Is a Four-Year Program Easier Said Than Done?

Given the unsteady economy, rising costs of a college education, and concern by parents and students that a four-year program is easier said than done, are we doing students a disservice by encouraging them to explore interests and majors, perhaps change majors partway through school, and/or include co-curricular experiences like education abroad and internships? After all, their goal may be to streamline their college careers and enter the working world sooner rather than later. Can students really “have it all,” or should academic advisers consciously help them stay on a more defined four-year path?

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    Michelle Chung

    In my opinion, college is an experience you can have only once in your life, and experiences like studying abroad and internships make it a richer, more well-rounded academic journey. No size fits all for students, so advice should be tailored for each student. Some people come into college knowing exactly what it is that they want to do, and that is an instance where streamlining their college careers would be a beneficial option. In regards to encouraging students to explore their interests and majors, this would be more beneficial for those who are not as sure in what they want to do. It should be a balance of encouraging students to explore their interests as well as reminding them that college is expensive and they should make the most of it. There is time for students to change their majors, but one question to ask themselves is, do I even like what I’m doing? They shouldn’t have gotten halfway through their majors to then realize they don’t like it. Another alternative for those who really have no direction is to take a gap year. If someone isn’t sure, they shouldn’t be paying to be indecisive.

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    Joe Dolciotto

    It is difficult not to be cognoscente of the rising costs of school tuition in the 21st century when advising a student. We do not want the student to be in debt into his fifties; we do not want kids spending more than the extraordinary cost that they have to. Yet, i do not believe a disservice is drawn from encouraging a student to explore a different major. I do not recognize it as a different major, but maybe that it was the “right” major, for the student, all along. I think that problem rests more with today’s educational discourse, as opposed to the advisers. Our actions,contemporary, towards attending college/universities demonstrate that we exhibit a bit of a lag in understanding the financial burden that comes with attending college. It was not like this during the mid to late 1900′s. Today, it is important to have an idea what your interests are before attending school; or to at least organize your schedule so one is not taking aimless classes. Though, this is all besides the point. Inheriting a student that is not really sure what he is doing, and why he is doing it, is a common occurrence at any school. Though, this does not mean that we drastically alter our advising techniques to better fit into the 21st century educational discourse. Sure we should not encourage students to waist semesters on electives, but if a student has a passionate interest in another field, lets lead them down the path that will make them happier in life. Even if they will be juggling debt with it.

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    Alexandra Gabriel

    The question of whether a four year program is easier said than done is dependent on the student. Theoretically, universities devise a four year plan because it is very attainable and pretty easily accomplished. However, then lies the circumstances of student who do not have a clear sight on what they want out of their college experience, and sometimes things get in the way. Parents would love their children to finish college in four years not just because that is what they have been telling their family and friends but because it is the most cost efficient. Obviously if you must study for an extra year then it will cost more money, which many people don;t have the luxury of spending. Failing grades, changing majors, and over loading on double majors and minors interfere with the sight of graduating on time… with improper planning that is. Students can “have it all” but sometimes they just need some extra help from resources such as advising centers, or resources that will help students get better grades and figure out what they really want from their college experience of hopefully 4 years.

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    Marc Isaac Boyd

    The college experience is unique to everyone. Because each student has their own goals, desires, interests, and passions, it is difficult to say that there is one or another ideal way to go through college. Do you sacrifice everything else to make grades the highest priority? Is playing on the soccer team more important than maintaining a good GPA? At what point are you over- or under-involved in campus life? These are things that no advisor can tell you, that you must figure out for yourself based on personal goals and experiences. Certainly four-year programs are not for everybody, just like trade and vocational schools are not for everybody, just like dropping out to pursue a major league baseball career is not for everybody. And every year, some people will make the ‘wrong’ decision – that’s just how people work. The job of the advisor is to help a student explore all of the different opportunities and routes to the working world that exist on campus and arm them with the tools they need to utilize these resources so that they can figure out for themselves what feels right.

