Tips to Avoid Negative Effects of the 6-Year College Trend

It now takes the majority of college students five to six years to graduate with a “Four-Year” degree. Experts say this is because the majority of students enter college with no clear idea of what they want to major in. As a result, most undergraduate students change their college major before graduating. Many students change once, but in some cases, students change majors 3 or more times. 

A change in majors can delay graduation by a few semesters to a few years, depending on when the change is made and how related or different the new major is. Planning for college—and a career—can help high school juniors and seniors start college in the right direction. 

You Don't Have to Take Six Years to Graduate!

This is why students should determine a major and career before college. For a student, not knowing the best career and major introduces the risk of a long, stressful, and unrewarding college experience. If a student is excited about what they’re studying, they are more likely to be motivated to do well. That enthusiasm also helps a student stay focused. This is especially important when classes get tougher and other things compete for a student’s time and attention. 

Tip for Students: Invest the time to identify a field you’ll enjoy every day. This is key because that’s exactly what you’re signing up to do. You’ll immerse yourself in this field of study for a part of nearly every day for the next four years! 

Having an interest in a field is just part of the equation. It’s important to look beyond the classroom to possible careers in that field. Learning about the different types of work within a field can eliminate one field and make another shine in comparison. Working indoors in an office cubicle is a completely different experience compared to conducting outdoor field research tracking marine life. 

Tip for Parents: Help your student explore the many different types of teams, organizations, and various work environments. Provide examples from your experience. Refer your student to friends, relatives, or colleagues who can shed some light on the multitude of options open to them. 

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

We often hear the same comments from people who have taken the PATH2 program: I had no idea that was an actual job! We hear it from recent graduates to professionals looking for a new career. “If I had known this was a career option earlier, I would have done it in a heartbeat!”

The fact is, we’ve been doing college backwards for a long time. There is a long list of problems with waiting to choose a career until the end of undergraduate study. The list starts with taking up to six years to graduate college. This waiting, or letting it “sort itself out,” sets students up for six years or more to graduate. Most students don't plan to change majors multiple times or to spend an extra year or two in college, or to drop out. But in reality, it happens. Being more confident and focused going into college can help to maintain motivation through to graduation. 

Tip for Students: Seek out volunteer roles, internships, or temporary work in your areas of interest early in your college experience—even in the summer of your junior or senior year in high school. This gives you an inside look at daily tasks and work environments. It may help you identify or eliminate fields or careers. 

Tip for Parents: If your student is interested in a specific career and major, discuss with them the types of work and varying work environments available. Look at the course requirements for the major and make sure those are areas your student enjoys. Encourage your student to reach out to professional groups or individuals to hear their insights and experiences.

Many people also don’t know that these additional years in college can be the most costly. According to administrators at Temple University and the University of Texas at Austin, an extra 2 years at their campuses could increase student loan debt by nearly 70 percent among students who borrow. 

The extra years account for a larger portion of student debt for a number of reasons. Consider a family that planned and saved for four years of college. Any added years will often be covered using loans that were not in the original plan. Tuition and the cost of living continue to increase every year. As a result, the last year is almost always more expensive than the first year. Without knowing how long a college education will last, it’s difficult to plan effectively. 

In 2021, annual college tuition ranges from $11,000 to over $40,000. An extra two years could rack up another $20,000 to $100,000 of unplanned expenses. These are two years that, in many cases, could have been spent working and earning a salary (an average of $50,000 for college grads in 2021) paying back student debt instead of adding to it. 

Investing in the Future—It’s More Than Financial

Getting the most out of the financial investment in college is front-of-mind for most students and their families. But it’s also important to think about college as an investment of time and effort for your future. 

Tip for Parents: Set aside a few times to discuss your student’s “game plan” for college and beyond, including career options, professional growth, college majors, and where they would like to live. 

Tip for Students: Ask teachers, coaches, club or organization leaders, and friends’ parents or siblings for input and feedback on your work style, interests, things you are good at. They will most likely have some helpful insights!

It’s important to take the time before college to explore and consider careers. Knowing the best career and major will provide focus and motivation. Students who know their best career are much more likely to get the most out of their college years including: 

  • Graduating in or around 4 years.
  • A positive college experience studying a topic they are good at and passionate about.
  • Landing solid internships, which are necessary to get their Top Career choice at graduation.
  • A happy and successful 35-to-40 year career.

Need Some Help?

If you want to determine the best options for yourself or your student, you’re in the right place! The PATH2 program guides students to confidently identify their Top Career and Best Major before entering college. Learn more about what makes PATH2 different from all the other tests and assessments available.