Procrastination In College

3 Reasons Students Procrastinate—and How to Help Them Stop

Drawing inspiration from nature, Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa for approximately 16 years, though he never finished it. Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is credited with saying, “I enjoy deadlines.” “I enjoy the whooshing sound they produce when they pass by.” After nine months of planning, Frank Lloyd Wright spent only two hours developing Fallingwater, which was completed the following year.

‘Procrastination is quite frequent,’ according to Piers Steel, a management professor at the University of Calgary, who published a study on the subject in 2007. “Estimates indicate that 80 to 95 percent of college students postpone, around 75 percent of college students consider themselves procrastinators and nearly 50 percent procrastinate on a consistent and problematic basis.”

Procrastinators are common in middle and high school classes, and you probably have some in your class. These are kids who habitually wait until the last minute to turn in homework or put off studying until the night before an exam. This postponement comes with a price: Last-minute hand-ins cost students on average five percentage points, or half a grade, according to a study conducted in 2015. The study found that the longer business school students delayed turning in an assignment, the poorer their marks were. Another meta-analysis conducted in 2015 found that procrastination was connected with lower grades across 33 research that included more than 38,000 students, a finding that was confirmed in 2016. (most of whom were in college). And to make matters worse, medical research has connected procrastination to increased levels of stress, despair, anxiety, exhaustion, and other negative emotions.

As Devon Price, a social psychology professor at Loyola University Chicago, said in 2018, students that procrastinate do so because they don’t care about the project. However, this is often not the case, as evidenced by his research. The most common underlying causes for procrastination fall into two categories: fear of failing and a lack of understanding of the first steps of a project.

Prices explain that “procrastination is more likely to occur when the work is relevant and the individual is concerned about performing it effectively.” Procrastinators can be gripped by fear and stare at a screen or book for hours at a time. At such time, taking a little pause and engaging in a calming activity is the best course of action to pursue.

DePaul University professor Joseph Ferrari, who is a renowned authority on procrastination, has conducted several research to determine why students put off critical tasks. Ferrari discovered in a pioneering 1989 study that college students frequently delay due to indecision: they spent too much time wondering about whether or not they were doing an assignment correctly, which resulted in their spending more time on even simple activities than they should have. Procrastination served as a coping mechanism for many pupils to avoid uncomfortable circumstances.

The gathering of knowledge to make an informed decision is extremely beneficial and valuable, but when one merely continues to gather beyond the point of having sufficient resources, they are being indecisive and the waiting is counterproductive, Ferrari told an interviewer in 2010.

Ferrari conducted a follow-up study and discovered another cause for some students’ procrastination: a fear of being judged. He noticed that many college students participated in self-sabotage to be able to blame poor scores on the deadlines rather than on their talents after they had graduated. These students opted to “choose settings in which their public image would not be harmed by a lack of performance,” according to the researchers. Yet another coping mechanism, procrastination was employed in this instance to safeguard the kids’ self-esteem and perceptions of their own identities.

The results of a 1992 investigation by Ferrari revealed another, very different, the reason for procrastination. Some college students put off starting a project until the last minute because they were enjoying the apparent thrill of working against the clock. The practice of putting off schoolwork till the last minute was a means for these students to “add drama to life,” resulting in an adrenaline rush.

Because of this, procrastination is more likely to be explained by factors such as indecision, avoidance, and thrill-seeking than by factors such as lethargy or lack of motivation. So, what can be done by teachers? Here are a few ideas to consider.


1. Give yourself plenty of time to complete tasks. Researchers looked into the effects of three different types of deadlines for a series of tasks: regularly spaced deadlines, self-imposed deadlines, and a single final deadline. Students were assigned three papers in the first experiment, and they were given the option of turning one in at the end of each month, setting their deadlines, or submitting all three papers by the end of the course. Student volunteers were assigned a task, which was to proofread three sections, and they could choose whether to submit their assignments weekly, at their own pace, or all at once in the second experiment. In both tests, regularly spaced deadlines not only resulted in higher-quality student work but also reduced the likelihood that students would miss their deadlines altogether.

What is the takeaway message for teachers? Instead of assigning pupils a large project with a single deadline, split the project down into smaller projects with deadlines that are evenly spread out. For example, you could request many draughts of a paper. Students should be required to present their progress at specific milestones during a project-based learning course. This can be especially beneficial for students who are paralyzed by enormous assignments; by breaking down each component into smaller parts, you can lessen the tension that comes with approaching deadlines that seem impossible to meet.

2. Provide positive and encouraging feedback. Students who have poor self-esteem may be hesitant to put forth their best work if they are concerned about receiving negative feedback or fearful of failure. Avoid providing pupils excessively critical or negative criticism because this may have the unintended result of making them feel uneasy or self-conscious, which is counterproductive. Furthermore, students may respond negatively to input that appears to be controlled; therefore, avoid being overly specific about what needs to be fixed. Finally, be cautious when providing feedback to students in front of their peers because they may get uncomfortable and disengaged as a result of the experience.

3. Instruct students in time management and study techniques. According to a 2017 study, many students lack the metacognitive abilities necessary to be able to study well, such as the capacity to organize adequate time for studying or the ability to recognize when it is appropriate to seek help. Many study participants were taken aback when their initial results were lower than they had anticipated because they did not have an accurate sense of how well they had prepared for the examination. They were then urged to plan for an upcoming test and showed examples of how they could prepare for such a testing situation. The findings were statistically significant: In comparison to their counterparts, students who participated in the metacognitive activities received an average of a third of a letter grade increase in their grades.

4. Keep an eye on your workload. The results of a 2015 study found that when deadlines for numerous projects coincide, the risk of students turning in late work increases—something that may easily occur in middle and high school when students have many teachers. If students are unable to manage many tasks that have due dates that are close together, they will suffer increased levels of stress. It may be beneficial to collaborate with other professors to spread out important deadlines.

When students are faced with challenges that impair their ability to complete assignments on time, such as caring for a sick family member or having to provide financial assistance for their family, being flexible with deadlines can help them stay on track and avoid falling behind.

5. Provide detailed instructions as well as illustrations. If students don’t know where to begin with a project, they are more inclined to put it off until later. It is best to provide instructions in writing so that students can refer to them as required. Make sure that all students are aware of your expectations and the requirements of the assignment—it is best to put instructions in writing so that students may refer to them as needed. You can also provide samples, such as past student work, to help students better comprehend what they are expected to do for the assignment.