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Mobile Media: How Do College Students Use Mobile Phones?

On the quad, in class, at the dining hall—take a look around any of these campus haunts and you’ll likely see students with their heads down, focused intently on their phones. Phones allow students to be constantly connected. Friends who live together still text all day and post on each other’s Facebook walls; students get emails from professors while walking to class.

To keep in touch with students, it’s important to understand how they use their phones. In light of the launch of our new social calendar mobile app, we pooled our experience, as well as some statistics from HackCollege and the University of Colorado, Boulder, to write this round up.

ImageA note: According to HackCollege, 57% of students use smart phones. We’ll focus on smart phone users, though many of these uses apply to any phone.

Mobile phones play an integral role in the life of a college student.

But how exactly are students using their phones?

As communication devices

Ask students walking by if they’ve sent a text today, and you’ll get a “yes” almost 100% of the time. The statistic drops when it comes to making actual phone calls—only about three quarters of students make calls every day.

So if students are wondering when their roommates will be home, who wants to go to dinner at 7, or whether there’s a paper due tomorrow, odds are good they’re picking up their phones to text.

As social media machines

As if students’ Facebook addictions weren’t bad enough when they were limited to the computer, now they have portable social media devices in their pockets. Across the board, students with smartphones use social media apps, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Social media websites have tailored their offerings to fit a mobile crowd as well. With features like location tagging and status updates, students can use their phones to broadcast where they are and what they’re doing to all of their friends.

As cameras

Cell phones aren’t just tiny extensions of students’ computers—they’re also cameras that go everywhere. The convenience of having a camera built right in to the phone means students are always grabbing pictures of what’s going on.

No more waiting for photos to download or develop—as soon as they snap that classic picture of their friend’s antics on the quad, students can instantly share the photo with a picture message or a Facebook post. Plus, apps like Instagram allow students to add filters to their pictures to give simple digital snapshots a more interesting look.

As gaming systems

From Angry Birds to strategy games to social games like Draw Something and Words with Friends, students have their phones loaded with games to fill lulls in the day.

As time fillers and boredom killers

Gone are the days when students would pull out a book or newspaper while waiting for the bus. Even when there’s no pressing reason, students whip out their phones at any spare moment. The devices do everything—especially killing time, whether students are waiting in line to get lunch or riding the bus to their next class. And if one student takes out their phone, odds are good that everyone else around will fish theirs out of their pockets shortly thereafter.

It may seem like mobile phone-mania, but at the end of the day, students use these devices to keep afloat at school. Between juggling class, work, friends, and family, students use their phones to stay in the loop and express themselves.

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Join The Conversation

  • Jul 7 Posted 5 years ago R_Steinbach

    As a college student myself, there are two things we use our smart phones for all of the time that don't quite fit in the list above.

    1) Directions. My parents still can't get over the fact that we hop in the car to go somewhere before looking getting directions, but all it usually takes is a default app.

    2) Settling bets. Every argument about 'what year that was', 'where it happened' or 'when is that', followed by "I'll bet you $__", is ended with a web search on a smart phone. Extensive web surfing on smart phones can be inefficient and costly, but a short web search is the perfect way to end a debate.


  • Mykel Nahorniak's picture
    Jul 6 Posted 5 years ago Mykel Nahorniak

    Thanks, Tim!

    For young people, mobile devices are going to eventually be the exclusive medium for consuming information. The traditional PC-based web as we know it will become a tool for researching, writing reports, etc. but for pure communication, entertainment and consumption, mobile-only.

    Thanks for reading!

  • timmilburn's picture
    Jul 6 Posted 5 years ago timmilburn

    Mykel...this is an absolutely, undeniably, accurate picture of how important the mobile phone has become to students. It is the "new appendage" to their lives. I work with college students and our constant communication goal is to figure out ways to get information to their mobile phone.

    Thanks for posting a great article!

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