Parents might focus on tuition and room and board prices and ignore another culprit that makes school more expensive: staying in college for longer than four years.
It’s a common problem, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Just 41% of full-time students attending college for the first time earn their bachelors’ degrees in four years.
Extra time at an institution is expensive. For 2019-2020, the average costs for college tuition and fees are $10,116 (public, in-state); $22,577 (public, out-of-state); and $36,801 (private).
Parents can set expectations for their children, but having a game plan on how to achieve a four-year degree in four years (or less) is most useful. This starts before college applications are underway:
Select the right major – The US Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics found about one-third of students enrolled in bachelor’s programs change their major within the first three years of attendance. Most teens aren’t sure what profession they want to pursue. Even among those teens that have something in mind, the real world job experience might not match their expectations. See what your high school district offers in terms of career counseling and internships. In our district, students can job shadow or intern with businesses so they can gain exposure to job experiences. This can help solidify – or change – career plans before one cent is paid on college tuition.
Lay the groundwork – Credits earned during the high school years at local community colleges and universities can reduce the time (and money) spent to earn a degree. Again, getting exposure to different studies before a major is declared makes a student better informed about what major to pursue. This, of course, has a domino effect because students are more apt to choose a school that fits their needs better (and accepts their credits), reducing the likelihood of transferring. For college freshmen who are undecided about their studies, starting at a two-year community college that has a partnership with a university (i.e., the credits will transfer) is a cost-efficient way to go.
Meet the Requirements – Some colleges have extensive required courses. If these courses are not offered every semester, or if they fill up quickly, upperclassmen may find themselves unable to graduate on time. As early as freshmen year, students should look to get these courses out of the way. Find out if taking these classes on-line or during a semester break at a local community college is an option and make sure to get approval with the institution before signing up.
Do Your Homework – Four-year graduation rates are often publicized by institutions, as they take great pride in that distinction. U.S. News & World Report is a great resource.
The college selection process can be overwhelming. Following these tips can help focus the college search and support graduating on-time with less drag on your finances.