Maybe you’re a freshman with no idea where your academic interests lie. Or a sophomore planning to change majors. Or a junior thinking about dropping some classes because they cut into practice time for your new band. Or a senior with a serious case of indecision. Whatever your situation, you may be considering adding a fifth year to your program.
One thing’s for sure: if the only way you can get your degree is to stay for a fifth year, then you should definitely stay. Graduating from college sets you apart from the majority of people in the job market. A college degree, even from a less than famous school, will open a lot of doors that will be forever closed to no-graduates. So if it takes a fifth year to graduate, do it.
But taking an extra year should not be your first choice. Consider the economics. An extra year may cost $5,000-$25,000 in tuition and expenses. Regardless of who’s paying, that’s a lot of money. And if you have college loans, it just adds to your future repayment burden. But that’s only half the story. By staying out of the job market, you cost yourself a year’s salary. Maybe it’s $20,000. Maybe it’s $40,000. In either case, it’s money that would be going into your pocket.
Beyond dollar signs, you may pay a penalty when you look for a job. If nothing else, you’ll need to explain to potential employers why you couldn’t get a four year task done in four years. Convincing them that it was reasonable is not an insurmountable obstacle, (particularly at a school where it’s difficult to get required classes) but it’s not what you want to discuss in a job interview.
There may be some good reasons to take a fifth year, but there are lots more that aren’t so good. Continually changing majors, for example, sends a negative signal to employers. At some point you need to stick with the one you’ve got and get that degree. There will be plenty of opportunities to reroute your career after you leave school. A desire to just “take your time” or “have as much fun as possible” will not send you to the top of an employer’s “most wanted” list either.
Remember, when it comes to college success, four says more.