The majority of students who graduate with college degrees aren’t completing them on time – finishing a four-year degree in four years or a two-year degree in two years. Is this a problem? Are the times a changin’? Should we be looking at this through a different lens? If you or someone you know is thinking about pursuing a college degree, this reality can significantly impact your experience.
- Remedial education – many students begin college below the expected competencies in core areas like reading, writing and math
- Financial challenges that require additional employment
- Family obligations
- Life Choices
- Part-time instead of full-time enrollment
- Attending later as adult learners (non-traditional students) – older students tend to take longer to complete their degree due to family obligations and work
- Multiple institution attendance – as the number of institutions attended increases so does the time to complete the degree
- Stop outs, where students drop out and re-enroll later
Planning ahead is essential to ensure you finish your degree on time. Knowing what you want and why you decided to attend college, AND being committed to that what and why is a big, first step to laying a strong foundation from which to launch.
- Start with YOU – who are you, what do you love to do, what do you really want to contribute in the world, what is meaningful and fulfilling for you, what do you value, what do you want to change in the world, etc. Taking time to seriously explore these questions BEFORE applying to college is a smart approach. Maybe a gap year or more to do some experimenting , exploring, or traveling will help. You may not have all the answers, but at least you’ll have some idea where you want to land and what you want to contribute.
- Make a list of what you require and desire during your college experience and characteristics of a college culture that will allow you to blossom.
- If at all possible, after you narrow your choice of desired colleges, plan some college visits. Consider the college environment, surrounding community, year round weather patterns, size of the school, how supportive the administrative staff is, etc. You get the point. Get down into the details when considering your “just right” college.
- Create a four-year budget. Plan for four years, period. Use the net price calculator for your college of choice. The numbers may not be 100% accurate, but you’ll get some ball park figures to work with. Consider tuition, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, food, play, etc. Don’t skip anything that will require you to spend money. It’s so important to plan long-term. Be intentional about every decision. Take responsibility for every part of the planning process, which includes how you’re going to pay for college, not just the first year, all four years.
- Consider scholarships first, not loans. Make searching for and applying for scholarships your part-time job. Loans should be an absolute last resort. Lots of scholarship money is available if you’re willing to do what it takes to mine for it. You’ll apply for so many more than you are rewarded, but it beats having thousands and thousands of dollars in loans after you graduate from college. Invest the time up front! And, proceed with a positive attitude.
- Have a plan for your first year, which seems to be the hardest year for many. You’re in a new situation that you probably haven’t been adequately prepared to transition into. If you get homesick, feel discouraged, feel alone, etc. what will you do?
- Start pulling together your support squad – friends, professors, staff, mentors, etc. on and off campus – to turn to when you need a little TLC and some assistance.
- Create a playlist of your favorite songs that inspire you and encourage when you feel like slowing down or giving up. Gather your favorite poems, quotes or mantras; keep them handy and visible so you can glance at them from time to time. Start thinking about what keeps you going, what will help you sustain your momentum.
These are just a few things to consider – small and not so small – to prepare you to complete your degree on time. For every reason above that can push you beyond completing your degree on time, there are some real solutions. Consider each one and challenge yourself to come up with your own solution, just in case that reason becomes an issue for you.
GA Futures – https://www.gafutures.org/ (for Georgia residents)
College Navigator – https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
College Board – https://www.collegeboard.org/
Net Price Calculator – https://collegecost.ed.gov/netpricecenter.aspx
U. S. Department of Education College Affordability and Transparency Center – https://collegecost.ed.gov/
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YOU ALWAYS HAVE A CHOICE, CHOOSE CONSCIOUSLY!