Friday, April 13, 2012

Time Value of a Full Schedule

Photo by Jiri Holden
Here’s a crazy question, if you knew you would burn out of college in six years what level of education would set as your goal?   Would you go for a masters degree, or set your sights lower for a bachelors degree?  It is technically possible in the time frame allotted to get the masters, but if you spin your wheels you could accomplish far less.  

A typical bachelors degree takes about 40 courses to complete and should be doable in four years regardless of the statistics on the average time to completion.  It is very common to switch majors in college, so people tend to take longer.  Mental effort up front to really decide where you want to go will save you years of extra work and debt.
Taking 18 units (6 classes) in a traditional semester schedule often has the same cost as 15 units (5 classes).  Finding enough study time is the limiting factor, because for every hour you sit in the classroom you also need to put in another couple of hours studying.  Taking a “soft” schedule to ease into college is not a good idea because of the value of time involved in doing college courses.  

People often warn kids to ease into their courses in order to get a feel for college, but you will have plenty of time to study if you correctly manage your time.  It will take 4 years if you take 5 classes each semester. If you load up on classes during summer, you can cut out a whole semester.  However if you take one less class (4) each semester, it will take 5 years. 3 classes will extend you to 7 years!

Last year I had a meeting at a nearby community college, and when I step on campus I expect to see ex-students, but that time I saw a student who had graduated six years ago! This is an extreme case, but it illustrates some serious issues.  I believe you want to succeed, but you will have to work hard to keep making progress towards your goal of getting your degree.  There are many things that can slow you down, so you must make getting the degree done quickly a priority.  

Time is money.  You do not have the luxury to keep switching your major over and over as others do.  When scheduling classes make sure everything you take has a purpose in getting you closer to your degree.  When you go to a buffet, you cannot eat everything because there are too many choices and there is only so much space in your tummy.  

You will find lots of really cool classes that do not fit into your major, and each excess class represents an increasing threat to your likelihood of finishing.  If you determine that you are not cut out for a particular degree, switch quickly to minimize the time consequences of switching majors.  The further you progress, the more classes you will probably have to do to satisfy the requirements for the new major.