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The Real Cost of 2 Extra Years of College

Extra Years of College

This article is slated to be updated with the latest FAFSA, Scholarship, and Financial Information. For more updated information, please refer to our 2023 and 2024 articles.

What is the Real Cost of 2 Extra Years of College?

If you have started the college search process, chances are you have probably wondered what percentage of students graduate in four years. Although these statistics could explain how effectively universities help their students complete their degrees, admissions offices will only provide you with the number of students completing their degrees in 6 years! For any family budgeting for a 4-year degree, an extra two years of college could be incredibly costly. Adding more years of college means more out of pocket expenses and less money coming in as well. So why is it taking students longer to complete their degree and how can you ensure your student graduates on time?

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College is Taking Students Longer

Unfortunately, it now takes many students longer than 4 years to complete a bachelor’s degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “About 60% of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2010 completed that degree within 6 years.” Although graduation rates significantly vary from institution to institution, students across the board are having difficulty completing their degrees on time.

There are a number of reasons why students are tacking on extra years of college to complete their degree. Some of these reasons fall on the student, while others on the college or university. For example, some institutions do not provide enough advisors to adequately serve the number of students on their campus. Without proper guidance, students may not have a strategic plan in place to complete their degree in 4 years. They may take too many extra classes, switch their major(s) multiple times, not take enough credits per semester, or not be able to get into required courses. Each of these set backs to a student’s 4-year plan could tack on additional time in college and the cost that comes with it.

Apart from academics, students should also be mindful of their extra curricular activities. Living away from home can take an emotional toll, so getting connected is crucial to adjusting both socially and academically. In fact, those who are involved in campus life and clubs often feel a deeper sense of community and belonging, which helps with their performance and adjustment. In addition, students must learn to balance school work and a part time job. Research shows that students who work less than 20 hours often report higher GPAs; however, working more than 25 hours per week could be detrimental. There is a clear tipping point for what encourages academic performance and what causes too much stress and anxiety.

Why Additional Years of College Can Be So Expensive

It is no surprise that the cost of a college education extends well beyond paying tuition. Additional expenses often include room and board, textbooks, meal plans, transportation, etc. If students do not graduate in four years, these are just a fraction of the expenses you should anticipate. Time that could be used making money will now be used spending it.

A few things that families need to take into consideration are loans and scholarships. Taking out additional loans may be necessary, and the interest of your current loans will continue accruing. This means more debt. What’s more, some academic scholarships are only good for 4 years. This means that the discount your student had been receiving may now be on you to cover. For these reasons alone, it would behoove any parent or student to make their best effort to complete their degree on time.

How to Help Your Student Finish in Four Years

The best way to avoid additional years of college is to start planning early! This can begin as early as middle school. Below are a few practical tips:

  1. Encourage self-awareness and exploring various career fields. Students often wait too long to begin thinking about their strengths, interests, and possible college major. Having an understanding of who they are and what they want to do will help them when it comes time to declare a major or select courses.
  1. Consider taking dual-enrollment courses, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. These programs are strategically designed to help high school students knock out some general education requirements prior to the start of college. Depending on your student’s diligence, they could come in with a number of credits. This could allow them to have lighter course loads per semester, choose required classes sooner than their peers, and potentially graduate early!
  1. Empower your student to balance their time by getting involved in extracurricular activities or a part-time job. Encouraging these habits in high school will hopefully prepare your student to manage their time and get connected when they are on their own.
  1. There are many other ways to put your student on the path to graduating in 4 years. Visit My College Planning to set up a free consultation and develop a personalized strategy that best serves you and your specific circumstances.

Although finishing college in four years may no longer be the norm, it is certainly possible if you plan ahead and remain vigilant.

Brittany Monasterio

Brittany Monasterio has devoted the past 6 years to coaching families through both the college admissions and financial aid processes to help them avoid some of the same pitfalls that she encountered as a first generation college student. She is now immersed in the financial strategies side of college planning, offering families new insights as they develop their college budget and identify ways to reduce college costs.

Brittany holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Regent University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University. As a part of My College Planning Team, Brittany provides families with actionable strategies to help them maximize their budget, navigate the complexities of paying for college, and feel confident moving forward in this exciting time of life.

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