The cost of free weekends

In this post and the accompanying document (no, I haven’t gotten a link to the PDF to work yet) I came up with the idea that a college student with an 18-hour course load will have roughly 37 hours per week available to do something other than eat, sleep, go to class, and work on coursework. That averages to about five hours a day. But of course that’s an average — in reality, those 37 hours would be unevenly spread. For example, many students want to have their weekends completely free — for work, socializing, going home to see mom and dad, etc. How much does this "cost" in terms of time?

There are 48 hours in a weekend to start with. We originally assumed that a person sleeps 8 hours a night — that may not be realistic, but let’s go with it. It’s reasonable to say that 8 hours on Saturday and on Sunday would be spent sleeping — say, 12:00 to 6:00 AM and then 10:00 PM to midnight. That’s 16 hours of sleep on the weekends, which means 48 – 16 = 32 hours are spent awake.

Keeping with our assumptions about time spent eating, subtract 6 hours (3 meals a day at one hour per meal) from this to get 26 hours of time spent awake and not eating.

If you want this time to stay completely free of schoolwork, you have to deduct it from the 37 hours total for the whole week. This means that in order to have a "free" weekend, you will "spend" 26 of your 37 free hours on the weekends alone, leaving you with 37 – 26 = 11 hours of "free" time for the Monday-Friday workweek — or just under 2 hours a day.

That actually sounds pretty decent — until you remember we haven’t factored in work, Greek life, sports, or weeknight social or cocurricular events yet. Put any one of those in, and that time gets eaten up in an awful hurry.

What’s the message? Not that a student shouldn’t have a job, or join a Greek organization, or whatnot — just that if you’re going to do so, there’s a cost in time involved that has to come from somewhere. Keeping the weekends "school-free" is extremely costly, and it’s much to the student’s advantage to block off parts of the weekend for schoolwork. Not the whole two days, necessarily — but certainly when called for.

In college, like everywhere else, you can’t have something for nothing, and there are opportunity costs involved in undertaking a college degree program that might require a student to have to say "no" to something because of time needed for school.