    As someone who has taken a decidedly more holistic approach to my own college experience, I can honestly say that there is no substitute for experience when it comes to exploring the differing clubs and organizations our particular university has to offer. Just get out there and try stuff. Everyone’s got a major, some career-oriented path that they learn about in class, an industry they’re preparing to work in. But what about a passion? Does everyone have something in their life that reminds them on rainy mornings why they should get out of bed? I honestly have no idea, but I believe that everyone should. EVERYONE should find what really makes them tick and college is a fantastic opportunity for doing that. With hundreds of different RSOs and even types of people, you’re sure to find somewhere to fit in if you make the effort to look. Of course grades are important and there’s no sense in coming back to the University year after year without ever making some sort of plan. But it is just as important to remember that we live in an unconventional world, and no two people will ever have the exact same experience in college. Whether you spend two years or six as an undergraduate, the fulfillment you take away has more to do with how your spent your time, not necessarily how long it took. Who cares about how you got your degree? Ten years from now, the answer will be only you. So make the experience count. Our jobs as advisors is to help that happen.

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    Sarah Troupes

    The four years you spend in college could be considered as important if not more so than one’s developmental years. College for the majority of people is when you learn about yourself and who you are, make lasting friendships, discover new knowledge about the world and hopefully figure out what you want to do in the future. There are so many incredible opportunities available to college students that are only offered during these four years such as studying abroad, internships and co-curricular activities. Trying to discourage students from participating in these activities as a way to graduate in four years is actually doing them a disservice. The window of time that they are available to students is so small, students should try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.

    I strongly believe that it’s more important to fully experience college and explore new interests and majors than it is to graduate in four years. Instead of graduating on time students should be more invested in getting as much out of their time in college as possible whether that be through taking exciting classes or studying abroad. College is such a special time in a person’s life and if the only goal is to be streamlined into a career then students aren’t going to be able to maximize their learning and personal growth.

    Academic advisors should be there to help keep students on track to graduate but that should not be their only purpose. They should be there to help students plan their schedules so they have enough time to explore their interests with exciting classes, but also still have time to participate in other extra curricular activities. Because after all when else are you going to be able to join the belly dancing club or be on a Quidditch team?

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    Sindi Nune

    College is the most important four years of an individuals life. We debate and synthesize the most important decisions and experience many life-changing accommodations and adjustments to life. Through this time of trial, students learn about themselves; they comprehend what they aspire to be, they envision the future and how these four years will serve as a stepping stone to reaching the ultimate goal of success and happiness.

    Needless to say, it is in our nature to change our minds. Whether it is two minutes from now or twenty years from now, every human being has the ability to change their mind about what they want to do with their lives. We are put through a four year program in college, earlier in life rather than later, in order to discover more about ourselves and that can only happen through trial and error.

    It is by no means a disservice to us students when mentors and advisors encourage students to try out new opportunities. These opportunities could involve taking a random class, joining co-curriculars or simply playing a pick-up sport. The only limitation that I would implement if I was in charge would be the requirements that are set besides the major. Students should not be forced to further study subjects such as General Education classes that the students have no interest in. It is unfair to allow students to pick their major as they please, and then force them to take random classes that do not pertain to their major. I feel like all that does is ruin students GPA’s because the students aren’t as invested as they would be had it been a class that they wanted to take in regards to their preferred major.

    College is really what a student makes it out to be. A student can have the best four years of his or her life, or the worst. It all boils down to which opportunities they take advantage of and how much time and commitment they are willing to invest for their future and their life goals. A four year degree program is the best system to allow a young adult to figure out which path they want to take with the ability to utilize the trial and error system.

