It is generally assumed that the time required to complete a bachelor’s degree is about four years. We’ve even become accustomed to calling it “a four-year college degree” or a “two-year degree.” Parents and college counselors will pass this expectation along to the next generation, but the reality is that a majority of students spend longer on their undergraduate degree than the time that is advertised.
What’s changed? Are students lazier than in the past? Probably not – test scores indicate higher achievement with today’s students, and high school transcripts are showing a heavier course loads with more AP and IB sections completed. One big difference is that more students are working throughout the academic year. With costs higher than ever, even well-prepared students are often taking their time to finish the degree.
Planning for the Unexpected
When it comes to college, you can practically count on something disrupting your perfect plans. Most degree programs require very specific classes be taken in a specific order – and if a pre-requisite conflicts with your job schedule you may end up being set back six months because of a single hour you weren’t available.
Illness is another common caused of delays in college. A severe infection can knock out a semester, or at least force students to drop a few classes to free up some resting time. Many conditions cause students exhaustion, and college is often the first time people become aware of how these physical limitations can get in the way of our planning.
Don’t be your own worst enemy
Professors and counselors are usually very understanding and work with the student to find a fair solution to this unexpected problems – but the students themselves can be very hard on themselves and become depressed at what they see as “failure” (even when they haven’t actually failed any classes). If your final paper was due last week and you’re now trying to get sympathy for your sniffles, its probably too late. However, if you address your concerns early you may be able to transfer to a different class time or withdraw from the course before it affects your grades.
Yet all too often, students become manic or depressive about such situations: Either they convince themselves they can accomplish everything at once, or they become defeatists who can’t be bothered to put up any effort whatsoever. The first response doesn’t work well because students can only skip on sleep so long before it all catches up to them, and the second response is just as bad because it means missing out on opportunities or at least making slower yet steady progress toward the goal of a degree.
The best advice then, is to be realistic. Compare what you want with what you’re capable of. And remember: Most students don’t graduate in four years – so maybe you should plan and budget for this outcome as well as the “traditional” timing. If and when something does happen, it probably won’t be the end of the world – or even the end of your college journey.