How to Ensure Your Student Graduates in Four Years

Given the cost of sending your kids to college, how can you increase the chances of your teen graduating within four years? 

Many teens hear throughout high school that college will be the best four years of their lives. 

However, studies show that only about 37 percent of college students actually graduate within those four years. Instead, about 26 percent of students need five or six years, and the remaining students either never receive degrees or need even more time to graduate. Given the cost of sending your kids to college, how can you increase the chances of your teen graduating within four years? 

Why do so many students need more than four years to graduate? 


Every college has a unique general education curriculum in addition to the curricula that surround majors. With some classes being offered only during select semesters, it is often difficult to take all required classes every semester. In addition, some students cannot take all of their desired classes because of time conflicts with jobs, activities and other classes. 


The average college student changes majors almost four times, so choosing a different career path in school isn’t a huge deal. However, because different majors have distinct course requirements, students can run into trouble when switching late in the game. Changing freshman or early-sophomore year shouldn’t cause too much delay, but anytime after sophomore year may push back their graduation date. 


Transferring schools can increase time needed to complete a degree as well. Even if a student continues with the same major, not all credits will transfer. Additionally, a new school means a new curriculum for that major, so different courses will be needed to fulfill those requirements. 

  • CONFLICT with WORK: 

Lengthy college careers can also stem from students working off-campus too much. Hefty work schedules conflicting with class schedules can prevent students from taking required classes at the earliest time available, causing them to be thrown off track even more down the road. 


Additionally, some students refuse to take classes because of their aversions to scheduled times. For example, some students may not take a course that’s only openings are at 8 a.m. Delaying classes can push back graduation because students end up having to take introductory classes during their junior and senior years. 

Why is it important for your child to graduate in four years? 


The most obvious reason is money. Five years to graduate means five years of paying tuition and fees. However, if you or your student takes out loans to pay for college, then that higher loan debt will accumulate higher amounts of interest. For students on scholarship, it’s important to know the stipulations, since many only cover four years, not including summers. 


In addition to tuition costs, not graduating in four years can hinder job earnings. For example, if your teen is able to land a $40,000 per year job upon graduation but needs five years instead of four years to graduate, then he or she will have missed out on $40,000 of earnings. When missed earnings are coupled with added tuition, the costs of long college careers can become quite steep. 

How can you help your teen graduate in four years? 


If your teen is in middle school or high school, start helping him or her figure out a potential career path. A great way to fully understand careers of interest is to set up job shadowing with various professionals in the field. Entering college with knowledge of various careers reduces their chances of switching majors multiple times. 


Another way to help your student get ahead is by enrolling them in Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment classes when they’re in high school. The AP curriculum consists of standardized high school courses that are somewhat comparable to undergraduate college classes. Once students take the class, they usually take the AP exam for the course, which can earn them credits and accelerated placement in college. Dual-enrollment classes allow high school students to take classes at a local college and earn college credit. 


In addition to academic efforts, begin taking your teen on college tours early. The more he or she knows about a school before attending, the less likelihood of transferring. 


If finishing in eight semesters isn’t a possibility, encourage summer courses. Finishing through summer courses is more time-efficient than taking an additional fall or spring semester. Those three to four months in an extra semester can be used for working.

Bottom line: As long as your teen views college as a full-time commitment, graduating in four years should be an attainable goal. 

FAST FORWARD: Earn College Credit Now 

  • ADVANCED PLACEMENT COURSES (AP): Advanced Placement courses are offered at most high schools and count toward graduation requirements. If your teen scores a 4 or 5 on the AP exam for their course subject, it is also applied toward their college credits (at only $89/course). 
  • DUAL ENROLLMENT PROGRAMS: These programs allow high school students to take academic coursework at community colleges across Alabama and include all of the two-year colleges. Colleges partner with area high schools and local Boards of Education to facilitate the cooperative dual enrollment. 
  • ONLINE COLLEGE COURSES: Online courses can be an excellent way for high school students to earn college credits, gain college-level experience and impress admissions counselors. Universities including The University of Alabama, University of Pennsylvania and Oregon State offer these courses. 
  • CLEP: COLLEGE-LEVEL EXAMINATION PROGRAM: Many colleges accept a full range of College- Level Examination Programs® (CLEP®) exams, which measure mastery of college-level, introductory course content. 


“It is completely possible for students to graduate in four years; in fact, our institutional scholarships are based on eight semesters. Many students today are very quick to drop courses, which then results in a less than full-time course load,” shared Buddy Starling, Director of Admissions at Troy University. “We are also seeing that as we change our curriculum to meet real-world business needs, our students are taking on internships and study-abroad programs. These sometimes limit the course load and the ability to take infrequently offered courses.”      

“Troy University and parents have the mutual goal of removing your children off of your payroll and onto their own payroll. The ability to complete a degree in four years is achievable if a student maps it out, avoids detours and has parents setting expectations,” said Starling. 

Only about 37% of students actually graduate within four years 

“At AUM, 47 percent of our students have full-time jobs, so taking time off to work a semester does affect their time to graduate,” said Tyler Peterson, Dean of Admissions and Recruiting at AUM. “Most 18-year-olds don’t know what they want to major in so these career changes will affect their graduation timing. College Career Centers have resources that help them with career exploration to receive their degree in a field that will enable them to succeed.” 



As an editor, copywriter, and social media manager at exploreMedia, I work to develop content that is relevant and interesting to our readers and coordinate with contributing writers.

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