How to Survive Group Projects


When you start your college career, you’re going to hear a few horror stories. There’s the professor who doesn’t assign any homework so your entire grade rests on one single final that is make-or-break for your entire semester. Or, there are the roommate horror stories like police raiding your dorm room because your roommate was running a multi-national drug smuggling operation. And, naturally, there are the financial aid horror stories where due to a government error your loans and grants don’t come through.

There are college horror stories aplenty to keep the average new student on pins and needles, but you know they’re extreme cases, the sort of things that don’t happen every day. Except for group projects.

Group projects are the one college horror story you’re almost guaranteed to have to live through yourself. You might think pursuing an online college degree would save you from this one, but you’d probably be wrong. Almost no college or university academic career is free of the dreaded group project. So, if you accept the group project as an inevitability, what can you do to make sure that you come out the other side unscathed? Well.

1 – Document everything

Sad as it is, it’s time to start thinking like a lawyer. Try to communicate with your group via email, or worst-case scenario, text message. Why? Well, if you end up with a group project train wreck, you’ll be able to document what went wrong, why it wasn’t your fault, and provide evidence of that to your professor.

Keep in mind that your professor’s goal with giving you a group project is probably to help you learn to cope with working in a social context. They understand there will be conflict, they want to see how you deal with it, and if you’re unable to resolve things amicably, you want to be able to show that you made every reasonable effort to do so.

2 – Set deadlines for every step

Procrastination is one of the toughest aspects of group project work. Some people put everything off until the last minute because they have free time to do so. Not everyone’s schedule is free enough to wait until the last minute, so you need to set timelines early.

This can be a little tricky if you’re not the naturally assertive type but do your best. Right off the bat when you begin talking to your group, set deadlines. For instance, you might say “let’s plan to each offer an idea for our project and vote by 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.” Then if all your groupmates don’t get their options or votes into the group text or email chain, you just move on with whoever does participate. Don’t wait for non-participants to begin work on the projects.

3 – Try to divide and conquer

As soon as possible, begin dividing up tasks. That way if you do find yourself in the uncomfortable position of fighting a bad grade thanks to deadbeat group members, you can show your professor that you did your part, and then probably tried to fill gaps for group members as well. Not every professor will take your documentation of your contributions into account, but some absolutely will.