How to Graduate College on Time

 August 31, 2021
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Figuring out how to graduate college on time will not only keep you on track toward your academic goals, but it could also save you thousands of dollars.

If you have to stay for extra semesters, you’ll need to pay for tuition, room, board, books and fees. All of these expenses could cause you to rack up even more student loan debt.

But if you can earn your degree within four years, you can prevent your cost of attendance from ballooning. Here are nine 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
2. Not checking course availability
3. Accepting a “class full” as final
4. Signing up for a class that’s way too advanced
5. Taking a less-than-full course load
6. Prioritizing work over your studies
7. Not taking advantage of AP test credit
8. Transferring schools and losing credits
9. Not taking advantage of your college’s support resources

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 taught 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 to 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 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 a lot. 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 been the class that derailed my carefully crafted graduation plan.

5. Taking a less-than-full course load

The number of credits you’re required to take each semester may be less than the number of credits you need to graduate.

For example, Suffolk University states that students need to take at least 12 credits per semester to be considered a full-time student. However, most Suffolk programs require between 124 and 126 credits to graduate. If you only took 12 credits each semester, you’d be 28 to 30 credits short after four years.

Don’t assume that the minimum number of credits will keep you on track. Instead, figure out the total number you need to graduate and divide it by eight semesters. That way, you can see exactly how many classes you need to take each term to graduate within four years.

You might also consider taking an extra course to graduate early or be able to take fewer courses when senior year rolls around. But be careful not to over-commit, as you don’t want your grades to suffer.

Plus, you want enough time in your schedule to take part in extracurriculars and enjoy your college experience.

6. Prioritizing work over your studies

Working a part-time or work-study job can be a great way to earn extra spending money while you’re in college. But if you work too much, you might fall behind on your schoolwork.

Many colleges place a limit of 20 hours per week on work-study jobs. If you’re working a part-time job, it’s up to you to strike a balance between your job and your studies.

Although making money as a student could leave you with less student debt after graduation, you don’t want it to prevent you from graduating college on time. Otherwise, your attempts to make money could end up costing you in the long run.

7. Not taking advantage of AP test credit

Some colleges offer course credit if you achieved a certain score on AP tests in high school. For instance, doing well on an English or math test in high school could mean you can skip certain introductory class requirements when you get to college.

If you scored highly on AP tests, it’s worth checking with your college to see what kind of credit it offers. You might prefer a college that will waive course requirements as opposed to one that doesn’t.

Making sure you get credit for your efforts in high school could make it easier to graduate college on time.

8. Transferring schools and losing credits

You also want to make sure you get credit for the courses you’ve taken if you transfer colleges. Colleges don’t necessarily count credits in the same way, so you’ll need to speak with your advisors about your situation.

If you’re considering whether or not to transfer, think about how doing so could impact your progress toward graduation. If it means you’ll need to spend an extra year or two studying for your degree, transferring schools might not be worth the financial cost.

9. Not taking advantage of your college’s support resources

Finally, doing well in your classes is key to graduating college on time. Dropping out or receiving a failing grade could mean you fall behind on credits.

If you’re in danger of failing, do everything you can to get back on track. Speak with your professor, reach out to your advisor and take advantage of campus support resources, such as tutoring.

Don’t wait until it’s too late; seek out extra help and guidance as soon as your grades start slipping.

Graduating college on time can save you money

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 2021!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
0.99% – 11.98%1Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%*,2Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SallieMae

0.99% – 11.44%3Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.85% – 11.35%4Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Ascent

2.20% – 6.17%5Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit EdvestinU

1.12% – 11.23%6Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.15% – 11.01%7Undergraduate
Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

N/A8Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit FundingU

3.80% – 9.36%9Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit CommonBond

* 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.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

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.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 8/9/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


4 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Ascent loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs

Rates are effective as of 09/01/2021 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes income-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates.

1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions, please visit AscentFunding.com/Cashback. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student borrowers must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs are available for the most creditworthy applicants and may require a cosigner.


5 Important Disclosures for EdvestinU.

EdvestinU Disclosures

EDvestinU is a product of the nonprofit New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corporation (dba The NHHEAF Network) NMLS ID#1527348.

APR range and repayment rates displayed assume a $10,000 loan disbursed in two equal disbursements. APR low assumes immediate repayment and 7 year repayment. APR high assumes deferred repayment and 15 year repayment. APR’s presented include a .50% interest rate reduction for electing to have payments automatically deducted from a bank account. The interest rate reduction for authorizing our servicer to automatically deduct monthly payments from a savings or checking account will not reduce the monthly payment, but will reduce the monthly finance charge, resulting in a lower total cost of loan. All examples are provided for educational purposes and actual terms may vary based on credit history, loan amount, applicable repayment term, and chosen repayment plan and method. Please note that the interest rate on variable rate programs may increase or decrease over time. The variable rate example assumes the same standard rate for the life of the loan. The NHHEAF Network reserves the right to modify or cancel its program at any time.  

Eligibility: Dependent and independent U.S. citizen students. Currently residents of Washington and California are not eligible for EDvestinU programs.
Students must be enrolled at least half-time at a U.S.-based Title IV, degree-granting college or university.
The borrower or cosigner (if applicable) must have a minimum adjusted gross income of $30,000.

Loan Limits: Minimum loan amount of $1,000.
Maximum loan amount is cost of education less aid received.

Repayment: Standard or graduated repayment options available during repayment; 7, 10, or 15 year term selected by the borrower.
6-month grace period available to borrowers electing a full in-school deferment. 
No prepayment penalty.
Payments may be postponed during repayment by qualifying for an economic hardship deferment.

Cosigner Release: Cosigner release allowed if an account is in current standing, after 36 months of consecutive & on-time payments with a borrower FICO >749 for EDvestinU Private Student Loans and minimum income requirement of $30,000 with no foreclosures, repossessions, wage garnishments, unpaid tax liens, unpaid judgments or other public records having an open balance exceeding $100 during the last 7 years. The borrower must not currently be involved in bankruptcy proceeding or had any bankruptcy filings during the past 10 years and cannot have any defaults on education loans.


6 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

Sofi Disclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.66% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 10.90% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.10% to 11.34% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.08% to 10.86% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.05% to 11.29% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 10.66% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.20% to 11.23% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (>www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


7 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


8 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.


9 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.