According to the results of a recent study, 70 percent of college students identify themselves as "academic procrastinators" who typically delay starting or finishing their assignments.
Joseph R. Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, conducted psychological research to define one who procrastinates frequently as a "chronic procrastinator." An estimated 20 percent of American adults are "chronic procrastinators," according to the study.
These studies also found that students had higher rates of academic procrastination at highly selective colleges than less selective schools. Students at more selective schools postponed assignments because they were difficult and unpleasant, whereas students at less selective schools postponed due to fear of failure or social disapproval.
Ferrari further categorized academic procrastinators into two subgroups – "arousal" and "avoidant" procrastinators. "Arousal procrastinators" are those who work best under pressure, delaying tasks for the thrill. "Avoidant procrastinators" are self-doubters who postpone due to fear of failure or fear that their success would raise others; expectations of them.
Aja Anderson, a sophomore in the School of International Service at American University, said she falls into the "arousal procrastinator" pool.
"I do find that when the pressure is on me, I perform better," Anderson said. "It's a pattern that you get into that works for you. Once you learn that you can get away with it, you stick with it. People tend to do what's easiest for them, and procrastinating becomes the easiest way."
Despite its prevalence, Anderson said she does not see procrastination as a problem for her academically.
"At least for me, I don't see it as a problem because even though I procrastinate, I still always get my work done," she said.
Anderson said she feels the reason there is such a discrepancy between college students and adults is because procrastination does not work in the real world. "Procrastination works in college because you have so much free time," she said. "But once you become an adult, you are getting paid and have goals to accomplish, and you can't afford to procrastinate."
Fellow "arousal procrastinator" Kate Matthews, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the reason she procrastinates on assignments is because they are not enjoyable or motivating for her to complete.
Professors take a different stance when discussing academic procrastination.
"Ten percent of the students in one of my classes have not turned in their major research paper," said Christine Lawrence, a professor of communication. "Some of these students were ill or had too much work to turn in at that time, but these students need to make choices about what they can get done and prioritize."
Lawrence said she makes an effort to prevent students from procrastinating by reminding them about the due dates of assignments several classes before they are due. She also encourages her students to resolve problems early on.
"I want to help students, but in college they should take their own responsibility. Part of college is learning to manage time, which is a necessary skill at any job," Lawrence said.
To prevent procrastination, college writing professor Leah Johnson said she breaks down long assignments into stages with due dates and has workshop drafts due for shorter and longer assignments.
She also has harsh penalties for late papers, marking down one letter grade for each class late.
"But, none of these work with hardcore procrastinators," Johnson said.
Research says that procrastination raises students' anxiety, lowers self-esteem and leads to depression, plagiarism and cheating among students.