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November 14, 2017

What you need to know to finish college in four years

When it comes to college tuition, time is money. So one of the most impactful actions you can take to lower your college debt is to graduate on-time. It sounds easy. However, a national survey shows that only about 36 percent of college students complete their bachelor’s degrees in four years. Meaning that the majority of students are taking an extra semester of classes, or even a complete fifth or sixth year to finish their four-year degree. As universities raise their tuitions annually, these added years will also be the most expensive years of your college careers.

Not only does delaying graduation incur additional debt, but it also keeps you out of the workforce. Graduating late delays your career and costs money in missed wages. But there are steps you can take to avoid spending five-years, or more, on a four-year degree:

  1. Pledge that on-time graduation is a priority for you. It all starts with you. Talk with an advisor as early as you can – even while you’re still in high school. You don’t necessarily need to declare your major first semester freshman year, but start weighing your options.
  2. Enroll at a university that provides a clear degree path. Then, make sure that you know what the shortest distance to graduation is for you. You’ll have an academic advisor but overwhelmed students often make avoidable mistakes based on uninformed choices.
  3. Enroll at a university that guarantees you that the courses that you’ll need will be available when you need them. Avila’s on-time 4-Year Graduation Guarantee is one such program.
  4. Look for a university that has a low student-to-advisor ratio. This isn’t to say you can’t graduate on-time at a large university, but if your advisor is also advising 400 other students, you’re going to have to do more of the heavy lifting yourself.
  5. Take the number of credits necessary to graduate on-time each semester. The culture of higher education is that 12-hours are considered full-time. However, if your degree takes 120 hours to complete, 12 credit hour semesters put you on a five-year plan. Even just one “easy” semester with a lighter course load can cost you thousands of dollars down the road.
  6. Do the math. If your degree requires more than 120 credit hours to complete, you’re going to have to take more than 15 hours per semester, or take summer classes, to graduate in four years.
  7. Don’t wander off the degree path. Nationally, the average college graduate accumulates 134 credits when only 120 are needed (1). If you do stray off course, you’ll need to work closely with your advisor to get back on track as efficiently as possible. Again, this is easier to do when your advisor knows you, your situation, and doesn’t have 400 other students on his roster.

The earlier you start taking these steps, the better. Many of these can happen while you’re still in high school and are great ways to help you decide on the right college for you.

 Students who start at community colleges can start by looking at the transfer policies of various four-year institutions. Pay particular attention to any articulation agreements between your community college and the four-year university. These contracts guarantee that your credits will transfer. Any credit hours that don’t transfer to your four-year college adds to your debt and doesn’t help you on your bachelor’s degree path.

Start taking important steps toward on-time graduation in your freshman year. But even college sophomores and juniors can save college time and money with these steps. The important thing is to start, no matter where you are along your graduation path.

Graduating on-time, in four years sounds simple enough, yet each year thousands of college seniors across the country are walking back into classes instead of walking across the commencement stage. Don’t be one of them.



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