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.
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