As you watch your classmates cross the stage and receive their diplomas, you may feel pangs of both jealousy that they are heading out into the real world to start their careers and worry that you may fall behind in the professional world because you aren’t graduating “on time”. Take comfort in the knowledge that you aren’t alone. In fact, a study conducted by Complete College America found that most students don’t graduate “on time” and the Department of Education found that less than 40 percent of students graduate within four years.

But what does this mean for you as a fifth or even sixth year senior, anxious to complete your degree and catch up with your peers who have already graduated? It means that you may not be as far behind as you think, and that most employers won’t notice if you take an extra year of two to complete your education since most of their candidate pool is in the same position. However, it is important that you understand how to highlight what you gained through extending your college career and promote those experiences as strengths that will help you in the professional world.

The following are reasons that may have kept you from graduating in four years, and how they have prepared you for success in the real world.


Study abroad: Are you staying an extra year or two because you chose to put traditional studies in the U.S. on hold to study abroad? If so, you will now be able to converse with potential employers about how you used the time studying abroad to acquire meaningful communication skills while immersing yourself in another culture. Don’t forget to mention that through studying in a different country, you were able to gain an international perspective which prepared you to be a part of a diverse team in the workplace!

Work: It is important to note that if you are holding a job while in college you are in the majority. According to research released by Georgetown University, approximately 70% of college students split their time between their studies and working. Not only are you earning a paycheck that will help you to graduate with less debt, but you are also improving your time management and professional skills that will help you to jumpstart your post grad career.

Personal hardships: Sometimes life events occur that cause you to postpone graduating for a year or more. Sickness, financial struggles, family emergencies… All of these are unavoidable and can make graduating in four years impossible. Although these life events present obstacles, if you are able to graduate despite these roadblocks you will be able to confidently enter the real world knowing how to manage work and personal issues.

Lack of advising: In certain cases, a lack of academic advising has caused students to get off track and push back their graduation date due to a lack of necessary credits. Although every college course that you take has value, not every class is needed for your degree which is why it is important to research and be aware of the specific courses you need to graduate. If you did take unnecessary credits that led to delaying graduation, take your experience as a lesson on why being a self-starter and investing in your own success is crucial in the real world.

Double major: As you get closer to graduation, you may notice that you have enough overlapping credits to earn a second degree with only a few extra semesters in college. Earning a double major and having that second body of knowledge to boast on your resume is a huge selling point when you start applying for jobs. It demonstrates that you went the extra step to diversify your education.


Chances are that an interviewer isn’t going to ask you why you graduated in five or six years instead of four, but if you find yourself delaying graduation it is important that you are able to discuss how your extra semesters prepared you for a post grad career.