How Much Independent Study Should You Do at Uni? - Think Student (2023)

University is the first taste of true freedom for many students. Moving away from home to emerge into the wonders of adulthood, like doing your own laundry and cooking your own meals – splendid! Fresher’s week, piles of assignments, long lectures, social events already begin to fill your jam-packed days. Social life seems like the most important thing as you divulge into a new city with unfamiliar sites,foods,and faces. But how many hours should be devoted to academia?

Balancing allthe aspects of university is hugely important to achieve academic success.Time managementisan aspectI wish Iwerebetterespeciallyaround exam time and hand in dates.After my yearsstudying,Ifeel I have found the winning formula to master that balance of university experience while still gainingacademic success.

Courses with lots of contact hours such as medicine, dentistry and some science subjects require more timetabled learning. However, courses such as English, history and other humanities subjects require more independent study. Generally, across the board, most universities in the UK accept 30-35 hours per week (including contact time) for first yearundergraduatestudents. This equates to around 4-5 hours per day. As you progress, you should expect to study fulltime,which is a minimum of 40 hours per week, meaning around 6 hours per day.

There are many factors which determine the amount of time contributing towards independent study. Students must be able to fit in otheraspects oflife amongst academia. This article aims to give an idea as to what should be taken into consideration when thinking about independent study timeand how many hours students really should be doing.

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Independent study does not mean cramming in notes the night before your exam. There are various techniques out there to try, such as talking though your course with your peers. For some studentsverbal learningis the most effective method of absorbing information sometimes justdiscussing your lectures or reading flashcardsout loudcan be the most useful approach.Working with a tutor, reading and note taking fromtextbooks,planning,and reviewing assignments, and working with peers on projects also falls under the term ‘independent study’. You can find more informationbyreadingthis study guide,Independent learning: advice from students. Developing yourown study styleearly on in your courseisworth considering as reading for hours or copying notes may work for some people,but a less efficient method for others.

GettingStarted: FirstYearStudents

The first factor which is considerably important in discussing the appropriate amount of time subjected to independent study is thespecific year at university the student is in. The first year can be highly daunting as settlingintoa new place,foreign to your own home can be a scary a step to take. First year students are likely to place high importance onestablishinga social lifetobuild friendships and study peers throughout thenext few years.These relationshipsmayhelp torelieve the pushing pressures ofuniversity life andstudydemands.

Meeting new people, adapting to audiences, immersing in new cultures can aid a form ofpersonal growthalongside theacademic growth.Young blooms of friendship from university, are commonly seen to develop and grow throughout adulthood forminglonglasting relationships. Social activities are likely to take time away from independent studyasstudents are getting to grips with their new lifestyles. Therefore, in the first year of university,independent study may not be utilised toits fullpotential due to other responsibilities and priorities.Here is aThinkStudent articletalking about the step up from college to universityandhow independent study hours differs.


Settlingintoa newtown, city and country isarguably more challengingfor international studentsdue toculture shocksin food,people,and just daily activities in general. Instantly their new lifestyles could be a daunting change as new routines can feel alien without a sense of familiarity. In this circumstance, independent study may be downsized, and rightfully so, as settling in efficiently can create a secure foundation for the rest of their university lives. Exploring the new countries and cities and testing out unfamiliar foreign aspectsof a country are viably just as useful as academic study.Gaining experience first-hand can broaden wider knowledge of the world.Sometimes experience is more advantageous thanjuststudy,althoughthis does not mean that less than the recommended time of study should be done.

Moreover, high pressure is placed on international students to maintain a high-grade standard.Thispressure mayleadto stress overacademic success and social isolation.To overcome this, students shouldplan around their study time and fit in their 4-5 hours early on in the dayso they can relax later on. Therefore, international students may be subjected to a downsized portion of study time initially, but this can be avoided if theirdays are planned accordingly.


Heavy emphasis on solely academic activities may becomeoverwhelming and cause students to burn out. Daily activities such asplaying sports or joining social clubs provides a distractionand is an effective way todevelop transferrable skills like communication andteamwork. This can aid your future career as the learnt skills in your younger life could prove useful in your adult life.Transferrable skills are a vital asset employer look out for when you apply for a job. Theycan promoteyour career success and increase your chances over competitors.Real life experiences are seen to have a significant impact on career prospects and personal growth; therefore, students must learn totake part in extracurricular activities as well as academic activity.

