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Can You Handle Earning Your College Degree in Four Years?

Earning a bachelor's degree in four years is no big deal for some students. But for others, it's not so easy. And sometimes, it just doesn't make sense to try to graduate in the standard 4-year timeframe. Is taking a little extra time the right decision for you?

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By Sarah Wright

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4-Year Madness

It's normal for kids to march through school, from kindergarten to 12th grade, in the standard 13 years. After that much time seeing school as a year-by-year process with a definitive finish line, it's natural to see college in the same light. Four years is such a benchmark for college completion that many schools and college information aggregators include statistics about 4-year completion rates among enrollment and other demographic information.

For some students, moving from high school to college and getting the job done in four years comes naturally. But for others, it's a struggle, a mad dash that causes non-school priorities to fall by the wayside, for better or worse. Is four years such a necessary benchmark that it's worth sacrificing things like money, health and educational quality?

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When Four Years Isn't Enough

We can talk about good and bad reasons to take time off of school, but ultimately finishing in four years shouldn't necessarily be your goal. Your goal should be to get the best education you can while setting the best foundation for your future life and career. If you can do that in four years, great. Lots of students can. But you shouldn't feel like you've failed or done something wrong if that becomes unrealistic for you.

The thing is, you don't have to completely leave school if you've decided that four years isn't enough. You can take a lighter class load in order to, say, get a job that will lay a good foundation for your career. Or, you can take fewer classes a semester just so you'll be guaranteed to get the most out of them. Those are both pretty reasonable and responsible approaches to college. There seems to be a tendency to see college as a short-term incubator for young adults, but in reality, there's really no reason why that incubation period has to last such a short time, or has to be treated as such at all.

Why Graduating in Four Years Isn't That Important

You may feel pressure to graduate in four year from all corners. Your parents, professors, friends, extended family, casual acquaintances and even your inner monologue might immediately become concerned that you've lost it if you announce your decision to either take time off or reduce your course load. This is a time when it may be best to listen to yourself rather than other people. You get the same degree whether it takes you four or 14 years to earn it. And that's the goal of attending college in the first place, right? You want to earn a degree and make the most of your education. Sometimes, you just can't do both in four years.

You shouldn't feel pressure to put speed over quality when earning your degree, but that doesn't mean that there aren't frivolous reasons to take time off of school.

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