Do You Have a Super Senior? Making the Most of the Fifth Year of College

To every parent his or her student is a “super” kid, whether a senior or not.  But the term “Super Senior” is not necessarily the term that parents hope to hear when referring to their college students.

What is a Super Senior?

Super Senior is the term sometimes used to refer to a student who is a college senior in his fifth, or sixth, year of college.  He has already been a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior – and is now a Super Senior – or fifth (or sixth) year college student. One study has suggested that only approximately 39% of students graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years.  The Department of Education actually calculates a six year graduation rate, which comes closer to 59%.

So the term Super Senior is becoming increasingly common. But whether the numbers are accurate or not, or whether five or even six years is becoming the national average for completing a degree, if your student finds that she will be spending a fifth year in college, both you and your student should discuss the situation.


Why does your student need an extra year?

There are many factors that may contribute to your student’s fifth year status.

  • Your student may have changed major or decided to double major.
  • Your student may have transferred to a different school and lost some credits, and therefore time.
  • Your student may have made some lifestyle choices that affected his progress – perhaps needing to repeat failed classes, or missing scheduling requirements because of class times (avoiding those 8:00 a.m. classes?) or not paying attention to class rotations (only offered every other year?).
  • Your student may have withdrawn from too many classes, or registered for too few credits some semesters and now needs to complete additional credits.
  • Your student may have had unavoidable life circumstances that slowed his progress – an injury, illness, or family crisis.

Ultimately, your student may need the fifth year because he needs certain course requirements, he needs to raise his GPA, or he needs additional credits. Whatever the reason, there it is: a fifth year of college.

How can your student become a “super” Super Senior?

As a parent, you may be unhappy about the fifth year of college for a number of reasons – this wasn’t the plan, and there is certainly unanticipated tuition involved.  Or you may have seen this coming earlier in your student’s college career and you’ve come to terms with it, made plans accordingly, or even encouraged it.

However, your student may face difficulties for other reasons.  Not only does he need to complete requirements or raise his GPA or complete additional credits, he may feel out of place.  In spite of the fact that it appears that the majority of students now take longer than four years to finish college, he may feel awkward about his fifth year status.  Friends are moving on – he is remaining at school.  You may need to help your student think about how to use this year productively. Although your student will need to take care of his school issues, there are some things that you, as a parent, might do to help your student make the most of this fifth year of school.

  • Remind your student that he is not alone.  Many students in the United States take a fifth year to complete college.  Whether his reasons for needing this extra year are good reasons, or reflect poor choices, he is not alone.
  • Talk to your student about expectations for this year.  Will she need to rethink some of her lifestyle choices?  Will she need to pay part or all of the tuition?  Will she continue to live on campus or on her own?  Will this year be “business as usual” or will it be different?
  • Have your student work closely with the financial aid office of the school to find out whether financial aid will continue.
  • Encourage your student to work closely with her academic advisor to be very sure of exactly what she needs to do to complete her degree.

Helping your student think about how to make this year feel productive and possibly different from the first four years, may help him to feel better about his experience.  This will be easier, of course, if he knows early that the fifth year will be necessary.  What can your student do to set this year apart?

  • He can make an effort to share his experiences and advice with underclass students.  Are there opportunities to serve as a mentor, tutor, teaching assistant, or other peer advisor?  He may have some very helpful advice to share.
  • If your student needs credits, does the school offer credits for internship experiences?  Perhaps the focus of this last year can be on experiential learning and networking.
  • If your student needs credits, could they be obtained through a study abroad or study away program?  Perhaps your student won’t need to spend the year on campus?
  • In addition to completing what she needs to do for school, your student might focus this year on informational interviews, exploring career options, working on her resume, and applying for jobs.  With significant time and energy invested, she may be able to graduate with a job in hand.
  • Your student may be able to use this year to participate in some things he has missed in earlier years.  Perhaps this is a good time to explore a new interest, join a new club, develop new relationships and friendships, or try a new activity.  All of these college experiences will help your student grow and possibly provide leadership opportunities as well.

Whatever the reasons for your student’s fifth year, help your student think about whether she can make it a significantly different year.  In the end, your student may benefit more than she anticipates from her experiences.

Related Posts:

Helping Your Student Avoid “How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears 

Why Your College Student Should Consider an Internship

The Path to Graduation: What’s Your Student’s Timeline?

Your College Student’s December Graduation

Reasons Why Your College Student Might Not Graduate in Four Years

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