While getting a degree from a four-year school can be expensive, recent research shows that more and more students are taking six years or more to complete their degrees.
What’s more, every extra semester costs a college student thousands of dollars in tuition, room, board, books, and fees. This may cause someone to rack up even more student loan debt in the process.
Yet, a student’s graduation delay is often totally avoidable.
Most college students end up spending more time in school because of misunderstood requirements, like not realizing a class’s limited availability or course-load difficulty.
Here are four of the most common mistakes that can derail your education as a college student, and how to stay on track.
1. Relying solely on your advisor
As an incoming freshman, your college will likely assign you an academic advisor to help you choose your courses.
Typically, this advisor is experienced in helping new students transition to college life. However, they may not necessarily know the ins and outs of your specific major.
If you rely solely on your advisor’s guidance, you could end up missing out on major requirements you need for graduation because he or she did not know about them.
For example, in college, I had a lovely professor as my advisor. But I was a Communications and English double major, and he was in Political Science.
While I was focused on graduating as quickly as possible to minimize debt, he believed in learning for the sake of learning. So he encouraged me to take classes that filled neither my core nor major requirements.
If I had followed his advice–as many of my classmates did–I would have ended up behind in my graduation requirements. In fact, I would have needed extra semesters to make up the necessary classes.
Instead, I worked closely with my department chair, the registrar’s office, and studied the student handbook to manage my own credit requirements. I kept myself on track to graduate, especially since my advisor wasn’t in the know.
Remember, in order to graduate in four years or less, you need to be your own advocate on-campus. Find out which classes you need to take to graduate, make a plan, and stick with it.
2. Not checking course availability
One of the biggest mistakes people make is not planning ahead when it comes to course selection.
Many students assume that when they’re ready to take a required course, it will be available. But that’s not always the case. Some schools only offer certain classes during select quarters or semesters.
At my college, the school required you take a particular class before graduation. However, they only offered it every other year. So if you missed it, you had to wait a full two semesters before the school offered it again.
Once you know what classes you need to take to graduate, including classes for your major, minor, and core academic requirements, check with each department to find out when they’re offered.
Classes are scheduled well in advance, so they can generally tell you at the start of the academic year when classes will be offered. If not sooner.
By my second semester of my freshman year, I had the next three years of classes fully planned out. And that helped prevent any surprises when it came to course availability.
3. Accepting a “class full” as final
Of course, no matter how well you plan, sometimes there are hiccups.
At some schools, classes can fill up quickly. And due to their lottery or wait-list systems, you may not get to choose the classes you wanted when it’s time to select your courses.
But accepting “course full” and just giving up is a huge mistake that can delay your graduation.
For example, despite all of my diligent planning, I had two courses that were full before I could add them.
Yet, the second I got that notification, I ran down in person to the department’s building and stood outside the department head’s office.
Once I explained to them how missing the class would derail my plans for graduating on time, the department chair ended up overruling the class maximum and allowing me to enroll.
However, if that option isn’t available for you, ask if they can add you to a course waiting list. That way if students drop out of the class at the start of the semester, you can take their spot. And stay on track.
4. Signing up for a class that’s way too advanced
Most schools have some sort of core academic curriculum with classes in math, science, foreign languages, and English. They’re tailored to provide a foundation and taste for each subject.
Unfortunately, many students overestimate their abilities and sign up for a class that’s too difficult.
Whether they take on an advanced Spanish class because they took a year of it in high school or sign up for geology because it sounds interesting, their course-load is way more than they bargained for.
Many students end up failing a class and have to retake it. Or, they take a new class to fulfill the core requirement.
That happened to me, actually. I took neuroscience because it was fascinating to me, and I thought it would be a basic course for all majors.
However, it was a preliminary course geared towards biology students, so I struggled heavily. Despite my best efforts, I barely managed to pass the class with a “C.”
But if I’d failed or had to re-take it, this could have easily have been the class the derailed my carefully-crafted graduation plan.
Saving money in college
College is expensive enough already without you adding years to your time there.
By carefully planning and staying in close communication with your department head and advisors, you can help deflect any issue that may arise.
For more information about how to save money while still in school, check out this article on how you can save thousands by skipping the college meal plan.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|