If you think about it, four years is a really long time. Four years is a presidency, four years is the time span between every Olympics, four years is the length of Kim Kardashian’s first marriage (and more than 20 times longer than her second, infamously brief marriage). And when you’re 21 or 22, the age of most graduating seniors, four years is little more than one-fifth of your lifetime. Like I said, four years is a long time.
At some point in our nation’s history, the administrators of American colleges and universities decided four years would be the standard allotment of time for obtaining a bachelor’s degree. A lot can happen in that time, and each of those years holds valuable experiences for every student.
But four years is not for everyone. I never would have thought four years wasn’t for me until one day, it just wasn’t. I wanted to go out and try something new, and I knew a lot of people who felt the same way but hadn’t done anything about it. I had the credits thanks to APs, full schedules and Winter Term classes, so I decided to graduate a year early.
I have friends at other schools graduating in three years, taking gap years at the start and in the middle of college, and interning away from campus for their final semester of college. What I am doing is no different than what they are doing: I was veering off the traditional college path, something that is becoming more and more common with the rising cost of college.
When you combine cost and time spent at universities in the U.S. compared to other countries, the picture looks a bit bleak for Americans. In England and Wales, for example, a taxpayer pays roughly $15,000 per year for a university education, but most undergraduate programs only last three years. India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and most countries in Europe follow the three-year system as well.
I don’t want to bash the four-year system, but I think looking at other countries’ trends helps put things in perspective. The four-year experience that so many Americans have come to know is not the norm. It can be a great benefit for some people, but for others, four years is too long or not long enough.
Regardless of how much or how little time you devote to obtaining a degree, the purpose of college is to have a meaningful experience that will help you hone the skills you need to start a career. Hopefully it will help you improve yourself as a person along the way.
While three years, five years, two years or six years might seem odd to the majority of four-year students, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” College is, also a journey and regardless of the length, it’s what you do on that journey that makes it count.