Good college students recognize that asking questions – the right questions – is an important part of learning. 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 about being on track is an important one.
Four years isn’t for everyone
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 to finish in four years, taking ownership of their progress is essential.
Asking the question
So if your student should be asking, “Am I on track to graduate in four years?” who should he be asking?
First of all, he should be asking himself. Your student should know what he needs to do to graduate and he should know how he is progressing. If your student doesn’t know the answer to the question (and it is an overwhelming question for many first-year students) then he needs to find someone who can help him find the answer.
The first and most obvious person to help might be your student’s Academic Advisor. This is the person who should be helping him plan his schedule each semester and look at the bigger picture of his college education. Most advisors are well informed and can help your student plot his path. If your student’s advisor can’t answer the question, then he should keep asking until someone can help. He might need to visit an Advising office, a trusted faculty member, a department chair, or even a dean if necessary.
As a college parent, it is important that you encourage your student to ask the question and find the answer, but it is not your job to answer the question. With your encouragement, or perhaps insistence, your student needs to take ownership of his college career.
What to do beyond just asking 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. Help your student recognize the value of doing a few of the following things to help accomplish the four year goal:
- Meet with your Academic Advisor regularly – at least once each semester. Advisors can help look at the big picture and examine the implications of some curricular decisions.
- Make a timely choice of major. “Timely” may vary by major. Some majors may require that students begin a path as early as the first semester of college; other majors may begin as late as the end of sophomore year. It is important that your student find out when he should commit to a specific major.
- Make sure that you are ready for college level work. If your student has an area of weakness, address the subject as early as possible. Consider tutoring or remedial classes if necessary.
- Consider using summer or winter intercession terms to make up credits or get ahead.
- Work hard to maintain good grades and the GPA required for graduation.
- Keep careful track, either on paper or electronically, of all requirements and when each has been completed. Check the list every term. Address any gaps immediately.
- Recognize anything that may not make sense. Know the curriculum well enough to question advice that may not sound right. Think carefully about any degree audit – whether electronic or generated by a Registrar or advising office. Ask questions if something doesn’t seem appropriate.
- Commit to making a four year graduation a priority. Success is often determined by many small decisions and choices. Consider carefully the amount of time spent studying, whether or not a job makes sense while in school, how often you visit home or travel, class attendance, whether or not study abroad or an internship will affect progress. Measure each decision in light of a four year graduation goal.
Even if your student completes each of the above suggestions, there is no guarantee that he will graduate in four years. However, his chances will increase. If at any point, he finds that he is not on track, he will have time to anticipate outcomes and adjust accordingly.