“How many hours a week do you spend studying?”
“What types of assignments do you get?”
“Which majors have the most work?” (often connected to “Do pre-meds have to work harder than other people?”)
I get asked variations of these questions at every open house I’ve worked and on a fair number of the tours I’ve given. It’s a popular topic–people know that Hopkins is tough and that people here work hard, and are trying to get a realistic answer. Practically every time, as current students we all stand there, trying to figure out exactly how much work we do/how many hours we put in/if we’re doing more or less work compared to other students. To be honest, I never have a particularly articulate answer. As a social sciences student, my workload fluctuates a lot, depending on when I have papers due or tests. My classes aren’t usually based on weekly assignments, and instead just have a few assignments or tests and participation to determine my grade. So, here’s an attempt to shed more light on the workload.
This semester I took five classes (which you can read more about here): La France Contemporaine (400-level French language class on contemporary French culture, politics, and history), Introduction to African History Since 1880 (100-level introductory history class), Policy Disasters (400-level political science elective), Urban Politics and Policy (300-level political science seminar), and Constitution and Criminal Justice System (300-level political science elective).
The majority of my classes were upper-level electives, which in my experience has meant that there’s more flexibility on paper/project topics. For final papers, you’ll typically turn in an abstract or project proposal part of the way through the semester, but it’s up to you to choose a topic. Classes with response papers will either let you decide 1) which weeks you want to turn in papers 2) what topics you want to discuss in response papers or 3) all of the above. This semester, Policy Disasters had five papers with a fixed format, but we could choose which five weeks we wanted to write papers. Urban Politics and Policy had three papers, and we could choose the weeks and the topics. By contrast, my history class (which is a humanities class I need for my Africana Studies minor and will also fulfill the second of the two history classes I need for political science) had three in-term papers, all of which had fixed due dates and very specific topic choices.
Lots of social science also means the possibility of avoiding having many tests. I prefer writing papers to taking tests, and I feel like I’m able to express my knowledge of the subject better through a paper than a test, so I tend to gravitate towards classes that focus on papers and participation instead. Three of my classes this semester didn’t have tests during the term. I ended up with three unit tests for French (which ended up being lots of fun to study for, because it usually just meant two of my friends and I would sit around talking in French and eating bread, cheese, and grapes) and one midterm for CCJS. For finals, I had two tests (Policy Disasters and CCJS).
All of my classes had reading. Some of it never took long (French), some of it was inevitably several hundred pages a week (Policy Disasters and Urban Politics), and some of it varied depending on the week (CCJS). The thing I’ve learned about reading-intensive classes is that it helps a ton to be interested in what you have to read tons about. The reading for African history was under 100 pages a week, but it was typically more anthropologically or economically focused, not politically or sociologically focused, which meant that it was often easier for me to get through a several hundred page book for Policy Disasters. Some professors give guidelines for the reading (subjects to look out for or questions that will be discussed in class), while others just assign it.
So how much time do I spend working? It really depends week by week, and on other events going on. Two of my classes (and therefore 8 papers) could be schedule throughout the semester whenever I wanted, which gave me (needed) flexibility to deal with my mock trial schedule (I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that a weekend away from campus with mock trial means a weekend doing nothing but mock trial and no work). It also meant that I could clear the few days before a big tournament for more meetings and practice. After 5(!) semesters here, I’ve gotten much better at figuring out which readings are top priority, how to make myself get readings done sooner than right before class, when I need to start researching for a paper/writing a paper to make it turn out well, and (as of this semester, and hopefully for the future!) how to study more effectively without freaking out about tests.
One week I spent about 8 (keep in mind–this is a ROUGH estimate) hours studying/writing. Typically, in a week, I spend over 30 hours reading, studying, or writing. Some weeks I have tons of work due, and spend all of my free time working (40-60 hours? I’m still not sure of this hour count). Is this a lot? Yes, in comparison to high school, but in college so much of the work is done outside of the classroom, and I write SO MUCH MORE (capslock necessary to emphasize the difference) in college than I ever did in high school.
Does my major have more/less work than others? Again, hard to answer. The work in the social sciences is very different than what you’ll find in other areas. My roommate is a biology and public health double major who takes mostly science-based classes. We both put in a lot of hours, but hers are more focused on problem sets and studying for tests, and she has less reading and writing. Lots of work as well, but different work distribution!
So is all of this manageable? Absolutely, but keep in mind this is a schedule that’s a result of both me knowing what types of classes I’m most successful in and enjoy the most and of me learning college reading, writing and studying skills. I’m still able participate in several activities (one of which takes up at least as much time (if not more, probably more!) than a class), have an on-campus job, and spend time with my friends.
The takeaway? It’ll be a lot of work whichever path you choose. However, it’s much more manageable if you choose classes where you enjoy the material (a Sunday night reading a book on a topic you find interesting is much more appealing than forcing yourself to push through something you don’t care about at all), if you choose classes with a workload/testload (new word, don’t worry) that best fits the way you demonstrate your knowledge of a subject, and (possibly most importantly) if you remember the value of taking study breaks/being part of activities outside of classwork and studying. They’ll be a welcome distraction (no matter how much you love a class), will help you learn to manage time better, and will add significantly to the college experience.