For many, the image of college is one of four years, eight consecutive semesters on campus and sticking to a major picked at the age of 18. We believe we’re expected to have our lives figured out at such an early age and stick to the plan because of pressure from parents, the perceptions we’re given about how our college experience should look and the financial stress to make it out of college in four years.
However, these perceptions are extremely misleading. According to NBC News, 80 percent of college-bound students haven’t decided their major. Further, 50 percent of students end up changing their major. Forty percent of students on a four-year college program track will not have earned their degree in six years.
The New York Times reported only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years at public universities. At selective, research-intensive institutions, only 36 percent of full-time students acquired their bachelor’s degree in four years. Graduating in more than four years has become so common that education policy experts are now using six years as the benchmark for students to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and three years to earn an associate degree.
We believe there is a stigma surrounding students who do not graduate in four years. But not graduating “on time” isn’t a matter of capability. However, given the statistical reality, why is it so negative for someone to change his or her major? Why should someone be looked at in disbelief because they take a semester or year off to figure out their identity, go abroad or participate in a co-op?
It’s not necessary for us to have it all figured out when we enter college. Although some people do, it may take more time for others. The college experience doesn’t have to be a rigid, unchangeable four-year experience. A student may have come to Lehigh because it’s an accredited business school, but then discovers a year into college that they have a passion for the arts and would be much happier doing that instead. The college process is flexible, so why not take advantage of it? By doing this, we’re allowing what’s best for us in the long run. Because what’s the point in paying tuition to attend Lehigh if you aren’t majoring in something that makes you happy?
Although some people may believe our college experiences need to happen on-campus, it’s possible that some of the best experiences may not even happen at Lehigh. There may be a point where you’re studying abroad in Spain, looking at pictures of your peers at the 150th Lehigh-Lafayette game and start to experience serious fear of missing out.
But even though going abroad, co-oping or taking a semester off may cause us to miss out on some Lehigh experiences we think we’re suppose to have, we may look back and realize that the experiences we had away from campus were just as, if not more, rewarding. Part of being in college is taking advantage of its many opportunities. Even though Lehigh is a relatively small institution, we have the chance to apply for programs like the Lee Iacocca Internship or the Global Citizenship program – both programs that help subsidize a student going abroad. Applying for these programs, or one of the many other diverse programs Lehigh offers students the chance branch out and make the most out of our experience.
It’s not necessary to force our college experience to fit any kind of mold. The experience is ours. Sometimes students take a year off to figure things out, work on themselves, or have an internship or job. That extra year or alternative learning experience may be what they need, and students shouldn’t be afraid to stray from what they need. It’s import to recognize our limits, opportunities, learning styles and needed breaks, and to act upon what’s best for us.
With the growing numbers of students changing majors or not graduating in four years, it shows college expectations aren’t all that defined. When we finally do walk across the stage at graduation with our diploma in hand, it won’t matter how long it took us, where or when we earned our degrees. What will matter is that we made it.