- 10:00 pm: Go to bed.
Rochester, New York
Major: English Literature Concentration and Communication & Rhetoric
- 6:30 am: Alarm clock rings...and I reset the alarm.
- 7:00 am: Alarm clock rings and I actually get up. I shower, get ready for work, check my email, and pack my backpack with books and homework.
- 8:00 am: I work at the Interlibrary Loan and Serials Department in the library. I also do homework during the slow parts of the shift.
- 1:05 pm: Lunch. Afterwards, I do the pile of dishes waiting in the kitchen sink.
- 2:00 pm: Catch up on homework, reading, and emails. Work on my freelance writing assignment for the week.
- 4:00 pm: Attend my Communication & Rhetoric Senior Seminar class.
- 5:20 pm: Dinner in Sorelle’s (the common area of the academic building). I usually try to catch up on a little class reading while eating.
- 6:00 pm: Editing for Publication class.
- 8:45 pm: Finish up homework, projects, freelance work, etc. Check out Netflix if it isn’t a really busy week.
- 10:00 pm: Get ready for bed and read for fun before lights out.
Related: A Handy Guide to Surviving Dorm Life
At the end of the day, you’re looking at a pretty busy student schedule—but that’s what it’s all about! "The college schedule can seem crazy at times," says Michelle. "Doing homework until midnight is not exceptionally glamorous or easy, but I love what I do and all that I learn." Many students agree that the best and worst part of college is the flexibility it offers. You're able to choose everything: your classes, extracurricular activities, friends, and more. Surviving college takes hard work—a lot of responsibility and time management are needed, but with a bit of planning and coffee mixed in, you can be very successful. College is what you make of it, and you want to plan your time so you can squeeze every bit of hands-on experience, spontaneous fun, and meaningful knowledge you can out of it.
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