Graduate late
November 11, 2008 9:13 PM   Subscribe

I feel bad about not graduating on time. What should I do to feel better?

I feel like I'm taking too long a long time to graduate from college. I started in 2003, switched majors, took a couple of years off, switched majors again, and here we are. 2008-2009.

I am seeing people who graduated high school before me finish up and move on. I am seeing classmates I started with back in 2003 get on with their lives, get jobs, go to graduate school.

I know, of course, the most logical answer is to get done here as fast as possible -- no question about that. But my less logical side still feels a bit like a loser. What can I do to feel better? Any anecdotes of similar situations?
posted by Theloupgarou to Education (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a race.
posted by lee at 9:15 PM on November 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

To feel better, do something with your time that is valuable--whether that's finishing your degree or working on something you find to be worthwhile. Measure your success by your own self-improvement, not by comparing yourself with others.
posted by greta simone at 9:18 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

*to* others.
posted by greta simone at 9:18 PM on November 11, 2008

Here, I'll make you feel better. I started on a full scholarship at a four-year private university in 1994, dropped out in utter flames in 1997, went through a series of highs and lows, and went back-- to community college-- in 2005.

I'm 32. I graduate in January with an associate's in film studies. I have a good job, a steady paycheck, a roof over my head, enough to eat, and a great marriage. I just had to get my shit together.

Take your time, we'll all be here when you're done.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:20 PM on November 11, 2008 [8 favorites]

Grad students like me get this too, except we see our friends who got jobs earning money, buying cars and houses, getting married, having kids.... which of course can leave you feeling inadequate. But I'm sure a lot of my friends who are working now fondly miss the freedom they had while they were students, and the great community of peers around them. Learning to be satisfied with your own choices is something you're going to have to do sooner or later. Might as well do it now.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:22 PM on November 11, 2008

You're going to run up against people who did everything perfectly - the Barack Obama's of the world - the go-get'ers. I mean, there is always someone out there who is going to be across the finish line first.

The point is to realize that you're already so far ahead of the curve, just by being in college. Who cares that you're taking five, six, or seven years to do it? Most people don't get the chance to do in their entire lifetime.

Further, those freaky kids who graduate when they are 21 or so... you don't want to be one of those kids.

Be who you are. Be happy with yourself. Pursue things that will take you places and please your mind. And don't worry about other people's time lines...
posted by wfrgms at 9:34 PM on November 11, 2008

Think about all the people in your high school who are not in college at all.
posted by LarryC at 9:35 PM on November 11, 2008

Among my closest friends, six graduated from college in four years, and one graduated in his thirties after a couple of false starts. Of the six who graduated "on time," four returned to school in their late 20s or 30s to pursue a more mature interest or change careers. Makes me wonder whether college at 18 is all that great an idea for people who don't have a clear sense of what they want to do or where they want to go in their lives.

Also, life is longer than you think it is. And "it's not a race" is worth repeating.

And comparing yourself to others is almost never productive, IME.

Good luck.
posted by not that girl at 9:39 PM on November 11, 2008

Well, you are going to graduate aren't you? So, just think of it as a temporary condition. Picture yourself in a few years looking back on this day wondering why you got all bothered by it. Because in a few years that's exactly what you'll think. Best of luck.
posted by ob at 9:39 PM on November 11, 2008

You have learned something, and that is more valuable than the diploma. Having switched majors twice you've learned there are some things that don't interest you, and you can forget about "what might have been" in those fields; yet, you have some background in them and it will surprise you where such information suddenly becomes valuable. You've given yourself time to allow ideas and potential future paths to percolate.

You are using what you learned to select a path for the future. What could be more expressive of what a university education is supposed to give you?
posted by jet_silver at 9:43 PM on November 11, 2008

I'll go one better, since I just did the (ARGH) math tonight, as I started one of three courses left to finally finish my BComm:

Start in 1991 at university -- go until 1993, bail because I was a knob, meet girl, marry said girl, move to small town, restart part-time, have two awesome kidlets, take a year off to finish with the part time student crap (but didn't), get great job doing what I love (and am studying) -- and I'll finish (I hope) in May 2009.

