5 Reasons Why the Majority of Students Need More Than 4 Years to Graduate College

One of the greatest contemporary myths is that college is a 4-year experience. However, only about 19-36% of the students graduate college in 4-years. The problem is that every extra year spent in college after the 4-year mark can cost a student up to $65,000 in immediate expenses (cost of attendance and foregone income) as well as up to $150,000 over the course of a lifetime. This post focuses on five reasons why most students need more than 4-years to complete a college degree.

Remedial Education Courses. According to a recent report about 26 percent of high school graduates met all college readiness benchmarks. Therefore, a large proportion of incoming freshman are likely to need remedial education upon entering college. Students are placed in remedial education courses contingent on testing and/or low SAT/ACT scores, and in some cases high school GPAs. These classes have credits associated with then and sometimes students can spend up to one semester or more in these classes before being able to enroll in college level courses. The time spent in these courses can delay college graduation.

Changing Majors. It is very common for students to change majors during college. Priorities and goals can change significantly during college and changing majors is a natural result of that. However, students can lose significant numbers of credit hours while changing majors. Changing majors is a positive thing because students who don’t do it are more likely to drop out and can end up with a significant amount of debt. But, it should be done as early as possible to avoid significant credit loss.

Transferring. About 30 percent of the students transfer at least once during their college career. Transfer is a good thing and can help students save significant amounts of money on college costs. However, it can present significant issues when not planned well. Credit loss and delays in graduation are two of the most common issues associated with credit transfer. To learn how more about college transfer barriers go here.

Grant Availability. Grants may have limitations associated with them. Specifically, some grants cover only a specific number of credit hours (typically 12) and can be used only during certain semesters – Fall and Spring. This is the case with Pell grants as well as with other need- or merit-based aid grants. The problem is that a college degree typically requires the completion of 120 credit hours. Therefore, a student intending to use these grants would still need 10 (Fall and Spring) semesters to graduate college which adds up to 5 years, not 4.

Grant Eligibility. Grant eligibility can change significantly over time. Changes in grades/GPA and/or changes in financial circumstances (i.e. a parent gets a better paying job) can decrease eligibility for free money. Plus, tuition and the cost of attendance can increase almost every year. Increased reliance on loans and the need to work to finance a college education can lead to changes in course loads and potential delays in graduation.

There are other reasons why students need to delay graduation, such as course unavailability, delayed acceptance into a major, taking additional courses for a well-rounded education, experimenting with new fields of study (majors, minors, concentrations), working while in college, etc. Therefore, college is more than a 4-year experience for most students nowadays.


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