Use extra semesters to explore opportunities

By Sara Butler

Photo Courtesy of Lumax Art Flickr/CC

Photo Courtesy of Lumax Art Flickr/CC

Four year university, four years of parties, four years of classes: this is the four year package.

The typical college narrative usually includes four years working toward an undergraduate degree.

However, what happens when this four year plan becomes a five or six year plan?

USD advertisements and recruiters attract potential students by hinting at the promise of a making the four year package a reality. As a medium sized school, we have significant advantages over many large, public schools in California.

The size of our campus means less competition for spots in classes when it comes to registration, providing easier access to classes students need to graduate.

These classes also tend to be smaller in size, allowing students to directly engage in the material and participate in one-on-one discussions with their professors.

Both of these benefits foster a supportive learning environment that should increase the rate of four-year graduation.

However, the amount of time spent in college earning an undergraduate college diploma is increasing among college students, and USD is no exception to this trend.

According to the USD website, our university only has an average 65 percent rate of students graduating in four years, with a 74 percent rate for five and six year graduation rates.
The average four year college degree may be becoming more of a myth than a standard.

Sophomore Allison DeHart has found that it will be extremely difficult for her to graduate in four years.

“With registration fast approaching, I have been trying to plan out my next five semesters here at USD,” DeHart said. “With all of the core classes USD requires, it is nearly impossible for me to graduate with my double major of Behavioral Neuroscience and Spanish. If I want to be done in four years, I am going to have to choose between my Spanish major or minor.”

Senior Oliver Brantley is currently deciding whether he will be graduating this spring or staying a few extra semesters at USD.

“I may graduate late because it’s difficult, and impossible in some semesters, to craft a schedule that allows me to juggle two majors and the specific classes needed in the honors program,” Brantley said. “Even at a small university it can be hard to get the classes you need.”

Graduating late may happen for many different reasons.

Involvements with internships and jobs may affect coursework, or prompt the need for a lighter schedule.

Problems at home or personal issues may be distracting, making grades suffer or requiring a leave of absence.

Problems with registration or credit transfers may mean that a student may not complete enough units or fulfill core requirements by the time senior year rolls around.

All of these various obstacles interfere with the four year track and raise the rates of late graduation.

Many colleges are approaching this growing issue with new methods of attack, including lowering tuition, improving counseling services and offering academic workshops for registration and exploring possible majors.

Keeping students on the four year track allows universities, such as USD, to improve their rankings as well as keep their campuses from overcrowding. However, will a few extra semesters at the university really hurt a USD student?

Granted, graduating on time does provide benefits for students.

Spending more than eight semesters in college means more tuition payments, as well as forgone wages or salaries from potential job offers after graduation.
However, taking a little longer to graduate may not be as bad as it seems.

These things can also lead you to learn a lot about life. In your adult life, issues will arise. You may not be able to pay this month’s rent, or a relative may pass away. By learning how to adapt to these situations in college, you are better equipped to handle them in the real world.

Adding semesters may make your time in college more manageable and enjoyable.

“Graduating late would be beneficial for me because it would ease my workload for next semester,” Brantley said. “I’m currently registered for 18 credits but I have to weigh my options. For me, it’s not a matter of getting it over with, but rather if I can reasonably manage that kind of schedule.”

Other times, graduating late is by choice; the extra years are an exploration.

Maybe traveling abroad pushed you back a semester, or maybe you changed your major three or four times. The more time you spend exploring different worlds and opportunities in college, the better chance you will have at truly knowing what you want to do after graduation.

Sometimes graduating late may correlate with finances. If you have to work a job in order to pay for your tuition, it may be difficult to graduate in four years.

However, you can use this to your advantage. Working in college may teach you a lot of life lessons and balancing tricks.

If you graduate late because you were working part-time in your field, this addition to your resume may actually put you at an advantage over other applicants fresh out of college without any work experience.

In the workplace, most employers do not ask how long it took you to earn your degree; they are more likely to ask about past employment.

Many students do live out the four year plan, go off with their degree and conquer the world. But how many of us will look at that piece of paper and be unsure where to step?
While it is not always the case, sometimes graduating late can be a good thing.

It can boost your maturity and confidence, preparing you for life post-graduation. It may teach you about how to deal with tricky situations, or help you to be sure what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Taking a five or six year track may be the key to getting a closer answer to the lifelong question: what do you want to do with the rest of your life?