Most students assume they would complete their degrees in four years. But many also have multiple part-time jobs and internships so it doesn’t come as a surprise that it does not always turn out that way.
You really need to think about your school, your options, and the pathway you’re going to take. There are so many different ways to get an education these days.
Hundreds of thousands of high school seniors are surfing the Web and poring over catalogs to figure out where they’re going to college. But many will base the decision on some traditional assumptions that aren’t necessarily true.
Most 18- and 19-year-olds starting college will take more than four years to graduate and will work at least part-time while in college, and many will earn credit from more than one school.
And they shouldn’t count on multiplying their first year’s expenses by four to approximate a final price tag!
Experts say that’s related to a number of factors: about 80% of undergraduates work, and taking fewer than 12 to 15 credit hours a semester is common and procrastination is one of the major issues that students will have to deal with.
Among college students in the traditional age, entering postsecondary education at ages 18 or 19, not even 46 percent completed college in four years, according to Department of Education data.
There are, however, students that complete their undergraduate studies in less than four years when they took dual credit college courses while still enrolled in high school.
One reason many of the college-going norms have shifted is that the college-going demographics have expanded. Just because a student is 18 doesn’t mean they don’t have a full-time job or a child or a spouse.
And just because you have a full-time job, a child or a spouse doesn’t mean you can’t go to college. At the same time, students often want more from their college experience: more majors, more internships, more activities, special programs, or overseas study.
But as the college-going population and higher education opportunities expand, so do the factors that should go into a college decision.
Which credits will transfer?
Increasingly, college is shifting from a four-course meal to a collection of credits amassed a la carte. Attending more than one institution is becoming the norm and it is also key to understand how college classes work. There are several types of classes in college.
The expansion of Advanced Placement and high school joint enrollment means more students start college with credit. Also, more students earn credit from more than one college, whether they formally transfer or pick up courses at home over the summer.
Finding out transfer policies upfront can save headaches later. Students should actually get a catalog from a local college and bring it with them when visiting a campus. Something may come up as an emergency, where they may have to spend a semester at home. And this happens a lot.
Students should ask which courses will transfer to their chosen university. When you’re thinking of attending one or two other universities, call them and ask them. Sometimes, classes don’t count at all and better communication with the schools transferring to would have been in place.
How likely am I to graduate on time?
The average time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree for traditional-age students has been inching up for decades, according to Department of Education data. The causes may include working schedules, changing majors, mobility, and course availability.
A prospective student can ask what percentage of the university’s students graduate in four years, but they also should ask why it is taking them longer. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the students aren’t getting into classes.
Asking questions about program requirements, as well as summer school options, are good ideas but, of course, not everyone can plan around a specific program. Read also these important tips for incoming college students.
It’s kind of a Catch-22 because, at the time that you’re finishing high school, you have no idea what you want to do with your life. Yet you’re making the most important decisions about where it’s going. That makes academic guidance crucial and it is really important for parents to ask about the institution’s approach to advising.
There’s also the aspect of health literacy. This an often-overlooked aspect but the fact of the matter is that for many college students, things like smoking and alcohol consumption post a real threat to how long they need to earn their degrees and their future lives in general.
Though many parents would like to see their son or daughter graduate in four years for many, including financial reasons, students and college admissions experts say prospective students need to weigh the importance of a four-year finish against other priorities.
Second majors, internships, activities, and outside study may all enrich the experience but may also add to the time spent getting a degree. You need to evaluate what’s important to you.
How will my tuition and aid change?
Annual tuition increases have become routine at many colleges, so unless a college commits to locking in a four-year tuition rate for an incoming class, it’s reasonable to assume the cost will go up.
The easiest way to plan is to ask for the percentage of tuition change over the past few years. You’re probably looking at a broad range of 5 to 10%, according to experts. Read also this post about taking dual credit courses in high school.
Financial aid and scholarships are more complicated. Universities and the government award need-based financial aid on a year-to-year basis, so parent retirements, siblings entering or leaving college and job changes all will affect aid.
Another issue is “frontloading.” Some colleges are more generous with need-based grants the first year and then cut back or shift to more loans in later years.
College personnel should be upfront when asked whether the institution employs frontloading. A college’s financial aid officers should be able to explain the policies.
Some colleges also offer merit aid. Students are more likely to find renewable scholarships from the institution rather than from outside providers.
How much debt am I going to accumulate?
Prospective students and their parents can ask a college’s financial aid officers about the average indebtedness of a given school’s graduates, but they also should be aware that they may not get an answer, and if they do, the answers might not be directly comparable.
They need to ask if private loans are included or excluded, and if private loans are excluded, do they have figures on private loans. For an overview of the most affordable and most expensive colleges in Texas, check out this page.
All families should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible starting Jan. 1, regardless of income. Even if you don’t qualify for grants, FAFSA will help you qualify for federal loans, which are generally cheaper and based on more liberal terms. Even Donald Trump could get a loan to go to college, but a lot of people don’t realize that.
How should I balance work and loans?
Many admissions and financial aid experts agree that taking out loans is more financially efficient than spending extra time in college because of a job.
A lot of students put in more working hours than they perhaps should be because they’re against borrowing money. But if, because they work too many hours, they graduate a year later or two later, they have lost one or two years of employment.
Students who work more than 20 hours a week are several times more likely not to complete their degrees. Middle- and upper-income students are as likely to work as low-income students. It used to be that your student days were times of scraping by.
Many students are still scraped by. They’re often the kind of person that hates being in debt. Many live frugally over the years of study to be out of debt.
But often, that comes at a price as well. Sometimes, their GPA isn’t that great, and if, for example, you’re going to be a biology major, and you pretty much sell yourself to grad schools based on what your GPA is … work gets in the way.
Last Updated on September 12, 2020