What to Do if You Find Out You're Not Graduating on Time

Students begin their college career with their life seemingly mapped out. They begin by scheduling the classes they think they’ll major in when suddenly a year later they realize that was a terrible mistake. They realize their skills and passion align with an academic department different from what they envisioned as a starry-eyed high schooler applying to colleges.

When students actually begin taking courses designed to help them with their future career, they might realize that track might not be right for them. As a result, their graduation date may be delayed in order for students to catch up with their new intended path. Here's what to do once you find out you're not graduating on time.

1. Don’t panic

Many students who enter college end up changing their academic path after a semester or two. Students may even choose to take a semester off to pursue volunteer opportunities or job training. Many students are also working part-time or full-time jobs for financial reasons which may disrupt academics. Although academic advisors show you the direct path to graduation, it may not be as uninterrupted as you’d like.

Sarah*, a junior from Lehigh University, says, “My brother had to work full time while going to college to support himself so he ended up taking a fifth-year of college to finish up his degree. My family was proud of him for finishing at all and now he’s employed!”

Remember, your pace is the best pace!

2. Get in touch with the financial aid department

The panic most students have is about student loans and financial problems. Maybe because you're taking more credits your scholarships or grants will no longer cover the costs. Or maybe your parents, who were previously helping you handle the finances of college, no longer can.

Schedule an appointment with the financial aid department to discuss your options. You may be able to apply for additional scholarships, grants, etc to help fund the rest of your college career. Get informed about any student debt and track when you’re supposed to start making payments. Logging onto FAFSA will soon become a regular occurrence. The more information you have about your financial information, the less it will feel like a hurricane when payment requests start rolling in.

3. Remember you’re not alone

There are thousands of people in your exact situation. Believe it or not, not everyone came into college with a “passion” and pursued it endlessly and perfectly. Students had to retake classes for a better grade; students had to wait for a semester for a class to open up. College is messy, and we all make mistakes. The important thing to remember is that you’re not in this alone. There are dozens of faculty members, advisors, and mentors available to help you along the way.

Mary*, a fifth-year from California State University Long Beach, says, “I was worried about not graduating and getting a well-paying job on time, but I realized that every career path is different. My friends may be done with college but many of them had different majors and didn’t have to work full-time like I did. It’s hard to compare. I made new friends in my final year of college, which I didn’t think would happen. I have a job lined up after college with my business major and I don’t know if that would’ve happened if I didn’t raise my GPA by retaking classes.”

4. Don’t quit

Graduating, the seemingly tumultuous uphill battle is an accomplishment that shows persistence and dedication. Of course, there are success stories of people dropping out of college and becoming billionaires. But if you have the financial capability and time to learn, why wouldn’t you use it?

Millions of young people around the world would kill to be in your shoes—just to be able to attend college—so don’t waste that opportunity. If you’re not graduating on time, you’ve probably put in a few years of college to know this. Getting a degree may not guarantee a million-dollar salary, but it will be a credible indication that you put years’ worth of hard work into pursuing something. That is something to be proud of.

5. Get academic help

Perhaps you feel like you have too much on your plate. From job searches to club meetings to a part-time job, you’re being pulled in too many directions to just sit down and focus on your academics. Sit down with your schedule and mindfully plan how you spend your days. Sometimes, you’ll have to give up intramural sports for accounting tutoring, and that’s okay.

Meet with your advisor. Their job is to help you map out your schedule so you're using your remaining college time efficiently. Go to office hours if you need extra help from your professor. This one on one time may be intimidating, but if they're aware of your graduation situation, they may be more accommodating. In addition, many universities have other resources if students need extra help. Facilities and programs such as math and writing centers, peer tutoring, etc. may be just what you need to ace those exams. A lot of self-discipline is required in college. Choosing to wake up early and go to the library is no easy feat, but it will always be worth that academic degree.

You may feel like you’re drowning in college, but we’re here to tell you that there’s hope. Get help with whatever you’re struggling with. College is meant to be challenging, and you’re not alone. You will graduate eventually, so good luck!