Time to Graduate

When entering college, there’s a timeline that you’re expected to follow of being able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within four years. Whether you’re attending community college for two years and then finish your final two years at a university, or you complete all four years at a university, it doesn’t really make a difference – but you’ll finish in four years, or that’s what we’re told.

I started my college career by entering community college at seventeen years old. I didn’t want to be there because I had no clue what I wanted to study or what university I wanted to attend, and quite frankly, I was ashamed to be attending a community college. Realistically, community college is nothing to be ashamed of and is an impressive steppingstone for your education, but I couldn’t see it that way at the time. If it were up to me, I probably would have taken a gap year, but my family encouraged me to take courses at the community college and to just figure out life while I was there. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what I wanted to do because that’s what college was for, to figure it out.

Mac laptop with a You Got This sign

I didn’t have much guidance at my community college and pretty much had to figure everything out on my own. There was an online portal that told you what classes you needed to take and how far along you were in earning your associate’s degree, which is what I was trying to do. However, since I was figuring this all out on my own, by the time I was ready to transfer after two years, some of the courses I had taken no longer counted when transferring. I hadn’t finished my associate’s degree in the two years as I had planned while others my age had already completed two or more degrees. I ended up spending four years attending community college when it was supposed to only take two. Most people earn their entire bachelor’s degree in the time I spent at community college, and I hadn’t even been able to earn my associate’s degree in that time, despite being a full-time student for all four years.

It was embarrassing and uncomfortable seeing all my friends from high school graduating and entering their careers while I felt so far behind. I was happy for them but felt small in comparison. I didn’t know why it was taking me so much longer than everyone I grew up with. I was smart, dedicated, and committed to my studies. Why did it feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere?

Years

I was sick of being at community college after not completing any sort of degree in four years and applied to a few local universities. I got accepted into them and was thrilled that I was finally progressing in my education, and that my time at community college was worth it.

I entered university the fall after I was expected to have graduated with my bachelor’s degree; had I graduated within the typical four-year college timeline. To my surprise, there were still people that I went to high school with attending college. They hadn’t graduated in the four years either, which meant I wasn't alone in this experience. After speaking to them about their time in college, I could see that they also experienced a slight embarrassment of not having graduated when we were expected to. It was in those moments of seeing familiar faces and speaking to them that I realized I was ok. The four-year timeline didn’t matter, it’s just a guideline.

Now that I’m graduating with my bachelor’s degree, six years after starting my college career, I am happy and accepting of my college journey. I realized that I needed that extra time to learn, grow, and mature. It wasn’t even until my last year of college that I found my passion and career interest. Had I graduated in the four years as I planned, I wouldn’t have discovered these other career paths that now excite me and are available to me.

Taking six years to graduate taught me a lot. Aside from the education my college career provided me, I learned that everyone’s path is different and it doesn't benefit anyone to compare your journey to someone else's. We all have different struggles and life plans that are going to change how we progress and because of how different all our lives are, it’s not productive to compare where we are to where our peers are, as much as we want to - it's not a competition. We need to trust the timing of our lives and know that everything is happening for a reason, whether we see it at the moment or not. I’m grateful to have earned my degree no matter how long it took me and I’m even more grateful for those “extra” two years of experience and life lessons that I was able to learn from and use to prepare for life after college. We should never be ashamed of the timelines of our lives and realize that an accomplishment is an accomplishment, no matter how long it took.