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  • The Draws and Drawbacks of College Students’ Active Procrastination
  • Lauren C. Hensley (bio)

When students procrastinate, they divert time from academics toward other activities, returning to academics at a later time. The prevailing consensus among higher education scholars and practitioners is that procrastination reflects motivational struggles and harms students academically (Milgram & Tenne, 2000). However, some students intentionally procrastinate in college and appear to benefit from doing so. Active procrastination describes the behavior of students who prefer to work under pressure, choose to postpone assigned work, complete requirements by deadlines, and attain satisfactory grades (Chu & Choi, 2005). An active procrastinator might, for instance, start writing a paper the night before it is due. She would engage in this activity not as a last resort but with the anticipation of staying focused, meeting assignment expectations, and achieving her desired grade in a minimal amount of time. Although “legitimizing the procrastination process” is a possible implication (Schraw, Wadkins, & Olafson, 2007, p. 23), caution is warranted in light of the competing evidence and potential impact on students. To simultaneously weigh the appeal and ramifications of active procrastination, this study identifies reasons for college students’ commitment to procrastination alongside perceived limitations of the behavior.

Active procrastination is a departure from the form of procrastination defined by scholars as passive (i.e., avoidant, maladaptive) in nature. Traditionally, researchers linked procrastination to difficulty with self-regulation and discomfort with making decisions (Milgram & Tenne, 2000), as well as low confidence and grades (Corkin, Yu, & Lindt, 2011). To better understand why some procrastinators did not experience these correlates or outcomes, scholars reframed procrastination as an active, rather than a passive, behavior (Choi & Moran, 2009; Chu & Choi, 2005). By approaching procrastination as an active (i.e., purposeful, adaptive) behavior, scholars could highlight beneficial outcomes for students who intentionally delayed academics.

Survey-based studies of active procrastination have included undergraduates of all academic levels and a range of ethnic backgrounds. The studies, which reported aggregate results and did not test for group-level differences, demonstrated overall positive relations between active procrastination and desirable characteristics. Researchers demonstrated connections to high grades in a human development course (Corkin et al., 2011), life satisfaction and self-reported cumulative GPA for students at three Canadian universities (Chu & Choi, 2005), and emotional stability for Canadian business students (Choi & Moran, 2009). Corkin et al. expressed concern, however, about negative correlations with students’ motivation for learning.

Two major qualitative studies shed light on college students’ procrastination. In an interview-based study of German undergraduates from 17 disciplines, most themes were “deficit-oriented” (p. 404), reflecting a lack of motivation, self-regulation, or confidence (Klingsieck, Grund, Schmid, & Fries, 2013). The aspect of working best under pressure emerged for a small [End Page 465] group of participants as one of many themes. In another study, “students who viewed themselves as successful procrastinators” participated in interviews and focus groups (Schraw et al., 2007, p. 24). Findings revealed various benefits of procrastination, including heightened creativity and the opportunity to reflect on a topic before working on it. One student remark suggested that active procrastination was not entirely positive: “You’ve just got to tell yourself that procrastination is the right thing to do even though you know it isn’t” (Schraw et al., p. 20). To better understand this internal contradiction, I developed a phenomenology of college students’ active procrastination. The study extends prior investigations by drawing out positive and negative aspects that existed simultaneously in the lived experience of active procrastination.

Active procrastination appears both contradictory and commonplace. The preponderance of evidence characterizes cramming as ineffective, yet it is difficult to ignore students’ descriptions of working well under pressure (Ferrari, 2001). Although active procrastination is connected with high grades, it has not been identified as a direct cause of high academic performance (Chu & Choi, 2005). Active procrastinators are confident in their ability to learn but do not have a strong desire to learn (Corkin et al., 2011). Further research is needed to explore the intricacies of this behavior and clarify the extent of its benefits for students.


The inductive processes of phenomenology provided a means for identifying themes that defined what it meant to actively procrastinate. Phenomenology is a qualitative...


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