How Many Years Does College Last?

How Many Years Does College Last?
Adult college graduate

The number of years to finish college varies depending on the age of student and other characteristics such as parental education and income.

College lasts 4 to 6 years for over 59% of students for their bachelors degree. Of these 59%, for 37%, college lasts 4 years or less, and 17% complete their bachelor’s in 5 years. Dependent students who start college at 18-19 yrs have the highest likelihood of finishing college in 4 years.

The graduation rates for women are somewhat higher than that of men and students whose parents attended college have a greater chance of completing college themselves.

College Lasting 4 to 6 Years

The NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) provides cumulative survey data on college completion of students in 4 to 6 years.

As per these NCES reports, here are the top characteristics of students who complete college in 4 years or less:

College in 4 years
College in 4 years

  • 65% of them directly enrolled in a bachelors degree after high school.
  • 6.9% of them completed or enrolled in an associate degree before completing their bachelors degree. So only a small percentage of students from community colleges are able to move on to a completed bachelors degree all within 4 years.
  • Of students who work between 1-15 hours a week while enrolled in college, 75% of them complete their bachelors degree in 4 years or less.
  • Of students who work 35 hours or more per week, only 40% of them complete their bachelors degree in 4 years or less.
  • Of students who work while enrolled in college, those who work on campus have a somewhat greater likelihood of completing college in 4 years than those who work off campus.
  • The rate of college completion is highest for students of college majors in Social Sciences, Humanities, Science or Math, than students of any other field majors.
  • Students with GPA estimates above 3.24 have a higher chance of college completion.

As seen from the NCES report of 2020, here are the characteristics of students who complete their bachelors degree in 6 years:

College in 6 Years
College in 6 Years

  • Their parents are likely to have completed a bachelors or higher degree.
  • Students with a family income above $90,000 per year are more likely to complete college within 6 years.
  • Students with high school GPA above 3.4 are more likely to complete college within 6 years.
  • Students who took one or more college-level courses in high school are more likely to succeed at college.
  • Recent high school graduates with a regular high school diploma have a far greater chance of completing college in 4 to 6 years than those who took one or more gap years.
  • Students with SAT composite score over 1000 (out of 1600) and especially over 1150 have the best chance of completing college in 4 to 6 years.
  • Students who transfer some credits into their bachelors degree have better chances of completing 4 year college within 6 years.
  • Among students who initially start at a 2 year community college, the percentage of them who successfully complete an associate degree (or) a subsequent bachelors degree is extremely low. This is true even for students with college-educated parents, or for those with over $90,000 in family income, or just about any other types of students.
  • For students who initially started at a community college, those with a Social Sciences major have a somewhat greater chance of completing a 4 year bachelors degree.

Age of Traditional College Students

There is statistical evidence which indicates that students who start college right after high school at about 16-18 years of age have the greatest likelihood of finishing their bachelors degree within 4 to 6 years.

Young College Student
Young College Student

Traditional college students are those who start college right after high school and are usually between 16-18 years old. In most circumstances, these students are expected to complete their 4 yr bachelors degree when they are about 21 to 23 years old.

There is tremendous societal pressure for youngsters to complete college at this age as most parents want their education obligations for their child to be completed as early as possible.

Many youngsters talk to their friends and peers who are all going to college after high school. So anyone who decides to follow a different pattern other than college-immediately-after-high-school is likely to be questioned or ridiculed.

Age of Nontraditional College Students

Nontraditional students take anywhere from 2 years to sometimes close to 10 years to complete college. This is because many nontraditional students have a job and family responsibilities in addition to studying for college.

Adult College Student on Campus
Adult College Student on Campus

These are typically students who take a few gap years to pursue other interests after high school, and restart college after several years.

Nontraditional students come from many different backgrounds as follows:

1) Some of them start working after high school due to the family’s financial difficulties.

2) Other students start college but dropout for financial reasons and perhaps to take up a job instead.

3) Some youngsters from higher income families take a few gap years to start a business after high school graduation. In some cases, they restart college after a few years in business.