18 years. For an undergrad. Oh, and I'll be 35.

Just for fun, I throw out "Master's" every once in a while to my SO.

Then I duck.

Very little stigma and such to worry about -- do it on your own time schedule. Nthing the "not a race."
posted by liquado at 9:47 PM on November 11, 2008

Don't compare yourself to others. Your only real competition is your self.

If that doesn't work for you, and you'd like to feel ahead of someone, I tried three times to get a degree, 85-85, 92-96, and finally, 2006-current, and if all goes well, I should finally graduate next year at age 42. You know what, it feels awesome.
posted by b33j at 9:48 PM on November 11, 2008

As my mom puts it, "'On time' according to who?" There is always so much other shit going on while you're trying to get through school, no one ever makes it out perfectly. Even though it might look it to you on the outside, there is always something not going right for someone, and we're all trying to get through as best we can. You're only doing what you can do, and no one can ask anything more of you. When you get done, you'll be done, and NO ONE will care about how long it took you.

In the meantime, echoing PercussivePaul, enjoy the freedom of being a student while you still can. The real world sucks (or so I've heard).
posted by messylissa at 9:58 PM on November 11, 2008

You can console yourself that it took me seven years. Look, you're where you are now. I don't know whether you wasted time in the past years, but I know you're wasting time now by worrying about it.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:04 PM on November 11, 2008

Make sure you get the most out of the school's resources while you're still there. Take advantage of the library and its expensive journal subscriptions--save a copy of any paper you find even remotely interesting. Use any student discounts you might have. Talk to interesting professors. If you're in a field that involves the use of expensive software, go down to the computer lab and play with it. These are the things you'll regret not doing when you're gone; you'll forget almost immediately about how long you were there.
posted by equalpants at 10:10 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Really, don't feel bad about not sticking with the whole four-year plan. I started going to college on a mostly part-time basis since 1997 and have only 30 more credits to go, but I just don't have the time to finish it off at the moment. Not everyone's circumstances lend themselves to conforming to old standards.
posted by phrayzee at 10:34 PM on November 11, 2008

Only one out of four people in this nation apply themselves to get a 4-year degree.

The way mine when, the fifth year was the bonus year. The sixth year was the extra year. The seventh year was the this-place-is-getting-old year.

I'm back in a half-time CC after 16 years and having a blast. Haven't missed a class, have done all my homework and the readings before class, aced every test, etc.

To paraphrase a saying, college is wasted on the young.
posted by troy at 10:57 PM on November 11, 2008

I know, of course, the most logical answer is to get done here as fast as possible

That's just not true. Finish on your schedule. If you feel burnt out, or are feeling like you are starting to burn out, then take some time off. Like everyone else is saying, there's no "right" schedule.
posted by philomathoholic at 11:31 PM on November 11, 2008

I got my bachelor's degree two years ago. I'm 38.
posted by O9scar at 11:33 PM on November 11, 2008

I'm in a similar position to you - started in 2002, had to repeat a couple of years through illness, graduated this summer. To make things worse, I was offered funding for a PhD that was then taken back for no good reason - just in time for me to miss out on the department funding my classmates had swooped on. Currently I'm looking for industry work in my field with the intention of coming back for a PhD in a few years. Up till last month, though, I was working in Subway, and now I've moved but am unemployed.

This was not how I planned my life at 18: by that reckoning, I would nearly have finished my doctorate by now...

The way I'm trying to look at it is that the extra years in university gave me a chance to learn a lot about myself, realise what makes me miserable/happy and, as it turned out, meet and get to know my partner (yay!). Working in industry will give me some time to figure out which areas of research I'm really interested in, rather than jumping into a studentship that might not have been a good fit, just because it was offered. And working in Subway was fun as well - I got to work in a team with some great people.

The point I want to make is, you haven't wasted the time at all if you've developed as a person because of it or learnt things (academic or non-academic) you might not have done if you'd taken the straight-down-the-middle path, and you definitely will have done. We will get where we need to be eventually, and probably better for the journey.

Equalpants is absolutely right about making the most of the school resources you have now. In that spirit, don't forget to talk to your university Careers Service about your plans after graduation. They'll probably be very helpful. And I realise this makes me That Person On MeFi, but ... you probably have access to free counselling there as well. If you have any problems you feel might be helped by talking to someone professional, it can't hurt to make an appointment.

