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.

3 Responses to “The four year degree often takes longer than expected”

  1. The issues that result because of a delay in completing a college degree on schedule are numerous. You need to plan ahead to help you finish a degree within the time schedule. Financial planning plays an important role. Students may choose a major in a field which they later lose interest in. So they change majors. This can delay the time it takes for you to graduate and move on into the main field of life. It’s important to sit with a career counselor and get professional guidance before you choose a major. Most colleges offer such guidance.

    If you have the aptitude and the time you can acclerate the time it takes to earn a degree by enrolling for online degrees, accelerated programs, distance learning courses or other fast learning methods offered by various colleges.

  2. College Reviews
    May 19th, 2010 at 9:17 am

    What a great article! Its very informative.
    Well,In taking up a four year degree courses it’s not so easy..
    normally there’s a financial problems,etc..but you should have find a way in order to finish..
    for me i am now taking up a 4 year degree of BSIT.Im incoming 3rd yr this june..I am thinking about the future if i can really graduate..=(
    but i believe i can..

  3. I know first hand that this is true. It took me five years to finish my bachelors degree. The college system is, overall, a solid system. However, due tot he demands of upholding certain curriculum and the bureaucratic process that comes with running a school it does not help the confused student who cannot decided on what to major in. Most people do know what they want to do with the rest of their life. Changing majors does not help the student in the short-run. It delays their graduation as they have to essentially rewind and redo their pre-requisites for their new major. It is because of this that many students do now finish in four years. Unless you went to a high school like I did that had block scheduling. Most students are unprepared to handle the environment, schedule, and style of college living. In addition, many students are never taught to utilize their counselors (who hold the map to their graduation) because high schools do not have a culture that promotes students to seek out guidance and directions as far as major options, what courses they can take. This looks like the direction the country is heading. Students with their access to technology and social media outlets need to take ownership and utilize the resources around them to become more independent and self-serving. However, the rewards is worth it as now I’m finishing my mba in information technology management.

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