The 4-Year Myth

What can you do in 4 years?

4 years is only a small chunk of life, whether you live to be 70 or 90. So what can you accomplish in 4 years?

You could meet someone, fall in love, move in together, get engaged, get married, and have a kid or two. You could get a college degree. You could change careers. You could move to a different country and learn a new language. The possibilities are endless.

I call the idea of having to finish college in 4 years (no more, no less) the 4-Year Myth. In high school and even middle school we are pushed to believe that we MUST finish college in 4 years, or even less! A long time ago somebody decided that 4 years was how long it takes the average student, taking a full load of classes, to get a Bachelor’s degree.

But what is the “average student” anymore? With the economy not looking any better then it did 2,3, or 4 years ago; people are going back to school to try to get better jobs, advance in their field, or change careers. Working full-time and going to school full-time, assuming they each take 40 hours per week, is a 80-hour week. There’s 168 hours in a week, so roughly half of your time is spent at work and school. The rest of the week? Responsibilities, friends, kids, family, stupid drama, grocery shopping, etc. etc. Not to mention the things you NEED to do- eat, sleep, shower.

The “average” student no longer exists.

My point is that we are pushed so hard to believe we have to finish college in 4 years. According to the New York Times, 4/10 (that’s almost HALF) of college students are enrolled part-time. Only a QUARTER of these part-time students will EVER graduate. While the sample for that study was small, it showed that less then a third of students enrolled at 4-year universities (and a quarter of those at 2-year schools) graduated “on time”.

So what does this all mean? If you are in a class of 100 people your freshman year of college, statistically only  about 33 of them will graduate on time.

But we continue to push ourselves to graduate in 4 years. Who decided that four is the magic number? I rushed through college because I was very worried about making it in 4 years, not wanting to feel like a loser for graduating after my classmates who remained in college. As I near the end of my college career, I wish I had stopped to smell the roses and enjoyed college and its unique experiences more.

You may say “easy for you to say Aimee, you are almost done with college.” You are right, it is easy for me to say. But with my graduation looming  in May, I am starting to look back at my mistakes and my triumphs. Now I realize, rushing through college in four years was a big mistake.

Only in college can you go to bed at 4am, wake up for your 7am class, then go back to sleep at noon until dinner.  Only in college can you go to a party every night and study during the day. Only in college can you play ridiculous pranks and set things on fire and get away with it. Only in college can you drink and smoke at 9am without being put into rehab. Only in college can you participate in the yearly underwear run where all the coeds run wildly across campus. Only in college will you find a steaming hot sausage pizza delivered to your door at midnight.

So what’s the short story here? Only a third of people will graduate in four years- they may be too busy, they may work full time, they may just not care, they may be too busy partying, or they may just want to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the college experience. The best four years of your life doesn’t necessarily have to be only four years long.

Being an adult sucks, and if there’s anything you take away from this post, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE 4-YEAR MYTH! MOST PEOPLE DON’T GRADUATE IN FOUR YEARS ANYWAY! There is no reason to beat yourself up for taking an extra year or two to finish your classes. Take it all in, and enjoy every day because eventually you will have taken all the classes and someone will putting a graduation robe on you. At that moment you will realize it’s all over. So no matter who you are or how old you are, take it all in and enjoy college.


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