Graduate on time

Be aware of common traps that can extend your college stay

Graduate on time

The super senior: unofficially defined as the college student who isn’t quite ready to let go of the glory years; the lingerer who should have graduated with your older brother but instead will have class with you next semester. 

While these stereotypes exist, super seniors are also made of up students who fall victim to avoidable traps brought about by poor strategic college planning. 



Here are four traps that can keep you from graduating on time and strategies to avoid them!


Not enough credits

According to Morris Jones, academic advisor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (, many students find themselves in a hole with credit hours because they only pay attention to financial aid’s definition of a full-time student.


“Financial aid is what dominates the discussion,” Jones says. “Twelve credit hours is their minimum but at that rate of 12 hours a semester, they will be out in six years. It’s all mindset. Students see the 12-hour minimum and are either misinformed or too scared to take on a bigger load. Students need to have at least 16 credit hours a semester to graduate on time.” 


Incoming freshmen need to recognize that summer school does not carry the same stigma that it does in high school. An added benefit of summer classes is the light schedule that allows you to focus your time on one or two classes, giving you a better chance at doing well. 


Study abroad

College offers opportunities to experience places the average person couldn’t afford otherwise; yet gaining these experiences often puts you behind in course work. Debra Bernstein, director of advising at the University of Southern California (, says students often enter into study abroad programs that are not in accordance with their major, and are welcomed back to campus with a semester of coursework to make up. Bernstein suggests you enter study abroad programs that align with your major, which are offered at many schools. 


Empty credits


Empty credits can appear when students score lower on placement exams and are placed into prep courses that prepare them for the degree requirement course but don’t count toward their major. Classes like these make extensive pre-planning essential, explains Jones. When choosing your schedule, pay attention not only to the overall subject of the class requirements, but which of those classes within that subject will count for the major.


These empty credits have the ability to push back graduation. For example, if there is a three-hour empty credit in a 16-hour schedule, when planning for graduation, students should consider it a 13-credit hour schedule.



Changing majors

Most colleges report that the majority of freshmen are undecided. It’s OK not to have a first choice right off the bat, but once the choice is made, be prepared to deal with an extra course load if the major changes. Sometimes courses may overlap, in which case the requirement load will not be as heavy. Be sure to talk to counselors and ask for updated four-year plans as soon after a change of major as possible. 


Even though graduating in four years is rare, with adequate strategic planning and hard work, it can be done.


Lauren Wilkins is a recent graduate of Indiana University ( where she majored in journalism and entrepreneurship.




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