This week, one of my favorite college-subject authors, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, wrote an article on Why Your Child Won’t Graduate From College on Time. This got me thinking about the factors that increase your child’s chances of being able to graduate college in 4 years.
How To Increase the Odds that Your Child Will Graduate College in 4 Years:
- Start with College Credits – AP classes and dual-credit classes taken in high school will help your child walk into college with a nice base of college credits. Of course with AP classes, your child has to meet his/her chosen college’s threshold for granting credit. This varies from school to school so make sure you research this ahead of time. I wrote more about this in my post, Earning College Credits in High School.
- Have a Solid Plan – This can be tricky if your child isn’t sure what he or she wants to major in. For these students, make sure that Freshman year is spent getting general requirements out of the way, but also encourage them to dip their toes into any subject areas that might be candidates for majors. These two things can usually be accomplished at the same time by carefully selecting courses that meet general requirements. Most schools don’t require students to select a major until the end of sophomore year, but if no classes that are required for that major are taken until Junior year, it may be a struggle to get all classes needed within 4 semesters of college. At that point, summer classes and a possible extra semester of college may be needed.
- Effective Advising – This one is also tricky because students don’t have much control over who is assigned as their advisor. My oldest daughter started out in the “exploratory” program for students who haven’t selected a major. Her advisor was terrible and provided no guidance to help her figure out her major. My advice to her was to go ahead and select a major, even if she was only 50% sure that was what she wanted to study. At least it got her in a better position for guidance. Poor advising was one of the top factors cited in Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s article for students not being able to graduate college in 4 years. If you suspect this is a problem for your student, there are two things I recommend. First, encourage him or her to take the lead in the process, be more assertive and ask a lot of questions. Students need to own the process and not just sit back and expect the advisor to tell them what to do. Second, sit down with your student with the course catalog and help them map out what should be taken each semester in order to graduate college in 4 years. You won’t know when classes will be offered, but you can map out the basics.
- Choose a Major and Stick With It – For some students, this is going to be the hardest thing. You don’t want your student to stick with a major that he or she has lost interest in, but changing a major after sophomore year can derail the plan to graduate college in 4 years.
- Strong Course Load – Some students might love the idea of only taking 12 credits per semester, which typically equates to four classes. Encourage your child to take at least five classes every semester. This should equate to 15 credits or more. Most students can handle this load even with a part-time job and extracurricular activities.
Of course there isn’t really a guarantee your child will graduate college in 4 years, although some colleges do advertise a four-year graduation guarantee. If your student is looking at one of these schools, be sure to read the requirements of how the school promises to accomplish this. There may not be much flexibility. In general, the more you can do up front to prepare a four-year plan, the better the chances that you will not be paying for an unexpected extra year of college.