Good luck with your final year of university!
posted by daisyk at 4:01 AM on November 12, 2008

I am going through a very similar thing right now. This is my thought process/how I deal with it:

1. There is nothing you can do to change how you got to this point.
2. How you got to this point was simply your path towards this degree, which does not have to match everyone else's.
3. What you can do is work as hard as possible today to feel good about your process.
4. When you're finished this degree, you will have A DEGREE.
5. Congratulations to me.
posted by meerkatty at 5:34 AM on November 12, 2008

I started uni in 2003, took time off to travel, switched universities, went on exchange, and I'm about to graduate. I have friends who have been earning professional money for two years now. My little sister has started college now!
But I'm getting a way-fantastically-cool degree that is perfectly suited to my interests, I had some awesome experiences overseas, and I've got some great stuff on my resume that has helped me line up a good job for graduation already.
In short: the logical answer is to decide whether or not you're happy with what you've got out of your time at college. If not, then figure out what you wish you'd done and start working towards that now.
posted by jacalata at 5:40 AM on November 12, 2008

College in 4 years? Try 5 or 6.

A report published recently by the Education Trust, an independent nonprofit organization, found that only 37 percent of first-time freshmen entering four-year bachelor's-degree programs actually complete their degrees within four years.

Another 26 percent take either five or six years. And the remaining 37 percent either don't get their degrees at all or complete their coursework in more than six years.

"It's atypical to get a degree in four years," said Kevin Carey, author of the Education Trust's report, "A Matter of Degrees: Improving Graduation Rates in Four-Year Colleges and Universities."

You're doing fine. And that article's from 2004; I'd bet the average time til graduation has gone up even more since then.
posted by mediareport at 6:06 AM on November 12, 2008

I took six years, at two different schools, with a couple years of part-time work causing some delay.

It's not fifteen years since I graduated and it makes not a damn bit of difference.

With the exception that I have more life experience and feel good that I was able to put myself through school and know what I made my own decisions rather than following a pre-set path.
posted by Miko at 7:04 AM on November 12, 2008

What's the rush? The economy stinks right now have the rest of your life to pursue your career and become a bill paying automaton like the rest of us.

It took me five years and a transfer of schools to graduate and that was 15 years ago. It has not mattered one bit in my career.

If I had it to do over again, I should have gone 6 years undergrad and even grad school as the economy when I graduated in '93 was not real great. Going to grad school gets harder as you get older and acquire more responsibilities.
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:40 AM on November 12, 2008

I started at my (VERY expensive) private university in 2001 on a partial scholarship. Then (deep breath)...

-Dropped out in spring 2004 after working three jobs, taking a full load of classes, and suffering from severe depression (and lost my scholarship for leaving),
-Worked full-time for two years, finally went back in fall 2005 - when I was supposed to have graduated the previous spring,
-Got mono in spring 2006 and had to withdraw for the semester,
-Went back in fall 2006, still while working two jobs,
-Got married in spring 2007 (two full years after I was supposed to have graduated), and finally finished in May 2007.

I cried (with joy, mind you) during my entire graduation ceremony. And hey, if I'd graduated earlier, I might never have met my awesome husband - I met him while on leave of absence. He wouldn't have been there to see me graduate either.

You are not a loser. You are not a loser. I struggled with this for three years, and you will get through it. Life is not a race, and I have an excellent job now that I wouldn't have without those years of work experience while I was out of school.

Also, my friends who zipped through in four years? Still living at their parents' houses, every bloody one of them. Having a degree doesn't make you an adult.
posted by timetoevolve at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2008

From the other a professor, I adore students who take breaks, start after returning from years in the military, and generally come to college late for whatever reason. This includes you and your breaks. Students like you are often more mature, more self-aware and have more perspective on life and their studies. I bet you exhibit all of those positive qualities without even knowing it.

College isn't a race, it's not about comparing yourself to some lame high school acquaintance. Compare yourself to who you were when you started college, four, five, six years ago. Have you changed for the better? Of course you have! If only students thought in those terms!

