The Challenges of Unstructured Time in College

A high school schedule is a structured regimen of organization, marching you from place to place as the bell rings. College is nothing like that. Nobody tells you where to go. Lunch and dinner are when you have free time, which makes up a lot of your life.

Your college schedule is what you make of it. You might have two classes on Monday, nothing on Tuesday, something Wednesday night, three classes Thursday, and Friday’s off since everyone starts going out on Thursday nights. It’s all up to you.

Freedom is wonderful, but can become an overwhelming transition for someone who is accustomed to having her life structured for her.

Main Challenges That This Transition Poses

Less Adult Supervision

In high school, you have teachers, counselors, and someone at home to assign you responsibilities and to guide you in setting priorities. They might have become a nuisance, but you were always made aware that there is something you were supposed to be doing.

In college, you will have an academic advisor, but her role is to help you figure out what classes to take and why. But you have to enroll in them.

That’s just the academic side. When you were in high school, it’s likely your parent(s) had you doing chores to help keep the house looking and smelling nice. There’s not going to be somebody to give you those chores in college, so it’s on you to keep your living space clean. New college students sometimes enjoy that freedom of not having to clean and pick up after themselves to such a degree that the dirty frat house or dorm room has become cliché.

The people that were there to support you probably understood that you were a developing adolescent, not ready to be fully responsible for taking care of yourself. They may have seen you as a kid. Now that you are in college, you have newfound independence, but you also have to give yourself responsibilities. You have to be able to navigate the world without someone holding your hand.

This is a learning process, one full of learning new skills and strategies to get things done by yourself. But remember, the other students at your school went through it too. If you find yourself confused by a certain task, like where you can repair your boots or what supplies you need to clean your wooden desk, ask other students in your hall, your RA, or older students for advice. They’ll be happy to share their knowledge with you.

If you're looking for more guidance when it comes to this new independence, check out our article: What You Can Gain From Alone Time in College.

Open Schedule

In high school, each day you proceed from one class directly to another with a few minutes of passing time. You might have had a free period in your packed block of classes from 8 a.m. to 3 dp.m., but for the most part you were following a rigid program.

In college, you might have hours between classes, and you won’t spend nearly as much time in class. You choose your own schedule, and those courses can pop up at what may seem like strange times. You might have no classes all day long, and then a three-hour seminar from 7 to 10 at night. You might have to leave one building to get to another one across campus. In most high schools, every subject is under one roof. In college, you may find that there is a math department building, a science building, a hall of economics, and so on.

On some days, you may be able to go back to your dorm or house between classes for hours, or you might have to get across campus in a short period of time when you have classes back to back. You have to know where to be, when.

In order to make this easier on yourself, you need to stay organized. You also should try to create a schedule that is manageable. If you don’t like to get up early, don’t sign up for the Sociology 101 class that meets at 8:15 in the morning. If you have a night job that requires travel, don’t sign up for late afternoon classes. You have the opportunity to create a schedule that suits your preferences.

Filling the Hours

In high school, you had classes during the day, some homework, an extracurricular activity like art, music or sports, and the rest of your time was spent with family and friends. You had a small window of free time once your work was done.

In college, you have time that you have to fill, and you will need that time. Homework is significantly more intensive and there won’t be someone looking over your shoulder to make sure you are doing it.

Extracurricular activities can become your launching point into an industry, so be sure to make the most of them. You might find yourself in a new place to explore with new people.

There are job opportunities and internships with departments available on a college campus. Go to your student center and find out what you can sign up for.

While downtime is important to relieve stress, you should make the most of your college days by filling the hours with productive activities, getting to know people, and making sure your homework is high quality. It is very easy to find yourself with empty hours on end, and it’s up to you to find activities.

The challenge is to create a whole new routine for your life, one that is vastly different from your high school days. You will find there are positives and negatives that come with your newfound freedom, but as long as you keep busy with positive activities that suit your personal interests, you will bring structure to the unstructured time.


How Is College Different from High School. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2014, from Southern Methodist University (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2014, from