The Actual Costs of 4-Year College Degree

The Role of Graduation Rates & College Costs 💸

Importance of Four-year Graduation Rates ⌛

If you go to college for a Bachelor’s Degree, most students try to complete the requirements in four years. However, many college students either drop out or delay their graduation timeline; the average American student now takes six years to graduate! In fact, four-year graduation rates have dropped so low that some colleges have four-year graduation rates below 10%, meaning only 1 in 10 students will graduate in four years. Even  worse, loans still haunt students who fully drop out of college, and they still  have to pay off college loans for a degree that they were not able to receive.

Why Are There Low Graduation Rates? 😱

There are many factors that may lead to such low four-year graduation rates. Low graduation rates may be a good indicator of ongoing problems with student support services and student/teacher relationships.

Campus Culture

These below-average statistics may also be a result of the campus culture - maybe the average student on campus doesn’t take their classes as seriously as they should. Sometimes, the campus culture impacts students’ ability to succeed, especially if the culture emphasizes partying instead of academics.

Gap Semester / Year

There are a plethora of factors that may result in a delay in a student’s graduation.

For example, many students may decide to take a gap year or semester at some point in their college journey. Of course, this doesn’t affect cost too much, as you’re not liable for tuition or costs associated with the school during a time in which you are not enrolled. That being said, taking time off will likely delay your graduation date, as there are not many programs that can be finished in less than 8 semesters. Additionally, make sure to note the logistics of how a gap semester / year may affect the completion of your program at your school. Some schools require credits to be completed within a certain time frame of your graduation, meaning if you wait too long, your credits could expire.

If you want to learn more about Gap Years, check out this article on if you should take a gap year. Also read about 7 Alternatives to the Traditional College Experience.

Program Requirements

Some programs are more intense than others, requiring more credits overall. Some longer programs will explicitly state if they’re intended to take longer than four years. For example, quite a few schools offer five-year double-degree programs. If that’s something you’re interested in, just keep in mind that you will still be on the hook for tuition for that fifth year, and sometimes scholarships don’t extend beyond four years. Additionally, some programs may have different tracks, meaning that some students are able to finish in 8-semesters, while others may take longer (for example, students majoring in education usually have to complete a semester of student teaching, which could occur after 7 or 8 semesters.) Knowing these things ahead of time is super helpful when considering the cost of college.

Changing Your Major

It’s no secret that it is pretty common for students to change their majors at some point during their college career. In fact, some students may change their major multiple times, or add a program onto their preexisting progress. This is another huge reason that students may take longer than the average four years to graduate. Again, there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind or adding on a major/minor, but remember to consider the financial implications of that decision. Read more about the important factors when picking a major. Maybe it will take another 2 or 3 semesters to complete, but you may decide it’s the right decision in the long run if you feel you may earn more money because of it.

It is important to note that the four-year graduation rate calculation also includes students who transfer away from the school. If the transfer rate is significant, it may be helpful to consider why the school struggles to retain its students, which may result from some of the factors listed above. Schools with night and evening programs can also explain low four-year graduation rates, as students in those programs usually take more than four years to graduate.

Check out this guide on how to discover your major and how to compare different college majors. As well, as what it means to have your major as undecided.

Four-Year Graduation Rates & College Costs 🏦

Remember, colleges charge students and families for each  semester of enrollment, which means any extra semester(s) will bring additional costs, and, subsequently, loans and stress.  For example, if a college costs $10,000 for a year of enrollment, the total cost of a four-year degree will be around $40,000. If we consider the average of 6 years (or 12 semesters), the total cost will be closer to $60,000. Instead of going toward a car, house, or starting a family, the extra $20,000 goes to the college.

Finding Four-Year Graduation Rates 🔎

Finding four-year graduation rates can be tricky, as many colleges prefer to show their higher six-year graduation rates. The Collegize App (available on iPhone or Android) is a great place to start finding both four-year and six-year graduation rates for all its listed colleges. Other websites provide this information as well.

Images from Collegize App iPhone / Android

Next Steps 👣

It’s not a bad idea to ask about and discuss a school’s four-year graduation rates whenever you talk with your family, friends, advisors, and even college representatives. Again, finding the four-year graduation rate for college is extremely important. Not only does the rate provide insight into potential problems on campus, but it will hint at your likelihood of graduation as well as point to the possibility of having to pay  extra money for your college degree. Remember, getting this topic right can greatly benefit your future college experience and financial success!

Jeremy is a native of Atlanta, Georgia and a graduate of both Yale University and the University of Georgia (MBA). Jeremy founded Collegize in 2010 to help college-bound families find, prepare for, and pick their best-fit college. Having had to navigate preparing for college without proper guidance himself, Jeremy knows the challenges families face navigating college preparation. Through Collegize, Jeremy seeks to provide resources, opportunities, and knowledge to those who need it most.

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