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3 Things to Do to Ensure You Graduate College on Time

College life has bumps along the way you'll never anticipate. Here's some advice for making sure you stay on track and graduate on the right timeline.

It’s every college student’s worst nightmare: not graduating in that four-year timeframe. Worse, you could spend six years in college—or longer—and still not have a degree. As scary as it may seem, this is the reality for countless college students across the country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than half of all full-time students pursuing a bachelor’s degree finish in four years, and this figure only goes up to 63% when accounting for students who graduate in six. But don’t let these statistics discourage you. You can finish college on time—even if things are looking iffy. Here are some handpicked tips to help you graduate from college on time. So you can be the exception, not the rule.  

Schedule a meeting with your academic advisor

If you’re concerned about graduating on time, your academic advisor’s office should be your very first stop. Academic advisors are equipped to help college students stay on track for graduation and answer any questions students might have about their class schedules. Their job is literally to advise, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of their services. Chances are your academic advisor will be more than willing to sit down with you to address your concerns about finishing college on time. They can assist you in devising a personalized game plan to promote your academic success, and they can point you to other campus resources if necessary (like the bursar or financial aid office). If your college or university doesn’t already provide designated academic advisors for its students, then consider scheduling an appointment with your college’s equivalent. Whether that means trekking to the academic resource center or paying a visit to your campus guidance counselor, there are many college resources available to guide you.

Make sure your major is the right fit for you

If you haven’t decided on a major yet, don’t panic. You’re not alone. While most students worry that switching majors will result in them taking longer to graduate than expected, recent research has shown that students who change their majors in college are actually more likely to graduate on time than those who don’t. And why is that? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that as human beings, our passions and interests are constantly evolving, so it’s important that our choice of major reflects that. By selecting the field of study that’s right for you, you’ll be exposed to major-related courses that appeal to your interests. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to your college classes, making them go by faster than you think.

Related: How to Choose Your Major and Explore All Your Options

Consider changing your course load

One effective way of ensuring that you graduate on time is by enrolling in more credit hours during the school year. Although most college students only need to take 12 credit hours per semester to attain full-time status, most schools require their students to complete at least 120 hours of coursework to obtain a bachelor’s degree. That translates to 10 semesters—or five years of undergraduate study. So for students entering college with little or no previously obtained college credit, really the magic number of hours to take in any given semester is 15. Obviously, enrolling in “extra” classes and earning additional college credit is easier said than done. Financial aid and scholarships may or may not cover extra courses. Depending on the classes you’re in and the amount of time you can realistically devote to preparing for each one, taking 15 credit hours a semester may not be a viable option for you.

How to maximize your credit hours

Luckily, there are other ways of maximizing the number of credit hours you can comfortably earn at a given time. Arguably the best way is to take courses over your school’s semester breaks. Most colleges already allow students to enroll in courses during summer and/or winter break in order to get basic major requirements taken care of. Some schools even offer online classes for students who might find it difficult or inconvenient to commute to campus. Many of these online and in-person courses can be taken for a reasonable fee, but if your college or university charges more than you’re able (or willing) to pay, similar classes may be offered through your local community college. If you go this route, just be sure to familiarize yourself with your college’s transfer credit policy first, because they can vary a lot from school to school. Finally, you may be able to earn credit for internships or other extracurricular experiences, though, again, you’ll need to check in with your academic advisor to figure out if this is a viable option for you.  

Related: How and Why to Avoid Credits That Don't Benefit Your Degree

So while graduating on time may seem daunting, try to relax and take a deep breath. Also, remember that it’s largely okay if you simply can’t graduate in four years; it may be complicated—both logistically and financially—but it’s doable, and there are people at your college who can help you. In any case, these tips for graduating on time are a great place to start. And with the right system in place, you’ll finish your college degree in no time.

Need a break from reading articles? Check out the helpful videos on the CollegeXpress YouTube channel instead!

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