When we enter college, we’re already thinking of leaving in four years – but that track isn’t always the case. Think about people you know (family, friends, coworkers) who went to college and it’s likely that four-year graduates are the minority.

Does this put them at a disadvantage? Is this bad? Depends on how you look at it. Here are some of the top reasons why people take longer than four years to graduate (and how to avoid an extended stay):


Not all majors are created equal. For degree paths that have rigorous course schedules (such as engineering or architecture) or require you to get a license or certification (such as accounting) before entering the workforce, an extended stay is almost a given. In addition, wait too long to choose a concentration and you could make it harder for yourself to gain enrollment in the classes you need to take. As much as you try to fight it, with petitions and e-mails, you may find yourself penned in, unable to take a course you truly need. Some universities are willing to throw you a bone on this one and allow you to comp the course, but not always. Other schools may require you to take specific, important courses in sequential order, effectively placing a limit on how many hours you can take each semester and making each semester a plateau. Consider your options, do your research and meet with an advisor – early.


Most institutions will put stipulations on how many credits you can take in a given semester, and for good reason. The idea is that for every hour in class you should spend two hours studying. Don’t overestimate your abilities when it comes to your course load – if your course of study is intense (talking to you, STEM majors), make sure you have enough time in your schedule for studying, rest and social activities.


Colleges can charge per course or per credit hour – and that doesn’t even include the expenses associated with each course. If you don’t have the proper funding, you may find yourself unable to take as many credits as you would like. Make sure you understand your financial aid package and how that translates over the course of four years.


Many students decide to go to community college for the first couple years and then transfer to a four-year institution. However, some of the courses that you would take at a community college – especially those for your major – may not directly map to what your new college requires. Take this into consideration before making your post-secondary plan.

Study Abroad

When some students decide to study abroad, they fall behind in their studies. Be thoughtful when choosing a study-abroad location and make sure you are approaching it with academics in mind, not vacation. Otherwise, you’re basically taking a semester off.