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Opinion: Why it’s okay to take more than four years to graduate

Education is not one size fits all — students should advance at their own pace
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ANANYA ANANTH/THE VARSITY
ANANYA ANANTH/THE VARSITY

The pressure students often put on themselves to graduate within four years is excessive and exacerbates stress. Students must work together to combat the internalized stigma surrounding graduating after the four-year mark, especially since, according to a 2019 study, a ‘late’ graduation doesn’t necessarily impair postgraduate success if the student also works full-time hours during university.

In my grade 10 civics and careers class, we were asked to create plans for our postsecondary futures. Unsurprisingly, the majority of us had quite similar plans: attend our university of choice, earn an undergraduate degree within four years, and venture off into the world to find a job. For those of us who planned on pursuing graduate school, the pressure to graduate on time is even greater — who wants to be in school longer than necessary? 

Studies show that there are numerous factors that can predict how quickly a student will graduate from university, including their socioeconomic status, spending habits, and whether or not they have any loans or debt. 

Students often have little control over these factors, meaning that their circumstances can delay the rate at which they graduate despite their efforts. For example, students might feel pressured to graduate in shorter time frames to accumulate less debt. This does not take into account unpredictable scenarios in which a student must temporarily divert their focus from their studies to an emergency within their personal life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with tragic and unprecedented changes in all sectors of life, including class delivery. For this reason, some students have opted to momentarily pause their studies. A large number of students resumed studies as normal; however, the massive changes in how university is structured has resulted in students suffering from lower motivation and feelings of isolation. 

Efficient resources are required to combat declining mental health due to the pandemic, and many find these resources difficult to access at U of T. For many students, the mental burden of completing school online can feel insurmountable. The socioeconomic factors determining graduation within four years are now likely exacerbated with the pandemic.

Academic success is now also contingent on whether or not a student has access to a stable internet connection and a quiet area to attend classes and study, something that low-income students are less likely to have. Lower employment rates also add an additional threat to students’ financial security. As a culmination of these factors, the prospects of graduating outside four years will likely be increased for numerous students as it becomes unavoidable. 

However, many students might still be attempting to graduate as fast as possible, not as a result of internalized stigma, but due to financial barriers preventing them from affording additional years of university. In such cases, having a rigid four-year plan is sensible, but in no way is it beneficial for the student beyond being more financially reasonable. It is unfortunate that so many students must put immense amounts of pressure on themselves because of the high cost of university.

Despite knowing this, I often find myself thinking within the confines of my grade 10 classroom. While graduating within four years is an important option for some students, we must abandon the four-year mark as the ideal time to graduate. It is unnecessarily restrictive, and it must be understood that every student works differently and at different paces education is not one size fits all. 

Halimah Kasmani is a first-year social science student at St. Michael’s College.