Bogged down by studies
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Six Years at College is the New Norm

Many people refer to a college diploma as a "four-year degree." However, nowadays, it often takes much longer to earn this credential. Actually, most students are on the five-year or six-year plan.

The reasons stays on campus are extended vary. Some situations are avoidable. But others aren't. Some colleges simply enroll too many students. So graduation is delayed as they compete for limited space in their required courses.

Transferring college, or changing majors, can set you back a semester or more. That's because your earned credits may not be accepted, or may not fit the requirements of your new program.

Financial problems are a big reason many interrupt their education. Sometimes, if money runs out, a student may have to seek full-time employment, and return to school later.

Students who don't make a smooth transition to college life may find they need to take a break. On average, about 30 percent of college freshman do not return as sophomores, a figure that's higher at community colleges. (A more competitive school with stringent application requirements has a better retention rate.)

All of the above scenarios, added up, make for an "on time" graduation rate of only about 40 percent. With the annual cost of tuition hovering above $60,000 at some private schools, though, staying on campus can get very expensive.

Taking longer to reach the goal
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Nearly Everyone Attends College

It used to be that only the top students went to college. But that has changed. In most high school graduating classes, nearly everyone has plans to earn a degree. However, many of these students are not prepared for the academic rigors.

After six years, only about 60 percent of students who start college will leave with a diploma. By law, colleges must make their six-year graduation rates public, so prospective students can decide if they should commit to a particular institute, based upon that figure. 

At most elite colleges, though, the picture is different. About 90 percent of students will earn a degree within six years.

Knowing that your campus stay may be delayed is useful information. You can also take concrete steps to stay ahead of this benchmark. These will greatly reduce the time and expense associated with obtaining your bachelor's degree.

Private Colleges have a Better Graduation Rate

The nation's private colleges have a better track record of on-time graduation, according to information compiled by US News & World Report. The reasons for this, though are not clear.

Private institutes may offer more of the courses needed to graduate, at times that can be scheduled without conflict. Or, perhaps, these schools attract a wealthier clientele. One of the leading reasons for dropping out is not being able to afford to pay tuition.

The US News & World Report article included only one public college in its top 30 list of schools where you're likely to leave campus on time. This was the University of Virginia.

The rest of the schools, where an extended stay in college was not likely, were private. These included Webb College, located in Kenyon, New York. At that campus, about 92 percent of students enrolled typically graduate in four years.

Williams College in Western Massachusetts, Bowdoin College in Maine and Carleton College in Minnesota, can also boast of high on-time graduation rates.

Make Sure Your Credits Transfer

One way to virtually ensure you spend extra time on campus is to transfer from one four-year institute to another. Oftentimes, when this happens, your earned credits do not move with you.

Right now, according to the National Student Research Clearinghouse Center, about 33 percent of all college students switch to another campus before they graduate. This figure appears to be higher than at any time in the past.

Many of the receiving colleges will not accept all of your credits, a practice that has caught the attention of lawmakers in various states. These many complaints from constituents have resulted in legislation that require credits earned from public institutes, including community college courses, to be transferred within a state college system.

This is absolutely a public policy issue, as public education is largely funded through taxes. Not accepting courses from another accredited institute places an even larger burden on the end user, already strapped with student loans.