While a college experience that goes beyond the traditional four years has become much more common*, graduating from Northern Michigan University in four years is possible. However, many factors are involved in determining a student's time to graduation. Here are some things to consider and discuss with your NMU student.
Obviously, graduating in four years can result in a significant cost savings. In addition to saving the cost of tuition (about $8,700 in 2012-13), your son or daughter may be making as much as $41,700 in the first year after college, the national average starting salary for a new college graduate.** There is an exponential element to those savings for several years after graduation.
The goal, of course, is to complete the degree--regardless of how long it takes. People with a bachelor's degree earn more than twice as much as those with only a high school diploma.***
So college is definitely a good investment.
Credits per semester: Most NMU degree programs are designed to be completed in four years. This is based on the assumption that a student finishes an average of 16 credits per semester. Many students make the decision to take 12 credits, which is considered to be full-time from a financial aid perspective. However, to complete a degree in four years will require taking summer courses and/or several semesters with more than 16 credits. That said, some students may choose to take fewer credits due to a heavy work schedule, being able to perform better academically with a lighter load of classes or desiring a study abroad or internship experience.
Work and social loads: NMU encourages students to take on a part-time job, on campus or off, during their collegiate experience, as studies show that students who work while attending college usually do better than those who do not. But working more than 20 hours a week puts a strain on studies, and sleep. Many students work a lot of hours not simply to help pay for their education, but because of the spending choices they've made. You may want to discuss with your son or daughter which expenses are essential during this time and which are luxuries.
We also encourage students to get involved in organizations and activities, keeping in mind that balance is crucial to being a successful college student. It is possible to get too involved. While these are valuable experiences, a student's primary focus should be on learning and earning a degree.
Changing majors: There is nothing wrong with starting college without knowing what to major or minor in, or changing one's mind after a year or two. It is important for every student to find a field they enjoy and are passionate about. Changing majors more than once, though, often leads to additional time to complete a degree. It's a good idea to fulfill the general liberal studies course requirements while exploring degree options to stay on track. Your student's academic adviser will help develop a strategic, practical plan. Assistance is also available through the Academic and Career Advisement Center (www.nmu.edu/acac).
Choice of major: Some NMU degrees have additional requirements that are very difficult to complete in four years. Students in programs such as education, nursing and accounting/financial planning should plan accordingly.
Out-of-the-classroom experiences: Study abroad, internships, practicums and volunteer opportunities are experiences that can add significant value to one's collegiate career and degree. Employers seek graduates with hands-on life and work experience and a global perspective. Often students can engage in these activities within the four-year period of their degree, but sometimes they cannot. A student must assess whether the learning value of such experiences outweighs the time and cost that are sometimes associated with them.
You can help your college student by discussing these factors that impact time to degree completion and encouraging your son or daughter to work with his or her academic adviser on developing a four-year plan. Charting a road map will help ensure that students succeed at NMU and beyond.
* National average of graduating within 4 years (public institutions) is 29%; Michigan 17.5%; NMU 18% (National Center for Education Statistics).
** Average starting salary for 2011 college graduates, National Association of Colleges and Employers
*** U.S. Department of Education (2012), for 2010