Many of us were raised to believe that after high school, you pack up and move away to college for four years and then graduate and immediately transition into a “grown up job.” That may be the case for some, but for many people, finishing college in four years is not the norm.

According to the NCES, just 41% of college students graduate in 4 years. Most students take longer. In fact, graduation rates are calculated based on the number of students who graduate within 6 years (150% of normal time) for this very reason.

Common Reasons Students Don’t Graduate “On Time”

  • Requires Courses Not Available When Needed
  • Personal and Family Matters 
  • Internship and Career Opportunities
  • Transfer to Other Institutions
  • Work-Study (not taking a full load)

Sometimes, it can be difficult to conquer every major requirement in such a short amount of time.

The amount of pressure that is put on college students to graduate in the allotted four years can be very overwhelming to some, and may even cause students to feel as though they are failures in what they have achieved. However, it is vital to remember that not everyone can fit the “cookie cutter” idea of a student that society has created. Everyone’s journey is different and will, therefore, have different timelines.

If you find out that you can’t graduate when you expected, follow these tips to keep your cool. 

1. Don’t Panic!

Many students enter college and end up changing their academic path after a semester or two. You may even choose to take a semester off to pursue volunteer opportunities or job training. Graduating from college later than you expected is no less of an accomplishment. 

In the grand scheme of life, an extra year or two, or even three is not as significant as it may seem. Taking extra time to graduate is certainly not a life or death predicament, nor does it mean you can’t be successful in a career and other aspects of your life.

2. Talk to Financial Aid

The initial panic most students have about adding additional semesters is about student loans and financial problems. Money matters can get a little tricky once you’ve passed the four-year mark. In fact, financial stress is the leading reason why frustrated students drop out for good. 

Avoid the same fate by scheduling an appointment with the financial aid department to discuss your options. You may be able to apply for additional scholarships or grants to help fund the rest of your college career. Get informed about any student debt and track when you’re supposed to start making payments. The more information you have about your financial information, the less overwhelming it will feel when payment requests start coming in.

3. Keep Going

Sometimes, it can be difficult to stay the course when it seems like things aren’t working in your favor. This is especially true during your college years because you’re working harder than ever before without any instant gratification. It’s enough to drive you crazy and possibly convince overwhelmed students to put off their studies altogether. 

If you’re not graduating on time, you’ve probably put in a few years of college to know this. Not graduating on time doesn’t mean that your previous years of work don’t amount to anything! Try to be grateful for the experiences that you’ve had thus far. The fact is, pursuing higher education is considered a privilege by millions of people around the world, who would love the opportunity to attend college. Don’t squander the work you’ve already put in toward the accomplishment of a lifetime.

Getting a degree may not guarantee a million-dollar salary, but it will be a credible indication that you put years’ worth of hard work into pursuing something. That is something to be proud of!

4. Ask For Help

Talk with your advisor. Their job is to help you map out your schedule so you’re using your remaining college time efficiently. Go to office hours if you need extra help from your professor. This one on one time may be intimidating, but if they’re aware of your graduation situation, they may be more accommodating. In addition, many universities have other resources if students need extra help. Facilities and programs such as math and writing centers or peer tutoring may be just what you need to ace those exams

5. Remember You Are Not Alone

There are thousands of people in your exact situation. Students had to retake classes for a better grade; students had to wait for a semester for a class to open up. College is messy, and we all make mistakes. The important thing to remember is that you’re not in this alone. There are dozens of faculty members, advisors, and mentors available to help you along the way.

If you take one piece of advice from this post, let it be this: college is not a race. You will graduate. And when you do, you deserve to bask in the glow of your self-achievement. Know that you’ve earned everything your degree represents. Better yet, you will have done it at the pace that’s best for you.


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