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    Chloe Brown

    After reflecting upon this question for some time, I can’t see that there is one answer that is applicable to all students, in every major, in every college or university. College is the time to find yourself, as corny as that sounds, in every sense possible. It’s in college that we branch out, make new friends, join different clubs, and discover academic opportunities that were never before available to us. Who can say if that it will all fit in a four-year path?
    It’s safe to assume that most students didn’t have an opportunity to take archaeology classes, environmental conservation classes, or philosophy classes in high school. The first few years of college is truly the first time students are able to explore their academic options and field of interest. It’s during this time that many of us discover what were passionate about. It would not be right for an advisor to pressure students into declaring a major before a student has fully developed academically just so they make it out in four years.
    Undergraduate years also provide an amazing, unparalleled opportunity for students to study abroad. Not only is this a great academic decision, it’s also a fantastic way to become more culturally aware and experience cultures completely different from your own. For most of us, it’s safe to say this is the only time in our lives when we’ll be able to live in a different country and feel close to achieving native status. For lots of students, study abroad is encouraged by their majors and fulfilling requirements is not difficult while abroad. There are some majors though, like many science majors, who find it difficult or intimidating to study abroad because they worry about completing requirements and graduating on time. For some, going abroad might mean attending school for an extra year or even an extra semester. However, as a student who is going through the process of applying to study abroad programs, I strongly feel that going abroad is an experience that should be viewed not as a chance to get away for a while, but as a chance to educate ourselves in a way that simply studying in the US could not.
    In my opinion graduating in four years is not as important as getting the most out of your college experience. However, my personal academic priorities and opinions do not represent those of my peers. So in conclusion, if a student feels a four-year plan is what they need to succeed, then that’s what they should aim to accomplish, but they should not restrict their academic and personal growth to a time constraint.

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    Nadia Rahgozar

    This question left me thinking for some time about my path and time in a four year program. Saying a four year program is easier said than done is quite a broad statement. A student’s four years in college is a time when they are supposed to experience and learn new things, make mistakes, and meet new people. If you were to ask any adult about their time in college they remember it has all these things, and a time they would never forget. I do not feel that a disservice is being done for students when they are being encouraged to explore interest and majors, as well as co-curricular experiences, study abroad, and internships. The reason being, this is the only time in our lives where we can explore and try all these things. Once you are out of college, the idea of study abroad in a foreign country may never cross your mind because life changes after college. High school is a time when sports and clubs are important, but college even more so. This is because the networking that occurs from this clubs and groups helps one be more successful in the long run. Activities, internships and studying abroad all help one in the future land great jobs or meet successful people. We aren’t thrown into college to just simply take credits and graduate with just having taken classes, it is more about what you experience outside of the class that will last with you forever. Students can “have it all” if they use their resources, such as academic advisors, to make sure they are taking the right steps and won’t have any problems. If a student feels they do not want to be at a university for four years than they can streamline their college careers to enter the working world sooner, but in my opinion the four years we have in college are the only ones that allow us to make mistakes, be a part of many things and learn where we want to be and who we want to become.

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    Diana Alsabe

    The ever-so-insightful Ferris Bueller once said something that I loosely paraphrase as life going by pretty quickly, and that if you blink, you just might miss it.

    Although I’d never be so quick to credit mister Bueller with any form of legitimate wisdom, it’s impossible not to take his epidemic yearbook quote and frame it within the parameters of college life– we blink, and the deadline to declare a major is looming before us. Open our eyes once again, and it’s time to walk the stage.

    Upon applying to college, we are promised a sea of opportunities. We prospective students are encouraged to arrive as undecided majors, and utilize the seeming plethora of time that is given to us– these endless four years– to figure out what we want, and consequently execute it within this minuscule time frame. Glossy pamphlets offered us majors in foreign languages and conceptually incomprehensible mathematics, and microbes and laws and literature, and yet we are expected to dabble in every single one, stick our toes into every field imaginable until we finally discover our niche. But then we blink, and the deadline to declare a major is looming before us. Open our eyes once again, and it’s time to walk the stage.

    However to find a niche is a journey of it’s own, isn’t it? Encountering that corner of academia that fulfills us is in fact “having it all,” but perhaps for others, “having it all” carries an entirely different term. Relatively speaking, to “have it all” could be to micromanage, to select a major right from the start, and to tailor one’s schedule and extracurriculars and work study to suit this popularized four-year-plan. Certain majors require more courses than others; some call for additional labs and seminars while others mandate internships and extracurricular involvement in exchange for a promising future in careers. Some try to balance out the myriad of co-curricular activities, both academic and non-academic, and as courses and interests and the ever-present need for sleep collide, sometimes the four-year path seems less than possible.

