The “four year degree” is no longer a reality for many college students. Five years has become closer to the national average for time necessary for students to complete a bachelor’s degree. There are many factors that can contribute to extra time needed, and for some students the time frame is much more realistic. However, there are also a growing number of students who attempt to complete their degree in less than the traditional four years. Some of these students who take either fewer or more than four years may be looking at a December graduation from college.
The decision to take extra time for a degree or to attempt to finish early is a very personal one and each student’s motivation is different. Some students are unhappy with their college experience and anxious to be finished. Other students are simply impatient to move on in their lives or hope to save on tuition costs. Other students find that the pace of adding an extra semester makes the entire college experience more manageable. Still other students find that they have no choice but to add time because of a poor semester or possible change of major or direction.
Whatever your student’s reasons for considering a December graduation, there are some factors he should investigate. For some students, December is the perfect time to complete college. For other students, waiting an additional semester may be the best course of action.
There are some distinct advantages to leaving college in December rather than spring:
- The most obvious advantage is saving money on an additional semester of tuition. However, students will need to consider costs carefully. One important factor is to calculate how much financial aid your student is receiving and whether there are additional costs to finish early. Some students are able to complete their degree in mid-year by adding summer or winter intercession classes. However, these classes incur additional costs and are generally not covered by financial aid. Your student will need to calculate carefully whether the additional costs of extra classes offset the cost of an additional semester after financial aid is factored in.
- Another advantage of December graduation is an earlier start on the job hunt. Many college graduates find that it may take several months of searching before they receive their first job offer. Starting in December, prior to the flood of graduates in May, can give them an advantage.
- If your student is planning to apply to graduate school, a December graduation may mean that he can spend the spring semester focusing on graduate entrance exams, applications, and visiting potential programs without trying to balance coursework at the same time.
- Some students who plan to continue on to graduate school may welcome a semester’s break – either to earn additional money for tuition or loans, to travel, or simply to have a break from school routine.
- Graduating a semester early may demonstrate to a future employer or graduate school that your student is especially motivated and focused.
Although there are certainly advantages to completing college in December, there are also some drawbacks. Your student should consider some of the following:
- There may be opportunities available to your student while she is in school that will not be available otherwise. Your student may have access to certain internships open only to students, she may be able to study abroad through a school program, or have the opportunity to work with a renowned faculty member on a research project. Some of these opportunities are invaluable – both for knowledge and experience gained and as resume builders.
- Most student loans require students to begin to pay back after a grace period of six months. Your student will need to begin to pay loans back earlier.
- Your student might use an additional semester to add a double major or a minor which will give him advantages.
- Your student might use an additional semester to build strong relationships with senior faculty members who can write strong recommendations or provide contacts.
- Your student will miss some “senior” activities that occur in the spring and may or may not be allowed to participate in a May commencement. Although some of these activities may be social, some may be career oriented. Students might check with Career offices to see if they may participate as a graduate.
- Your student might simply use an additional semester to take some interesting classes or participate in some interesting experiences, projects, or organizations that will round out his background and provide him with leadership opportunities.
There are advantages and disadvantages to completing college in December. Obviously, there is no one answer that is right for every student. The important thing is that each student stop and consider carefully what those advantages and disadvantages might be for him. Students who stop to consider these factors early in their college career will be more sure of their path and their final decision. As a college parent, you can help your student consider his unique situation, goals and plans.