Good college students recognize that asking questions – the right questions – is an important part of the learning process. Sometimes asking just the right question, at just the right time, of just the right person, can make the difference between success and failure. If your college student is interested in graduating from college in four years, there is an important question that he should be asking at least once every semester: “Am I on track to graduate in four years?”
Nationally, only 37% of college students graduate in four years. The trend is for the majority of students to take at least five years to complete their degree. Colleges now calculate their graduation rates based on the number of students who complete their degree in six years. So the question of being on track is an important one.
For many students, a five-year or six-year plan may make sense. Some students know at the time that they enter college that they will need longer to complete their degree. They may need a reduced course load, they may have full time or part time jobs or family responsibilities, they may have significant outside or extracurricular activities that take a priority. But for those students who enter college intending and hoping to finish in four years, taking ownership of their progress is essential.
So if your student should be asking, “Am I on track to graduate in four years?” who should she be asking? First of all, she should be asking herself. Your student should know what she needs to do to graduate and she should know how she is doing on making progress. If your student doesn’t know the answer to the question (and it is an overwhelming question for many first-year students) then she needs to find someone who can help her find the answer. The first and most obvious person to help might be her Academic Advisor. This is the person who should be helping her plan her schedule each semester and look at the bigger picture of her college education. Most advisors are well informed and can help your student plot her path. This is their job. If your student’s advisor can’t answer the question, then she should keep asking until someone can help. She might need to visit an Advising office, a trusted faculty member, a department chair, or even a dean if necessary.
As your student progresses through his college career, he will learn more about the college curriculum and requirements and be better able to answer this important question for himself. If he continues to ask it each semester, the answer will become more and more clear over time. It is important to continue to ask it each semester to be sure that nothing has changed. It may help your student begin to answer this question if he breaks requirements down. For students at most colleges, requirements fall into four or five areas:
- Students must complete a required number of credits to graduate. (This is often about 120 credits, but may vary by institution or major.)
- Students must complete a certain number of all-college credits or courses. (These are courses that all students are required to take no matter what their major and are sometimes called General Education classes.)
- Students must complete all requirements for their major.
- Students must usually complete their degree “in good standing” with a required minimum GPA (grade point average). This may vary by institution or by major.
- Some colleges have additional requirements such as completing an internship or community service experience. Students should be clear about any such requirements as they begin their college career.
It may help your student to break down the “Am I on track . . . “ question into each of the above areas, “Am I on track with all college requirements?” “Am I on track in my major?” “Am I on track with my GPA?” Any time your student makes a significant change, such as dropping a course, withdrawing from a course, failing a course, or changing major, he needs to revisit the question.
There are never any guarantees that a student will be able to complete his college degree in four years even if he asks this important question regularly. Sometimes the answer will be “No, I am not on track.” This will be a time for your student to consider carefully what adjustments might need to be made. In our next post, we’ll look at some things that your student can do to help insure that when your student asks, “Am I on track to graduate in four years?” the answer is a resounding “Yes!”