Degree of Difficulty

Students and student life have changed, but degree plans haven’t.

By Katie Sanchez, The University of Texas at San Antonio


As a freshman entering college, finishing your college career in four years seems totally possible.

You have your classes’ required textbooks and tutoring lab you can use to ensure a successful semester. Nothing can bring you down, because the five classes you enrolled in sound so much fun and some of your friends are going to have class with you, so there’s nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong.

Why Finishing College in Four Years is UnrealisticBecause of all the negative effects they have on you, taking 15 or even 12 hours in one semester is absolutely deadly. While you attempt to maintain reasonable grades, stress, tears, long nights and endless cups of coffee become the only life you know.

Despite the struggle that 12-15 hours bring to students, some universities are promoting “Finish in Four,” a program designed for college students to complete their degree plan within four years. Though the program is supposed to help students in the long run (such as saving money), the program is ultimately unrealistic.

1. 30 Hours in an Academic Year? 

If students were to follow the “Finish in Four” program, they would need to take about 30 hours per academic year, which means students could enroll for 12 hours in the fall semester, register the same amount of hours for the spring semester and take the remaining 6 hours during summer time. And though enrolling in 12 hours each semester beats taking 15 hours per semester, not all students can afford summer school.

Yes, some undergrads can apply for summer financial aid and scholarships to ease the financial burden of school, but sometimes taking out more loans proves to be a bad idea, and other students often get the scholarships you applied for. Funding isn’t impossible to receive, but it occasionally feels like there is only one option when paying for summer school: get more in debt.

2. Changing Majors Happens

Going into college, some students might have an idea of what they would like to major in, but almost 50 percent of students are undecided. Most universities require about four semesters worth of basic classes, so undeclared students have approximately two years to declare their major.

However, sometimes it takes students a little bit longer to establish what they would like to do for the rest of their lives, so there’s no way that they could finish university schooling in four years.

Even if a student knows which degree to purse, there is a 50-70 percent chance that they will change their majors once during their college career; however, most students will switch majors at least three times before obtaining their degree. The “Finish in Four” program doesn’t leave room for such actions, so the program is basically telling its student to pick a path and stick with it.

As students experience college, their interests alter with each class they take, person they meet and club they join.

Therefore, having to settle on a major can be a difficult task—especially since college students are being exposed to new cultures, different experiences and such. What a student was passionate about yesterday can change as they wake up the next day.

3. Stress Affects Students

Even though schooling allows students to expand their minds, there is no denying the fact that learning from various professors at once causes stress upon students. In fact, the 2015 National College Health Assessment proves that college students’ mental health goes downhill within a year due to school.

According to the study, 85.6 percent “felt overwhelmed by all [they] had to do,” and 81.7 percent “felt exhausted (not from physical activity)” in the past 12 months. The statistics demonstrate the mental struggle that students undergo as they attempt to earn that piece of paper with their name printed on it.

At this rate, the “Finish in Four” program is basically telling their students that, not only do they need to pass all of their classes to earn their degree, but they also have to acquire all the necessary credits within four years, even with these high percentages of poor mental health. If feeling overwhelmed and exhausted wasn’t enough, 63.9 percent of students “felt very sad” and 56.6 percent “felt overwhelming anxiety.” Negative emotions take their toll on students, which can lead to their grades dropping.

How do universities expect students to keep their grades up as they feel the weight of the world on their shoulders?

4. Jobs + School + Extracurricular Activities = Death

Yes, having a solid resume is important, but it sometimes feels like universities are constantly hammering resume-building into their students. They’re like, “Hey, you need to look good for the job market, so make sure you get really good grades,” which makes you think, “Okay, yeah. That’s totally doable.”

But then they come back to tell you, “Oh, also, don’t forget to get involved, because that looks good too,” making you think, “Um, I’ll try.” And for those who rely on jobs to remain financially stable are told, “Oh, you need to work to pay for rent? You can do all three if you manage your time correctly!”

Though it’s great that universities are attempting to prepare their students for after graduation through resume-building, some students cannot juggle jobs, school and extracurricular activities at the same time.

About 70 percent of students are working while attending school, clocking in an average of 30 hours per week.

According to the University of Michigan-Flint, if a student is working 30 hours in one week, they should be enrolled in only 3-9 credit hours, but that isn’t possible if a student needs to finish in four years. In addition, if a student were to enroll in four classes, they would have to commit to about 24-36 hours of study time.

Math time.

So that’s 30 hours working, 12 hours of class, plus 24 hours of studying, which equals to 66 hours (about 3 days). With that being said, college students need to dedicate at least 3 days of their week for work, class and studying, so where does extracurricular, sleep and a social life fit in?

They don’t.

As it is, students who are working while enrolled in classes experience great amounts of stress and anxiety, which negatively affects their schooling and makes them less likely to earn their degree. Imagine what would happen to the students if clubs were added to the mix?

Though universities are implementing “Finish in Four” in the best interest of their students, the program is ultimately unrealistic and does more harm than good. Sure, saving thousands of dollars is great, but shouldn’t the health of a student be greater than money? Universities can’t expect students to not be stressed out, settle on a major and have an endless supply of money to pay for classes. Students need to take their time in university instead of being pushed out the door.

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