So yes, finish on schedule, whatever that is. Don't change majors again. But don't worry-- your experience in multiple majors might give you an edge in a shitty job market. And I bet if you hadn't taken breaks before, you'd likely be taking one now anyway, since that's the trend among students, and the reality of the economy.

Remember, compare yourself to no one but you and who you want to become.
posted by vincele at 8:20 AM on November 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Pfffff. Speaking from the experience of having taken much longer than you to finish undergrad, believe me, once you do graduate, this will become the biggest nonissue in your life. Nobody will ever even think to ask how long it took you to graduate. They might ask when you graduated, but all that will do is make them think you are a few years younger than you actually are.
posted by HotToddy at 9:54 AM on November 12, 2008

Enjoy College while you are still there!!

I graduated a few years ago and I have been (mostly) regretting that turn of events ever since.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2008

I know, of course, the most logical answer is to get done here as fast as possible -- no question about that.

No, that's not it at all. You'll still be all "oh, I got out X years after [whoever] did." Finishing isn't the point. Making the most of/enjoying the ride IS the point. You know why you didn't finish yet? Because you weren't supposed to. I know that sounds hokey, but you didn't, so that's the only truth at this point, right?

Also, I'll add in my math with the others who say "oh, you think YOU'RE late?" if it makes you feel better. I started in 96, switched majors, took time off, bla bla bla, started again in 2003, "ended" in 2007, seven years after I "should" have. So, you're beating me! Go you!

Honestly, after my experience, I believe that people SHOULD take more time off between high school and college for some real world experience. I had been thinking about college since, like 2nd Grade! How messed up is that? As a 25-year old in freshman classes, I remembered listening to some class discussions and thinking "oh man, they have NO IDEA, but that's cute." And I'd really like to know what percentage of people know what they want to do when they're 16/17 (the age when people start applying to college), and how many of them end up doing just that. (For the record, I had no clue. I would have said accounting if asked, I'm now a photographer.)

Basically, I know you will anyway, but please try not to sweat it. No one but you is keeping track. If they are keeping track, they're assholes. And who really cares about their opinion, since they're obviously so insecure that they have to find things that aren't "normal" about other people?

Also, to confirm HotToddy, I just turned 30 and everyone I work with thinks I'm 25ish. I attribute it to my smokin' good looks, but really, it's just because I graduated 1.5 years ago. (I do correct them when they say that. Still makes me feel good though.)
posted by AlisonM at 1:52 PM on November 12, 2008

Nobody graduates in four years any more. I'm the only one I can think of who did that. (I had a handicapped parent and would have gotten my ass thrashed if I wasn't out in four.) It is no longer any kind of shame to spend more time in school. Four-year graduates are weird, man. Besides, why end the fun so soon? I kind of wish I HAD been in longer, come to think of it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:59 PM on November 12, 2008

Train for a marathon. Or half-marathon. Or pick up a hobby that you've always wanted to learn how to do/make. Read a book/some websites about it and start working on it. It'll give you a sense of accomplishment and make you feel like less of a loser because you're working towards a goal other than just graduating.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:08 PM on November 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for your awesome replies! Every one of them was great, and I feel better. You've given me a different way to look at the situation. (Who needs therapy when you've got MeFi!)
posted by Theloupgarou at 1:28 AM on November 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm in a similar boat, started 2003, had some problems, and probably won't be done until 2013.

2nding the thanks for the great replies. I also am feeling better (:
posted by vaguelyweird at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2008

At my undergrad institution, everyone took a long time and we started calling ourselves "Super-seniors" starting in year 5 or 6. Treating your years in school like a status symbol can work psychological wonders.

I definitely felt like a loser when miraculously all of my friends graduated nearly on time and before I did. I was a little lonely in that last year. BUT now I'm five years out, working on my dissertation, and the difference in graduation time seems trivial. I can't believe I was freaked out at the time. As other posters mentioned, I feel proud now that I took my time, found a major that I loved, and got experiences that made me a good candidate for the next stage. (And now I'm using the same logic to prolong my PhD years!) The real world is vastly overrated.
posted by parkerjackson at 2:14 PM on November 15, 2008

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