A bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete. At least, that is the time frame given in every example of college people see growing up. Not much is ever mentioned about taking longer than four years to graduate, and when it is mentioned there’s nearly always a stigma associated with it.
Many things can contribute to not graduating in four years: Course loads, work, health, finances along with many other factors. Only 41% of college students graduate in four years and 59% graduate in six years.
For the sake of anyone considering a college degree, graduating in more than four years should be destigmatized.
There’s no reason to feel embarrassment or shame for taking longer to graduate; no matter how long it takes, graduation is a commendable feat.
A common reason for graduating late is poor advising. Freshmen are typically advised to take classes that fulfill graduation requirements prior to those pertaining directly to their major. Due to a lack of quality advising students end up taking the minimum amount of credits to be considered full-time, which is 12. It takes 120 credits to earn a bachelor's degree, but if a student is full-time and taking 12 credits per semester it is mathematically impossible for them to graduate in four years.
Many students disregard this or simply don’t realize they are on a path toward late graduation.
Those who take courses unrelated to their major in the early years see an increase in the time it takes to get their degree, especially if they take 12 credits per semester. A student needs 60 general education credits which are required to earn a bachelor’s degree. If one takes all of those classes at the beginning of college, as they are advised, it will be two and a half years before they start their major requirements.
Remedial courses are the required core courses for students in subjects seen throughout elementary and high school. None of these courses are tailored to specific majors. Between 40 and 60% of students begin their degree with these courses. In turn, less than 10% of students who do this graduate on time.
The way students are advised does not support a four-year graduation timeline. Why would universities want to encourage and set students up to graduate in four years when they get more money if they graduate in six? It’s all about the money.
People may panic about costs — taking longer to graduate means more debt. That is a huge downfall, but at the same time, how much of it can actually be controlled? The system is set up to empty pockets.
The upside to taking longer than four years to graduate is that there’s more time to learn about life. College provides an opportunity to find what truly drives you, and sometimes it takes students longer to make that discovery.
Not only is college a place to make memories and friendships, it is also a starting point for professional connections. Graduates who network with peers while in college may find it easier to get involved in their career field.
A survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors shows 43% of full-time students and 81% of part-time students work outside of school. Of this, 63% of full-time and 88% of part-time students worked more than 20 hours per week.
The expectation is students will spend two hours doing classwork, outside of class, per one hour of class. If a student is taking 12 credits, that is 24 hours of studying or homework per week at a minimum.
Depending on workload, some may not be able to take more than 12 credits. However, students need at least 12 to be considered full-time students and qualify for financial aid. Students who balance full-time work and school typically struggle to pass classes and keep a good GPA.
Students often don’t have a choice; if they’re working while attending classes, they surely don’t want to be. Everyone has bills, and student loans only cover so much — typically just tuition.
Loans, financial aid and personal income can heavily contribute to graduation time. If a student can't afford full-time tuition, they end up pushing their graduation back by taking fewer classes at a time. Those who must remain part-time students, due to work needs, also inevitably postpone graduation.
There are a vast number of circumstances that contribute to late graduation. People are often too quick to assume someone is lazy or not putting in the effort.
A six-year graduation time is considered normal at universities — this is what graduation rates are measured on. In advertising for universities, students are shown graduation rates on a four-year and six-year scale.
Universities advertise six-year graduation rates for student-athletes, since they typically have five years of eligibility to play. This rate was extended to include all students in 1989, changing graduation measurements from four years to six years. Furthermore, this protects universities with lower graduation rates to ensure funding and attendance.
Since universities actively advertise graduating in six years, it is unfortunate so many students feel negatively about taking more than four. Regardless of the money, college is difficult. Not everyone attends, and those who do must stay committed to getting the degree they’ve been working so hard for, despite their circumstances.
Graduating in itself is a feat, no matter the timeframe.