Four Reasons Graduating in Four Years Can Be Impossible

The road from the first day as a college freshman to walking across the stage, diploma in hand, has long been considered to be a four-year journey. But recent reports show that it’s become more common for students to take more time than that to graduate.

In fact, most college students at public universities actually end up completing their bachelor’s degree in about six years. But why is that? Turns out there are several different factors that can affect how long it takes for a college student to reach the finish line, including where they start, whether or not they’re working, whether or not they transfer schools, and how many times they declare a major.

You Started Out at a Two-Year School

Community college used to largely be looked upon as a secondary option for graduating high schoolers. Nowadays, due to increasing costs of attendance at major universities, that’s no longer the case.

In fact, as of the 2015-2016 school year, about 9 million students were enrolled in public or private 2-year universities, which translates to about 38% of undergraduate students. Though this has become a popular way to keep costs down, starting off in a two-year college can add on to the time needed to obtain a bachelor’s degree due to credit transfer requirements.

However, some schools, like California State University, Chico, have guaranteed transfer programs for students at the local community college. This type of program allows students to complete an Associate’s Degree specifically for transfer and allows guaranteed admission to the school. Though this is a great option for many, it can still add on an extra semester or two for some.

To avoid the added time that transferring schools can take, many students are opting for technical colleges and trade schools instead. In the 2011-2012 school year, there was an increase to 8% of enrollment for undergraduate students in a sub-baccalaureate program. These programs are a fantastic option for students who leave high school with a very specific career track in mind, such as graphic design or culinary arts. Rather than spending two years sitting in on gen-ed requirements, students have the opportunity to jump right into the classes that matter the most to their degrees.

You Were a Working Student

There’s no nice way to say it: college is freakin’ expensive! And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like things will be getting better (or cheaper) anytime soon. To compensate for the high cost of attending college, and not to mention just having enough money to live off of, more students are working at least part-time while they finish school.

In fact, over the past 25 years, more than 70% of students have worked on top of attending school. And this number is expected to continue to rise as college enrollment grows.

Any student can attest to the fact that college can often feel like a full-time job in and of itself. An increasingly competitive environment, simply showing up for classes and completing projects on time just doesn’t cut it anymore. Students are fully expected to seek out leadership positions, join on-campus organizations, volunteer, and even complete an internship or two.

Add a part-time, or in many cases, a full-time job on top of all of that and you can see how it’s nearly impossible for a working student to take on enough credits each semester to graduate within four years.

You Transferred Schools

According to USA Today, 37% of college students will transfer at some point throughout their college career. In most cases, students choose to transfer schools for academic reasons. But college transfers can also happen due to personal health, financial, or other personal reasons.

Regardless of the reason, transferring between universities is one of the most sure-fire ways to get your graduation date pushed back, as many schools don’t have matching gen-ed requirements. And trying to decipher what will and will not transfer is a notoriously complicated process. So much so that even many academic advisors find themselves confused.

Making matters even more frustrating, students often lose credits during the transfer process, meaning they’re forced to take entire classes, or even an entire semester’s worth of classes, over again.

You Changed Your Major

If at eighteen years old, you graduate college and know exactly what it is you want to do with the rest of your life, congratulations! But you’re one of the very few. It’s not uncommon for students to enter college, declare a major, and then decide that path isn’t the right fit for them a semester later. In that same USA Today article I mentioned earlier, reports show that 80% of college students changed their major at least once during their time at school.

Switching majors can have many of the same consequences as transferring colleges as well. Unfortunately, different degree programs can have very different credit requirements, even if they’re at the same university. So an entire semester’s worth of gen-ed requirements can go from being helpful to useless. It’s not uncommon for students who have changed majors to need an extra semester or two to finish up.

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