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Preparation and Planning: Avoid the Six-Year Degree

Sep 29, 2013

Students enter their undergraduate programs expecting to gain a degree within four years. An undergraduate degree may be billed as a 4-year experience, but many students find themselves taking five to seven years to meet degree requirements.

Taking three extra years to attain an undergraduate degree proves costly. For every year of study the student pays annual fees as well as course credits. Additional student loans are needed to complete the degree, and the student also pays more for college living expenses while on a limited income. Additionally, every extra year students take to complete a degree robs them of a year of work at degree-appropriate income levels.

Reasons for Extending Degree Times

A number of circumstances lengthen the time required to complete a degree, some more avoidable than others. Students may need to take time off for financial reasons, for family emergencies, to deal with health issues or even to enter addiction rehab centers.

Such reasons, however, still don’t explain why the Department of Education reports almost 60 percent of college students take an average of six years to complete a four-year degree. 

Limited Class Space

Overcrowded classrooms extend study time — it can sometimes be extremely difficult fitting the classes needed for degree completion into a student’s schedule, especially of the required class fills up quickly. Students whose education requires internships and practicums face even greater scheduling challenges. 

The Mid-Degree Major Switch

Students themselves often increase their study time. Switching majors in the middle of a degree is a common practice. The student, having had time to experience a number of course topics, suddenly realizes he or she wants to pursue a different field of study.

Switching majors is often necessary to secure an education and career in a desired area, but a mid-degree switch usually extends a four-year degree by at least a year, as students suddenly have to complete entirely different degree requirements.

Counseling Opportunities

Students can lower the risk of extended study time with some thought and preparation. Colleges and universities offer academic advising, where trained professionals help students determine what careers they want to pursue and help develop clear study plans and class schedules.

Students don’t always take advantage of these services, which also help them locate and apply for scholarships. Some students assume they’ll graduate as long as they have the right number of college credits, not realizing those credits need to be spread among specific course requirements.

Educational institutions are also addressing the problem. Many schools know offer exploratory classes in addition to voluntary counseling. These classes allow students to explore a wide range of disciplines before announcing their majors. Pre-college “boot camps” for freshman also expose students to counseling and academic skills, which hopefully shorten the amount of time needed to secure a degree.

For students entering college, preparation offers the best way to avoid extending your undergraduate degree, which saves you money in the long run. Give serious thought to your career path, and take advantage of academic advising and other college services — after all, you’re paying for them!

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