Why is college taking so much longer to complete these days? It’s a hard question to answer on paper. Every college is different, with different levels of rigor. Furthermore, every student is different, making it even more difficult to pinpoint a direct cause. Whatever the reason may be, when it takes extra time to graduate, it costs more money to get the degree…A lot more. Maybe having a plan can help.


Colleges are unlikely to warn you of this (unless asked directly), but six years towards a degree has become almost as common as four. A cynical person might think they don’t want you to know that, because they make more money off of you the longer you’re there. Regardless, these are some of the factors contributing to the startling trend.

Switching Majors: The self-discovery of college is great and all, but if you decide halfway through your major that it isn’t for you and switch to another one, you may have to go down an entirely different course of study. That’s going to take much more time. If you have a thoroughly thought out game plan from the start, it can save you some grief later.

Unnecessary Classes: When you take a class that doesn’t count towards your degree, you are making a choice to add to what you’re going to have to pay regardless. If you feel ‘introduction to baking’ is worth the hundreds of dollars it’s going to cost, more power to you, but know that you aren’t just spending money, you’re spending time. The longer you’re in school, the more it’s going to cost you; and not just in tuition.

Lack of Opportunity: This one is tricky because it’s not really the student’s fault. It seems to be happening more and more frequently that required classes will be offered at conflicting times, forcing students to take them one semester at a time. Where once students could knock out the majority of their general education courses in the first two years; now they have to wait for classes to open up, pushing back when they can take their major course and thus their graduation time.

Transferring: Transferring doesn’t always pushback graduation. It really depends on the school. If all of a student’s credits transfer with them at a commensurate rate, then everything should be fine. It’s when schools either don’t accept certain credits or value them lower that it takes longer. If you want to transfer, make sure you know how the school you’re going to handles transfer credits, it could cost a handsome chunk of change.

Lack of Counseling

A lot of kids don’t know these things and will sign up for classes that interest them but are ultimately not helpful towards their respective degrees. Why? An overworked spread too thin counseling staff. At any given high school you could find 1000 students and maybe 4 or 5 counselors. These numbers are astronomically worse at universities. How can they be expected to effectively advise all those students? Unfortunately, students and their families will likely have to be on top of issues like these themselves

Course Load

There’s a much more subtle reason why college is taking so long for many students, and it’s that they are taking too light of course loads. It’s not hard to see why. Students have had their lives regimented for the overwhelming majority of their existence. Now, they can schedule no classes before 12 pm, with no classes on Monday, and no classes on Friday. It’s an attractive prospect. It’s a trap though. It’s the students taking 15 credit hours or fewer a semester that are falling behind and spending more years in school. Take more classes! Take summer school classes (which are often cheaper)! In case you aren’t scared enough yet, six years of college can cost upwards of $300,000! Go to class.

With freedom comes responsibility. You can make choices that may be less fun in the short term, but hugely helpful in the long run. Having a plan is the first step to deciding which route you want to take.