Charting Your Path to College Graduation

I support our nation’s focus on students graduating on-time from college and being prepared for a world that is changing quickly. With college students, I like to create a plan to guide them in earning their college degree by their expected graduation date. These plans show them how to finish on-time while incorporating the requirements and credits needed for graduation from their chosen college. Along the way, we can update the plan to manage for changes yet stay on track.

Credits Required for Graduation

Course loads vary across colleges. It helps if students select colleges that have terms and course loads that fit them. Which of these options would you prefer?

  • College A has its students take 3 courses per term and enroll in 3 terms per year. Students here take 9 courses annually and 35 courses are required to graduate.
  • College B has its students take 16 credits per semester and enroll in 2 semesters per year. Courses are primarily 3 credits and here 128 credits are needed to graduate.
  • College C has a block system in which students take one course at a time for 3.5 weeks with 4 courses each semester. Each course is worth 1 unit and 32 units are needed to graduate.
  • College D has 2 semesters in which students take 3 courses for a 12-week term, then 1 course for a 3-week term. Each course is 1 credit and 32 credits are needed to graduate.

Earn Additional College Credits

Students might earn additional college credits are by taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams or taking college courses at other institutions of higher education. Consider these options:

  • Investigate college level-courses at your high school or through nearby colleges that may advance your interests or help you learn to manage higher academic demands.
  • Explore classes at colleges where you will spend the summer. Courses may be offered online or at flexible times that allow for a summer job or internship.
  • Community colleges, public or private universities nearby may offer colleges at an attractive rate, which allow you to save money and earn credits to obtain your degree sooner.
  • As a college student, work with your advisor or registrar to identify and get pre-approval for courses or internships to be sure available credits will transfer towards your college degree.

Distribution Requirements

Distribution or core requirements today often include classes on technology, cultural diversity, and global issues. Think of college requirements in thirds: one-third core courses, one-third major courses, and one-third the student’s choosing. Here is some advice that might help you:

  • Some universities have more core requirements than others that may amount to about 50% of the degree. This changes the number of credits available for majors and exploration.
  • Look for courses that count toward more than one requirement to ease the load of distribution requirements.
  • Students are encouraged to complete distribution requirements in years 1 and 2, although it is okay and sometimes wise to pace them over longer periods.

Choosing Majors

Perhaps you know someone who majored in economics and is now an actor or who majored in music and is now a doctor. Choosing a major does not define you, instead it allows you to gain expertise. In some disciplines, courses in the major must begin before a major is officially declared. Also, students should know how changing or choosing a major affects their ability to graduate on-time. Here are some issues to considering when choosing majors:

  • Declare a major by the designated time at your college. Then carefully weigh the pros and cons of changing your major, which could delay your graduation.
  • Compare  the pros and cons of completing a degree on-time versus extending your time in college, which may result in more borrowing or paying tuition and fees without any income. You may want to finish your degree, then take additional courses later to strengthen your marketability or pursue other interests.
  • Some colleges offer a major that is interdisciplinary with few designated courses. This allows students to incorporate more courses of their choosing.
  • At some colleges, a student can design a major, give it a name, and designate the courses. However, this requires a great deal of initiative and planning.