College Survival Guide: The 10-year plan

Jason Hersey/Sun Star Columnist
Oct. 15, 2013

The constant reminder to finish your college degree in four years stares at you from bulletin boards, windows and banners hanging all over campus. However, those happy students on the posters neglect to tell you of the tremendous pressure a four-year degree puts on a student.

Pumping through a four-year degree is the fast track to the work force and paying back student loans. But most students end up taking out more loans this way, as there is little time for work and often less financial aid available. Students finishing in four will have to take 15 credits per semester without changing their degree plan or taking any extra courses. If you have taken 15 credits in a semester, you know it doesn’t leave any time for work and less money for play.

Just wait until those credits are all at the 300-400 level!

Your college career doesn’t have to be just about the classes. Plan for the great wide world ahead while maintaining a certain degree of sanity. Your wallet will likely thank you.

When I started my university career in 2003, I was on the four-year plan. My first year, at a private school, cost me $25,000 for general studies courses that I could have taken from a community or state college for much cheaper. By my sophomore year at UAF, I was taking Physics and Art classes thinking that both were fun and interesting. Had I continued in this vein, I would have been 22 or 23, with around $35,000 in debt, which is the average for a four year degree at UAF according to The B.S. in Physics wouldn’t have helped me figure out what to do for work as undecided as I was. Luckily for me, I slowed down, traveled some, and came up with a long-term plan to finish my degree.

It’s not that I condemn the four-year plan; it works really well for some students. But I imagine there are many students that are not in the biggest hurry to start the nine to five daily grind, have babies or plan their retirement. Being a university student has some tremendous perks that evaporate away once yaou graduate. When else are you going to be eligible for student loans to travel the globe, tax-free student jobs, internships, free showers, cheap plane tickets,  and enjoy free bus rides around town?

Think about it.

Completing a degree once a student has declared her or himself a non-traditional student, one that would take six to nine credits most semesters, takes real discipline. It is easy to get caught up with all of the other things the great wide world offers, but with the right plan, it can be extremely rewarding.

Enjoy being a student. Take six months off every now and again for mental health purposes or to make some cash. As long as you return to school, you don’t have to begin paying those student loans quite yet. Also, take advantage of the being a 24 year old student finally eligible for Pell Grants without including your parents income. You will have plenty of time to put in 25 years of work for somebody, even if you don’t start until you are 30.

So if those happy students on those “finish in four” posters start snickering at you by your sixth year, just tell them you are planning a well-rounded future.

“I am developing my work experience,” you tell them, “traveling to cool places, getting the most out of my classes and having more fun than you on the weekends.”


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