Common reasons for failing to graduate college in four years

by Grace

One of the surest ways to cut college costs is to graduate in four years or less, but today most full-time college students fail to meet that goal.


Being aware of the typical pitfalls that tend to delay graduation can help parents and students in taking the steps needed to get that college degree in four years instead of five or six.  Here are what some CollegeConfidential parents say are reasons so few students graduate in four years.

  • Students working too many hours
  • Classes needed to graduate are not available, sometimes related to budget cuts but often just because the recommended sequence of study means every course is not offered every semester.  If a student gets off track, it may be difficult to fit in all required courses within four years.
  • Starting without a plan
  • Not taking a full load each semester. Not paying careful attention to graduation requirements.
  • Transferring between schools, with not all courses transferring with credit
  • Changing majors, sometimes more than once
  • Adding a second major or minor
  • Partying too much
  • Lacking motivation or persistence
  • Poor academic advising
  • Not prepared for college level work, needing remedial courses or dropping, failing or having to repeat a course/courses.  Not being able to handle a full load on average.
  • The growing attitude that everyone should go to college, with the result that many students who are not prepared for college-level work are pushed to attend.
  • Running out of money
  • Not understanding that while 12 credits is considered full-time, that’s not enough to graduate.
  • Taking time out for an internship or co-op
  • Some majors at some schools are particularly difficult to complete in four years.  Often engineering is like this, sometimes because most students find it too challenging to stay on track with a full schedule of courses that leaves little room for flexibility.

Private schools have better four-year graduation rates than public schools, but a goal-oriented student who plans ahead and is well prepared for college level work has a high probability of graduating on time wherever he attends.  It should be noted that many students actually plan ahead knowing they will take longer to finish college, often for legitimate financial reasons.

Some colleges seem to want to keep students as long as possible.

Sometimes colleges seem to encourage students to take their time and not rush through college.   When I was visiting prospective colleges with my son, several speakers told us there was no need to be in a hurry to pick a major.  They stressed that it wasn’t really necessary to select a major until junior year, a move which seems like a good way to keep a student from graduating in four years.

I took five years to complete my degree.  The reasons were poor planning due to ignorance about career options and changing my major at the end of my junior year.

Related:  2013, Digest of Education Statistics 2012, Table 376. Percentage of first-time full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students at 4-year institutions who completed a bachelor’s degree, by race/ethnicity, time to completion, sex, and control of institution: Selected cohort entry years, 1996 through 2005 

2 Comments to “Common reasons for failing to graduate college in four years”

  1. I see all of those. Often, failing a course or dropping it midsemester is related to other factors, such as working too many hours at an offcampus job, or transferring in from a CC and leaving all the difficult technical courses until the last 2 years. Running out of money, or having a family crisis are also common.

    When I taught at another school with a lot of working adults, I saw that many students PLANNED to sit out certain semesters, usually do to their job requirements. We also had students who were called up for active duty.


  2. Often several of these issues are related, and compound the delay.


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