If you’re not a member of the college class of ’19, let those caps and gowns inspire you to plan for your own timely walk across the stage. What’s the quickest way to get that tassel? Do the math. It’s a fact that most college students don’t earn a diploma in four years. But those who do save on tuition and fees, avoid extra student loans, and are able to cash a paycheck in their first “real” job that much sooner. Here are the numbers to watch to make sure you finish on time.
STICKER PRICE » Consider whether attending the most expensive school you can get into is worth the extra cost. Attending a prestigious college doesn’t always pay off in better prospects for jobs or graduate school. But hold off on comparison shopping until you know the real costs — after you receive your financial aid packages.
CREDIT HOURS » Know how many credits you need to graduate, and know what courses you need to complete a degree in your major. Then focus on those requirements first. Of course, it’s great to take electives that sound interesting, but remember that you’ll have time for enrichment after you graduate.
If you anticipate that you will transfer to another school, plan carefully to maximize the number of credits you can take with you — retaking classes is expensive and time consuming. For the smoothest transfer of credits, move from a two-year school to a partnering four-year school.
COURSE LOAD » How many credits constitute a full course load at your school? If at all possible, take that full load and maybe even a slightly fuller load to rack up credits faster. But be careful not to take on so many classes that you sacrifice your quality of life and learning. Meet regularly with your advisor to stay on track with your course load.
BUDGET BOTTOM LINES » Some of the most important numbers to watch come with a dollar sign. Because financial problems are a major reason for delayed graduations, have a plan to meet expenses. Know what your tuition and fees amount to and where those funds are coming from. At the beginning of the term, write down what costs you expect (books, supplies, phone, travel home) and how much you’ll have to cover them. Don’t forget to earmark some money for unplanned expenses and for fun. For more on honing this important skill, see the January student edition of Paths to Opportunities.
PART-TIME PAY » A part-time job can help cover expenses. But if you’re working more than the 12 hours a week experts recommend, be sure you’re not sacrificing credits for that paycheck. If your job is preventing you from taking as many courses as you’d like, or doing as well as you’d like, consider whether delaying your graduation and compromising your GPA are worth the work hours now.