    And thus rises the individuality of human interest. Interests diverge and change, and sometimes what seems like a worthwhile major during the first weeks of freshman year, reveals itself to be an unbearable field of academic study just weeks before the deadline for declaring a major arrives. Life arrives unexpectedly, and an additional year of college, if necessary, should be the decision of that individual student. Advisors should sense a student’s interest– whether they are more intent on graduating within the traditional four-year path, or would prefer to seek a modified, extended college career. Based on the student’s personal interest, advisors should be willing to guide them accordingly. Whereas the four year path is more economical, if it is the choice of an individual student to take additional time to explore their interests, then advisors should work in conjunction, to introduce them to different fields of interest and help them narrow down their interests so that students don’t spend excessive time and money being undecided.

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    Jackie Labonte

    It is hard to answer this question for the general population of a university because no one path is right for all students. The four-year college education is one that offers some leeway for students, where the requirements can be fulfilled in a shorter time of four years depending on their workload but for those students who need more time figuring out their path it gives them time. All students have the time to take various classes which can fulfill General Education requirements and help their weary mind find what interests them and what profession they want to pursue. This is especially advantageous for students who come to college undeclared, and in reality many other students who come in saying they want to be an engineer or history major but then find themselves switching majors senior year. High school does not give students enough breadth of classes to take to explore career options and this is why a four-year college plan often works for many students.
    However, students can sometimes graduate a semester or two early because they have enough credits to do so and discovered their career choice early on. This still gives them enough time to participate in extra curricular activities, internships, and programs such as study abroad that gives them beneficial skills for the work force. Getting this experience will NEVER put a student at a disadvantage if they can partake in activities while keeping up with their academic work.
    Students really can “have it all” by graduating earlier than four years and still getting the most out of their college experience. On the other hand, a four year plan works better for some students and so neither should be the definite guideline for all students, academic mentors should advise students individually regarding their timely plan at the university.

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    Lindsay Feitler

    I feel that the statement “Is a Four-Year Program Easier Said Than Done?” does not give college students enough credit. College is the four years of your life where you’re expected to make mistakes and change your mind a few dozen times, and it’s acceptable. It’s a time to try things that you never dreamed of doing and study abroad in a foreign country and change your major from Legal Studies to Biology to Anthropology. College is the time for students to get involved and join clubs if they weren’t involved in high school. UMass Amherst offers hundreds of different clubs that students can be a part of, which have the possibility of landing them a career in the future (ie working for The Daily Collegian). I believe that all of the activities that students are involved in on campus with only help add to their resume. Also, students have plenty of time to complete their credits and be extremely involved and graduate in four years.

    As a psychology and sociology student who is pursuing a minor in education and is involved in Greek life and other extracurriculars, I am able to graduate in three years, instead of the expected four. I believe that students can “have it all” and are still easily able to graduate in the expected four years, or even earlier, to save money. This University also allows students to get a credit override so they can take more than the maximum of eighteen credits a semester.

    Allowing students to explore other activities is not giving them a disservice in the slightest. If a Hotel and Tourism Management student does an internship early on and hates working in a Hotel, they can discover that HTM is not the correct major for them, and quickly change their major. If they hadn’t done the internship, they might have graduated with a degree in Hotel and Tourism Management and hate their career choice. Also, when a student studies abroad they gain so much culture and also learn how to interact with other adults when placed in new and uncomfortable situations.

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    Marion Schwartz

    Just recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published news of a study showing that exploration, especially that done early in one’s college career, does not delay graduation at all. As for co-curricular activities, given the huge importance of work experience, internships may be the best time investment any student can make towards the first job. Running projects for a club provides practice in managing people and getting things done. Study abroad can teach one how to negotiate global business. Of course, students can squander their opportunities, spending their out-of-class time on parties or Facebook or drinking with other Americans in a bar in Spain. But the thinking skills, leadership, practical organization, and problem solving that grow out of combining theoretical learning with practical applications are crucial for the formation of responsible adults. Taking a bunch of on-line courses as fast as possible without much human contact doesn’t get the job done.


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