If students want to spend their college years lazily meandering through school, a recent National Survey of Student Engagement suggests that the engineering path might not be for them.
According to the study, engineering majors study for an average of 19 hours per week, more than any other major, compared to an average of 15 hours per week for undergraduate students across all majors.
It also found that business and social science majors study the least, approximately 14 hours per week. The study was conducted last spring and surveyed 416,000 students at 673 four-year colleges in the United States.
A potential reason for the difference may be that students in majors like engineering are using their college education as a direct way to prepare for their careers.
As a result, they are studying their fields in greater detail than students in more general fields.
“Engineering disciplines … require a lot of technical depth,” mathematics professor Michael Lewis said.
“You’re expected to be a functioning engineer. They want you to be able to work right away … [As an English major entering the workforce], you’re going to be doing something other than analyzing literature.”
Students who major in social sciences may not know what their careers will be when they enter the workforce, and the fact that their career goals are not as firm may correlate to less study time.
“[Social science majors give students] more flexibility and a time for sorting things out,” psychology professor Larry Ventis said. “[Some are] not as single-minded in focusing on mastering the material.”
Social science majors do not just study less than other majors — they also fail to meet professor expectations to a greater degree than other majors, according to the survey.
While social science majors study 14 hours per week, their professors expect them to study 18 hours per week.
But Ventis disagreed with the survey’s finding, believing that the survey results do not reflect social science majors who are truly serious about their work.
“In terms of my interactions with students, I don’t think that’s true,” Ventis said. “There are people who are very focused [who] study a tremendous amount. The more people have a clear sense of direction … the more effectively they devote their time to [studying].”
Business majors are tied with social science majors for reporting the least study time.
“Thing one, I’m not sure they do [study less],” business professor James Smith said. “Thing two, I have high expectations for my students and that necessitates studying … They definitely have to prepare for class and exams and things like that.”
Many are skeptical about the study’s findings in general, and more specifically, about how the findings relate to the College.
“I’m always wary of applying these national studies to what’s going on at William and Mary,” Lewis said. “[Students at the College] have a lot of other things going on … If you’re at a hard-core engineering school there may not be so much of that.”
Another concern is how accurate these numbers are due to students’ measurements of study time.
“My biggest concern would be how they [go about researching] the amount of time [spent studying],” physics professor William Cooke said.
In addition, the survey only measures students’ initial effort without comparing the results of that effort.
“[The survey] seems to have measured an input variable [study time],” business professor Scott McCoy said in an email. “What might be more telling would be an output measure, such as achievement or performance.
In the case of business students at W&M, they are constantly being recognized for their academic success, including winning competitions, obtaining highly sought after internships and permanent employment positions, and going onto graduate programs at top-tier universities.”