OPINION: The stigma against not graduating in four years

Rose Donnelly, Commentary Editor

Long robes and square hats. Large stages and even larger crowds. Students lining up, shaking hands and empty diploma folders handed over. Speeches given to futures they are now entering, the past they worked so diligently to get to this day. Long hugs and even longer goodbyes.  

Graduation is a cheerful time for many students; an overall sense of relief with a tad bit of anxiety for the unforeseen future. Even with the joy of bittersweet endings and joyfuls beginnings many students feel burdened with not being on the same time track as their peers.

Colleges and universities push students to graduate in a four year time frame, making advisors tell their students “15 to finish.” Meaning, if a student takes at least 15 hours each semester, they will graduate on time. Even going as far as praising students who graduate early because they did “more work” than their peers… Which isn’t the case. 

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Filling your schedule to the limit doesn’t make you better than your peers who take 12 hours and graduating early doesn’t gain you any more merit than graduating “on time.” 

What does graduating “on time”even mean? If a student doesn’t finish their degree (or degrees) in four years, they are deemed as slackers or not trying hard enough. 

In the long scheme of things, four years isn’t much time to figure out what you want to do with your life, and with that once you’ve hit junior year, you are basically required to know what you want to get your degree in. 

If a student was influenced or pushed into one concentration, breaking out of a preconceived mold can take years to find what you’re genuinely passionate about. 

If a student picks a major that doesn’t have a lot of job opportunities or doesn’t pay as much, they are demeaned because as a capitalistic society, we want people who can provide for themselves and the economy. 

Why do we shame people for finding what they are truly interested in? 

They cost money. Whether that be via loans or scholarships, they are costing people money to further their education. 

Senior Sophia Scharosch, a dietetic major, shares her experience in changing her major late into college and how that affected her mental health. 

“I was a nursing major and when I was a nursing major, I was going to graduate on time,” Scharosch said. “It became a situation of, do I just push through it and finish off or do I mentally help myself.” 

Scharosch changed her major from nursing to a dietetic major during fall 2021 of her senior year, making her graduate a year later than she had previously anticipated.

“I told myself, I needed to do what was best for me,” Scharosch said. “And so then I changed my major to dietitian, which I love. And so I’ll graduate a year later, because some of my credits moved over, but not all of them.” 

A major decision Scharosch had to make was if she decided to change her major and take another year in school, was she able to pay out of pocket after her four year scholarships ended. 

“All my scholarships are done after four years. If I really want to go five, I have to be down to go five,”  Scharosch said. “I went back and forth, talked to a lot of people and got different opinions and then I decided to change my major,” Scharosch said. 

With the negative feedback Scharosch initially got, she hated the reality that in order to do what she loves, she would be a year behind her classmates.

“At first I hated the fact that I was going to be five years, because then everyone was like, ‘Oh, well, you’re not graduating on time, why aren’t you graduating on time?’ That was the one big thing that everyone was stuck on,” Scharosch said.

Scharosch doesn’t regret changing her major “late in the game” because she is doing something that she loves and she knows that the extra year is worth it.

 “And now I’m okay with it,” Scharosch said. “If I want to do what I want to do, then I need to take the five years and it’ll be a little glimpse of my life in the bigger picture when I’m older so it’s definitely worth it.”

College is full of trial and error when it comes to finding the perfect major for you. The stigma we have with taking longer in college diminishes the possibilities a person might have if they did take that extra year or two. 

If you are thinking about changing your major, but feel trapped by the stigma we place on not graduating in a four year time frame, Scharosch encourages that you pick the thing that you love.

“If you’re gonna change your major to do something that you love, and that you’re passionate about, you should change it because you don’t want to regret it later in line,” Scharosch said. “Because you didn’t take the extra year because of a stigma.”

Commentary Editor Rose Donnelly can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @RoseDonnelly_