90% of Undergrads Say Classes Too Hard

College student working on an assignment in a coffee shop | Image by wayhomestudio/Freepik

Recent polling among undergraduate students found that most feel their classes are too difficult and yet underestimate the amount of studying time required.

The results of a survey published this week by Intelligent, an online magazine dedicated to education, revealed some interesting insights into how college students regard and manage their coursework, react to challenging situations, and perceive their post-graduation prospects.

The survey was commissioned by Intelligent via the survey platform Pollfish earlier this month. Some 576 respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 who are enrolled at four-year colleges or universities participated in the survey.

The survey found that 90% of college students find at least one of their classes to be too challenging. This is up slightly from 2022 when 87% of students surveyed said the same. Male students were slightly more likely than female ones to feel this way — 77% versus 65%, respectively.

Of the 90% of students who believed that at least one of their classes was too difficult, 12% reported that professors should be “forced” to make classes easier, while 54% declared that maybe professors should be “forced” to do so. In response to a very difficult class, only 6% went as far as filing a complaint against the professor — with 1% asking their parents to do so on their behalf — while a larger share of 30% turned to AI technology, such as ChatGPT, for assistance.

Most students who had a difficult class (79%) responded by studying more or asking classmates (55%) or professors (48%) for help.

At the same time, the survey revealed that students may not fully grasp the amount of work required of them to follow a course successfully. For instance, 74% reported spending an average of 10 hours or less on studying and homework per week. However, a standard course load of 15 credit hours per semester would require around 30 hours of studying and homework per week. Nevertheless, 70% of respondents reported putting “a lot” of effort into their studies.

“I think most students don’t expect to spend that much time studying or working on assignments, which leads them to believe that courses are ‘too challenging,’” Dr. Diane Gayeski, professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College, said of the results, according to Intelligent.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, the de-emphasis many students placed on standardized admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT, in the wake of many universities making score reporting optional due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have hurt their college readiness. Historically low scores were recorded, yet many experts pointed to these tests as clear indicators of how well a student will perform in higher education.

In terms of students’ aspirations after graduation, the survey results suggest that the vast majority have plans already mapped out. For instance, 53% of respondents intend to enter the workforce, and 24% plan to attend graduate school. Just 6% reported not knowing what they would do after graduation, while 1% planned to move back with their parents and rely on parental support.

Of those planning to get a job, one in four expected a starting salary of $70,000 or more. The median salary in Dallas is currently $60,900, according to Gusto.

However, a considerable amount of worry was reflected in the polling, with one in five respondents saying they were “very anxious” about joining the workforce. This anxiety was most palpable among students studying biological and physical sciences (74%), followed by those with social sciences and law majors (69%), health sciences and technologies majors (67%), and education majors (66%).

Gayeski explained that this is where initiatives looking to create career pathways for students can have the largest impact.

“Most students are anxious about their ability to succeed in the workplace unless they have had internships that have been closely aligned with entry-level jobs,” she said. “However, delaying entry into the job market can only prolong that anxiety.”

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