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Drinking, other activities during first year of college predict involvement during third and fourth years

Previous research has established the transition to college as an important period for students’ academic and personal successes throughout their college careers. A new longitudinal study examined first-year college students’ time use and their engagement in high-impact activities during their third and fourth years of study. Participants were U.S. undergraduate students who were in their first semester of college, under 21 years of age, U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and lived within 25 miles of campus. The study utilized a longitudinal burst design, in which participants completed a baseline survey, followed by 14 consecutive daily surveys for seven consecutive semesters. At baseline, the response rate was 65.6% (n = 744) and final analytic sample (those who responded at semesters 5, 6, or 7) contained 652 individuals. Self-reported measures at baseline included the number of hours participants spent volunteering, attending campus events, going to bars or parties, and engaging in passive entertainment (i.e., watching TV) each day. Participants also reported whether they wanted to get drunk and the number of drinks consumed each day for 14 consecutive days in the first and second semesters. Other measures included socioeconomic characteristics at baseline and levels of civic engagement, course decisions, participation in study abroad programs, and appointment to leadership positions in philanthropic organizations in later semesters. Results showed first-year students reported spending more time engaged in passive activities (i.e., napping, watching TV) than volunteering, attending clubs and events, and engaging in political activism. The authors conducted linear regression analyses, which found the ways in which students spent their time during the first year of college predicted their participation in selected high-impact activities during their third and fourth year of college, controlling for age and parent education. Studying abroad was predicted by spending more time volunteering and more time going to bars and parties, while holding a leadership position in a philanthropic organization was predicted by spending more time napping, watching TV, playing video games, and going to bars and parties. In their discussion, the authors hypothesized both studying abroad and leadership positions may attract social students, who enjoy spending time at parties and bars. A limitation of this study is that preexisting characteristics, such as proclivity for risk-taking, may drive students to study abroad or drink, rather than first-year drinking behaviors.

Take away: In this longitudinal study, the amount of time first-year students spent going to bars and parties, as well as the time they spent engaged in other activities, predicted their involvement in high-impact activities two to three years later.

Citation: Small ML, Waterman E, & Lender T. (2017). Time use during first year of college predicts participation in high-impact activities during later years, Journal of College Student Development, 58(6) 954-960 doi: 10.1353/csd.2017.0075


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