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The Real Cost of 2 Extra Years of College

Extra Years of College

The Real Cost of 2 Extra Years of College (c) MCPT


It can be tempting to believe that after the FAFSA is filed, the credit-hours are allocated and the tuition payment is sent, that the financial aspect of the college experience is on hold until next semester. However, the classes your student selects, and of course how well they do in them, can have farther reaching ramifications than you might think. It’s common knowledge that more time in college means more money coming out of pocket; what’s less conspicuous, it means a lot less money coming in as well.

College is Taking Students Longer

Finishing college in four years is no longer the norm. In reality, it’s taking students more like six years to graduate. It would be easy to blame the trend on the “Lazy Millennial” archetype, and while there are those who fall behind due to poor performance, they are far from the majority. It often has much more to do with poor planning than poor performance. For other students, a full-time course load is simply a logistical impossibility.

The onus doesn’t entirely fall on students though. Colleges and Universities have far too few advisors to adequately deal with their massive student bodies. Without the proper guidance, students end up taking extra classes that, while interesting, get them no closer to finishing their course of study. Moreover, they sometimes can’t take required classes because they fill up too quickly. If a student misses out on a required class, they have to wait to take it next semester, if not next year.

Even the universities themselves, who ostensibly benefit financially from prolonged enrollment, have noticed and admitted the problem. While they may get more money from students already enrolled, low four-year graduation rates are a sizable blemish on the school’s reputation and can scare away prospective students.

To that end, some universities, such as Cleveland State, have taken steps to remove some of the financial and logistical barriers impeding the fluid progress of its students. Instead of semester to semester course planning, students can now plan out their entire year, helping ensure their time is used as efficiently as possible. On the financial front, 18 credit-hours will now cost the same amount as 12 credit-hours, incentivizing more rigorous course loads for those in a position to complete them.

Why Extra Years of College Can Be So Expensive

The expenses of a college education extend far beyond just credit-hours. The longer a student is in school the longer they will have to pay for room and board, meal plans, textbooks, supplies, transportation, and any other incidental expenses that may arise. This leads to more and more student loans; the higher the loan the more the interest is going to be, which means even more debt. What’s more, these are only the expenses that you can see.

Two extra years of college will not only cost your family money, it’ll cost time as well. Seeing as time is money, at the end of the day it will end up costing you even more money. Two more years of college is two more years your student is spending money instead of making it. Two extra years of college is two more years your student isn’t saving for retirement. When all of this is taken together it adds up to a loss of around $300,000 over your student’s lifetime. A ludicrously steep price for a largely avoidable circumstance.

How to Finish in Four Years

This topic is covered in far greater detail here, but the basics all come down to proper planning. In fact, planning can start as early as middle school!

Advance Placement classes. Taking AP classes in high school can get some of the general education requirements out of the way before your child even steps foot on a college campus.

Take placement test seriously. Remedial courses will cost your child time (and money) without affording them any college credit. Conversely, should they do well enough, your student could test out of some general education classes and put them on an accelerated graduation track. College Level Examination Program or CLEP tests offer the same opportunity and are another great alternative you and your student can look into.

Consider completing the first two years at a community college. While transferring from university to university can have the opposite of the intended effect, transferring from a community college can get the majority of the general education requirements taken care of, at less than half the price. Be sure to do your due diligence and make sure that your child’s school of choice accepts as many credits as possible, as most schools have limits to the transfer credit that they will allow.

There are many other ways to put your student on the path to graduating in four years. Visit My College Planning and set up a free consultation to come up with a personalized strategy that best serves you and your specific circumstances.

Finishing college in four years may no longer be the norm, but it’s far from impossible if you and your student plan ahead and remain vigilant.

Jim Slowik

Jim Slowik strategizes for families of all incomes to leave no stone unturned to reduce college costs. Jim has worked for over 30 years in marketing and management with 20 of those years in financially related industries. As a parent of college students, Jim understands the challenges of navigating the college process. He holds a Bachelors of Marketing from North Central College.

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