All college students share the same goal-to graduate. But the time it takes to accomplish that goal varies between students. Some students take their time, while others are on the fast track to the real world. But what determines the length of a student’s college career? It may have to do with how many degrees a student is pursuing, and his or her area of study. It could also be a student’s extracurricular activities, or if he or she has a part-time job. A student’s social life and party habits could also play a factor. But SDSU students Justin Larson and Laura Haatvedt say there isn’t one specific determinant of how long student is in school. They agree that it depends on the individual.
No Need to Rush
Justin Larson is like a majority of SDSU students. He has been in school for five-and-a-half years. But what makes Larson unique is that he doesn’t plan to graduate for at least another year-and-a-half, maybe two.
“I am in really no rush to get out of here,” he sys. “There are some people who have been here as long as I have, but they are all graduating (this year).”
A mechanical engineering major and math minor, Larson says there isn’t really one reason why he has been in school so long. He is in the Air National Guard, and the government pays for his tuition. That allows him to continue school with out the financial stress.
Part of it could be that he has been active in several student organizations. Throughout his time at SDSU, he has been a part of Residence Hall Association, the University Program Council, Capers, Engineers Without Borders, Cavorts, Delta Chi and the skydiving club. He was vice president of the Students’ Association during the 2003-2004 school year and Mr. SDSU in 2004. He has worked at Info Exchange, and currently works as a night assistant in Waneta Hall. For the last three summers, he has been an orientation leader.
His involvement in extracurricular activities hasn’t severely hurt his grades, but it has forced him to take fewer credits. But he is slowly moving away from student organizations in order to focus on his academics.
“This year I want to concentrate on school, but I keep getting roped into stuff,” he says.
However, Larson enjoys being involved in campus organizations and would do it all over again, mainly because of all the people he meets. His involvement allows him to interact with all types of students. as well as faculty who may be good references when he does graduate. He likes seeing a familiar face on campus, or having a freshman recognize him from orientation. Larson honestly believes the best thing about staying in college so long is meeting people and making new friends.
But that also has it’s down side. Larson has had to say goodbye as many of his friends go off into the real world. He still has friends at SDSU, but he is known as “the old guy.”
Another reason why Larson has stayed so long is because he has a deep passion for SDSU. SDSU is the only university Larson, a Volga native, has ever known.
“I can’t get away from it. I grew up with this college,” he says. “Blue and gold is in my blood.”
He has never thought about transferring to another school, or doubted SDSU is where he should be. He has always known SDSU is his home. Other colleges don’t compare, and that is what makes it hard to leave. He once thought about studying abroad, but couldn’t fathom leaving SDSU. He isn’t sure what he’ll do when he actually has to leave.
“I haven’t thought about that graduating thing, but when it comes, I might take a few classes to extend (my stay),” he says.
He even gets a little sad in the summertime when the majority of students are gone.
“SDSU is what I like and … when it empties out … a little bit of me goes with it,” Larson says.
He loves SDSU so much that when he actually graduates, his ideal job would be one at SDSU, perhaps a position in student affairs.
On the Fast Track
It takes some students three-and-a-half years to finally decide on a major, but Laura Haatvedt will complete a major and two minors in that amount of time.
Haatvedt, a journalism major and Spanish and political science minor, is preparing for graduation in December. Her primary reason for such an early graduation? Finances.
“I wanted to graduate without student loans,” she says.
She managed to get through college without student loans, but has had help from her parents and grandparents and has worked summers to pay her tuition bill. She has worked quickly so that she won’t have the burden of school loans once she finds a job.
Haatvedt also took several advanced classes in high school that counted for college credit, which has helped her reach graduation early.
“Basically, before I even started, I had 19 credits done at SDSU,” she says. “My high-school activities prepared me well for the transition.”
A flexible major has also helped her move quickly through college. She says journalism isn’t a demanding major, and the coursework and professors are flexible.
Like Larson, Haatvedt has been involved in several university organizations including women’s choir, “The Pride” and the Collegian. She was also a lifeguard at the HPER Center and a resident assistant. She is now a night assistant at Binnewies Hall.
But her activities got to be too much for her, so after two years at college, she decided to weed out most of her activities and concentrate on graduating.
Many of Haatvedt’s friends will be in school for a few more years, and although it will be hard to leave them behind, she doesn’t have any reason to stay back. She doesn’t see a point in taking classes that aren’t worth her time just so she can graduate with her friends.
Although she doesn’t currently have a job lined up for graduation, she is ready to start her career. She has been preparing clips and sending resumes to possible employers
“I think I will miss the social aspect of college (but) I definitely won’t miss spending money instead of making money,” she says.
College was personally stressful for Haatvedt, and now it is time to move on.
“It’s a chapter of my life that I’m ready to close,” she says.
What’s the Average?
Dean of Student Affairs Marysz Rames says SDSU students are usually in school for four to five years. Although the university has never ran comparison numbers, Rames has read in national education reports that the average college student is in school for six years.
Scholarships such as the Jackrabbit Guarantee and South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship give students a certain amount of money if they take 30 credits each school year. Rames said these scholarships are used to encourage students to graduate within four or five years.
“We are trying to encourage students to say on track with financial incentives,” she said. “As a university, we are making a real effort to help our students graduate within a reasonable time frame.”
Rames says extracurricular activities and jobs have an effect on how fast a student will graduate, but four or five years is ideal.
The average college career differs for land grant schools, according to a study done at North Carolina State University (http://www2.acs.ncsu.edu/UPA/tools/attrition/). The study said that Ivy League Schools and traditional universities have 20 percent more students who graduate in six years then land grant universities do.
The study also showed that 67% of students graduate in six years. However, the Web site failed to indicate the percentage of students that graduate under six years and the percentage that graduate in more than six years.
The study says universities can improve graduation rates through several ways, such as increasing quality of incoming students, increasing financial aide, improving academic or culture climate, increasing faculty support and enforcing an academic policy.