Senior Veronica del Rosario had to start working. It was 9 p.m. and her 15-page paper on the United Nations Development Programme was due in 13 hours. She had barely started.
The marketing communication and writing, literature, and publishing double major began to transcribe a recorded interview from the head of the Programme. She quickly realized that she could not comprehend the man she had talked with months ago from the United Nations.
“He had the thickest Nigerian accent,” del Rosario said. “I could not understand anything he was saying without listening to it four times.”
With the clock ticking, the self-proclaimed seasoned procrastinator got to work, checking the United Nations website to confirm everything the recording said. Twelve hours later, she emailed the paper to her professor and was even able to attend a pilates session before her 10 a.m. class.
An all-nighter like this sounds all too familiar for many college students who have mastered, or at least practiced, the art of procrastination. Studies conducted in the last six years have shown that 70 percent of college students procrastinate and 50 percent admit that it is a real problem for them, according to Tracy McLaughlin-Volpe, an assistant professor of psychology.
“We know from research that it is a common problem,” McLaughlin-Volpe said. “Maybe even bigger than what we expected.”
McLaughlin-Volpe said there are different reasons a person will choose to put things off. Some people, she said, enjoy the excitement of waiting until the last minute.
“They feel it is exciting to live life that way. They say that they work well under pressure and that they like having very little time,” said McLaughlin-Volpe. “They say that their work is better.”
Del Rosario, who has never worked on a paper more than a night ahead of time, said she gets her best work done last minute.
“I work well under pressure,” del Rosario said. “I have tried doing drafts and such, but unless it is creative writing, it never pays off.”
McLaughlin-Volpe said a second reason students will often avoid the work they have to do is because they aren’t sure how to start.
“They procrastinate because they don’t know how to approach the task and are overwhelmed,” McLaughlin-Volpe said. “They don’t even know how to begin so they just avoid it.”
McLaughlin-Volpe said the other group of procrastinators, which tends to be the majority of students she has talked with, avoid an assignment because they are scared it will turn out badly.
“I think they are avoiding it because they are really afraid of failure,” McLaughlin-Volpe said. “I think a lot of procrastination has to do with anxiety. We avoid a task because we want to do well and we are afraid we won’t.”
For del Rosario, procrastination can often stem from being nervous about an assignment.
“There may be a little anxiety there. I just don’t always know where to start,” del Rosario said. “But once I have to do it, I get it done.”
McLaughlin-Volpe said that putting things off usually creates more stress than it is worth.
Freshman Lilly Joynes learned her lesson with procrastination when she had to give a rhetorical analysis speech. It was due at 11:30 a.m., and she only had the outline done.
“I was freaking out, but I had to do my speech,” the communication studies major said.
Joynes completed her speech and thought she did well, but was so stressed out from the deadline that she threw up after class.
“All of my nerves caught up with me, and as soon as the teacher said we could go, I ran to the bathroom,” Joynes said. “Just the stress from procrastinating isn’t worth it.”
Although procrastination is common in college, not all students have developed the bad habit. Sophomore Mariette Lewicki said she tries to start her assignments the day she gets them. Lewicki said she has trouble going out or enjoying her weekend if she doesn’t have all of her work done.
“I wouldn’t be having fun if I didn’t have some knowledge that I had done most of my work for the weekend,” the marketing communication major said. “If I am at a party or something, it is just going to stress me out.”
For those who want to learn to limit their procrastination, the Writing and Academic Resource Center is available to all students, according to Jacqueline Holland, an administrative assistant at the center.
“People realize that they do not have the best study strategies or time management skills,” Holland said. “They are pulled in different directions in terms of their time.”
Jodi Burrel, the assistant director of academic support and special programs at the Writing and Academic Resource Center, works with students individually to help them with procrastination. She sits down with students and discusses their academic history and time management skills they have tried in the past.
“If there is anything they have been using that is good, I help them develop that,” Burrel said.
She will help them to come up with a calendar so they do not overbook or overcommit to things they cannot accomplish.
“There is an element of not being able to simplify what we are asking ourselves to do, and that is why we procrastinate: because we feel overwhelmed,” Burrel said.
The center can help students at any stage in their assignment, from coming up with ideas to editing a paper, according to Holland.
“It is really intimidating to write a paper when you don’t understand an assignment,” Holland said. “It is better to ask for help than to struggle through and wait and then the deadline is passing.”