Here are some reasons whytransferrable skillsare of importance in your career:

  • Once you learnt them, they are yours forever– these skills will stick with you throughout your career and can be used in a plethora of situations.You never forget them.
  • They make you adaptable– although a sufficient and high standard of academic skill and knowledge will help your future career prospects,employers are always looking for people with a diverse and varied skill set, so their employees can respond to multiple situations and have a range of abilities.
  • They reflect your life experience– many employers find it particularly useful that their candidates have experience as well as good results.Leaning in a classroom can be very theoretical,however in real life you will have to learn how to adapt to different settings and people. Transferrable skills can be learnt through your daily activities, whether it be voluntary services or playing football for your local club –employers deem these hobbies to be very valuable.

MentalHealth andTimeManagement

According to research conducted at in 5 students have a diagnosed mental health problem. University as a full-time job can be very overwhelming when the stress of constantdeadlines is chasing you like a lion for its prey.Student stressis a prominent concept which is likely to follow you throughout your courses.If stress is not managed it can lead to further mental health complications such as depression and anxiety.Looking after yourmental health is fundamental to ensure a healthy happy lifestyle. Therefore, it is important that students organise their time according to their needs and their own lifestyles. Creating astudy timetablecatered to these considerations can be a great start towardsorganising your time to fit in independent study.

Although at times university can be overwhelming, there are various strategies tohelporganisation and time management surrounding your study. Here is my personal favourite and a studentrecommended technique:

Thepomodorotechnique.This involves breaking up time periods into small sections. The standard method is tostudy for 25 minutes then take a 5-minute break in-betweento rethink and refresh.Every 4 sets of 25 minutes, you can increase your break time.

This technique ensures maximum absorption of information. It allows you to manage your time and achieve your study goals in a realistic way, as you can grab a snack or check your phone in your breaks, rather than interrupting your study time to grab a peek of your Instagram feed. It also forms a sense of discipline and routine, as you develop a strict habit of only working during those 25 minutes and avoiding all distractions to do so.If you use this technique 10 – 12 times per day in 25-minute intervals, you can complete your 4-5 hours of study time. If this is too frequent, you canupgrade your study time intervals to around 45 minutes. Follow thisuseful linkto learn about time management techniques which will ensure a well-handled university life.

Prioritisation ofStudy

Prioritisation is important when trying to sort out your independent study time. One way of prioritising your tasksistolook at your strengths and weaknesses.If you struggle with a specific area of your course for example,essay writing, then you should place higher importance on improving those skills, rather than something you already excel in which requires less effort.

Another prioritisation techniqueis to use aPriorityMatrix toarrangetasks into categories of importancesuch as:Urgent, important but not urgent, notimportant,and urgent and not urgent and not important. This method could help you plan your days according to your tasks and ensure you are using your study time effectively.

Furthermore, you coulduse a technique calledTime Boxingwhere youcategorise your day into assigned hours, this could be as follows:In a 24-hour day, 8 hours can be taken for sleeping, 3 hours for eating,showering,and getting ready, 4-6 hours for studying (depending on your year of study) and around 7 hours for socialising and other activities.This method provides a loose template to plan your day around. However, circumstances may change for example,if you have an examthe next day. In this situation you candevote more time to study and deduct time from another area like other activities. This means that independent study time can vary heavily due to prioritised events, but this can be pre-planned and organised using the aforementioned methods.(Ideas are based onthis link).

HowManyHours ofIndependentStudyShould beDone atUniversity?

Well with all factors considered,the easy answer remains as 4-5 hours per day if complications are excused. However, realistically this cannot be avoidedas last-minutetrips, family gatherings or something else not accounted for always finds a way of popping up. This is completely ok and expectedas long as you canaccount for the time missed into your assigned hours, you should be able to achieve your university goals effectively and productively.Social time, sports, volunteering,family still should be fitted into your busy studentlife butplanning ahead can avoid the stress and keep your mind clear. Organisation and time management is key. Withaclear plan you will be racing through your studentlife. So,knuckle down and get your study on!


Do colleges look at independent study? ›

Colleges will see that you're a curious learner with the initiative to pursue knowledge on your own. That's pretty impressive! Your research project can strengthen several areas of your application. If your school allows you to do your project for credit, it will show up on your transcript.

Is independent study a good option? ›

Independent study can be a great option for some pupils; however, it may not be the right option for every pupil who is not thriving in a regular classroom setting. Some pupils might be better served in an educational option that is classroom-based and offers a smaller learning environment and more individualization.

How many hours a day should a college student spend studying? ›

The general rule of thumb regarding college studying is, that for each class, students should spend approximately 2-3 hours of study time for each hour that they spend in class. Non-science courses: For every 1 unit you are enrolled, you are recommended to spend approximately two hours outside of class studying.

How hard is independent study? ›

Taking an independent study can be more difficult than a traditional course because you have to keep yourself on track. While you will have an adviser to supervise the course, you will be the one in charge of making sure you are completing enough work; there will be no teacher to give you assignments every day.


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