4) Still other youngsters marry early and start a family during or after high school. Some of them restart college after several years as a nontraditional college student.

This is voluntary on the part of the youngster in some cases, and in other cases may be imposed on the youngster due to family traditions and culture especially in some eastern cultures.

5) There are other students who may have a combination of these circumstances and more.

In all of the above cases, the nontraditional college student may restart college at any age such as 23 – 25 yrs, 25 – 29 years, 30 – 34 yrs, or 35+ years or more.

In general, in the age range of 23 – 29 years, students feel the urgency of completing college so as to have a well paying job and career. Still others wait for a more suitable time in later years to complete college and for better career prospects.

Is Finishing College in 5 years Bad?

In the present day and age, it is perfectly normal and possible for a traditional college student to complete their 4 year bachelors degree in 4 to 6 years.

  • To increase college success rates, students should be encouraged to focus on courses and majors that they are interested in and which they has excelled in previously in high school.
  • Providing opportunities for students to take advanced courses in high school, or college preparatory courses in the college freshman year (1st year) will provide students with the knowhow for successful college completion.
  • As long as the student has personalized curriculum guidance and support from their college student counselors on which courses to take and when, students have good chances of completing their 4 year bachelors degree in 4 years.

Most students end up taking some duplicate credit courses in college and this can be avoided if they are better informed on which set of courses have duplicate credits. This can be part of the student counseling, or even better would be to clearly highlight duplicate credit courses in the college brochures and course descriptions.

In olden days, the number of course curriculum choices and even the number of students competing for a seat in a popular class were limited. So there were lesser chances of going wrong with which courses to take to meet the degree requirements.

Is it OK to graduate at 25?

For students who take 2 or 3 gap years after high school completion, its certainly ok to graduate college at 25.

Most students undergo intense peer pressure to complete college by the time they are about 22 or 23 years old. This is also due to the rigid expectations placed on the youngsters by their parents and by society at large.

Many students are never able to complete college after taking a few gap years, unless they are constantly learning and are extremely determined to complete college. This is another reason why society compels students to complete college early as the chances of college success decrease with increasing age.

College is much easier when the student is a dependent of their parents and with no family or financial responsibilities on their shoulders. This is only possible for many students in their early 20’s.

25 year old college graduate
25 year old college graduate

So, though its much easier to complete college by the time a student in about 22 or 23, for a sincere and determined student, its perfectly cool to complete college at 25.

Can you finish a 4 year college in 2 years?

Students can complete a 4 year college degree in 2 years by credits transfer of their previous college credits to their present degree.

Faster college graduation
Faster college graduation

Additionally, taking AP exams, CLEP/ DSST exams and completing many credit-based online courses from third-party providers such as and StraigtherLine can also greatly accelerate the time to degree completion.

Here is an article which discusses in further detail on how to complete a 4 year bachelors degree in 2 years.

What is the fastest bachelor’s degree to get?

The fastest bachelors degree is possible with a flexible college degree program that allows for unlimited credits transfer and many other easy and affordable ways to earn college credits such as CLEP/ DSST exams, self-paced online courses from external providers and so on.

All of this and more is possible at a degree completion college. The top 3 degree completion colleges in the US are Excelsior college, Thomas Edison State college and Charter Oak State college. There are many other degree completion colleges situated in numerous US states.

These colleges have either rolling admissions or multiple admission months that are spread out throughout the year. This enables students to start college as soon as they are ready without having to wait another year for having missed the yearly admission deadlines. This too decreases the time it takes to quickly complete college.

More information can be found in the article titled Complete an Accelerated Degree Completion Program Online.

How can I finish college faster?

The most important factor needed to complete college faster is to avoid taking duplicate credit courses or exams. Before starting a new course or test, be sure to check the degree course curriculum to see if you have already completed another course on a similar or closely related topic.

Improving study skills is another important reason for faster college completion. Once you are able to study more material in a shorter time frame, you will be able to take more courses and exams to meet the degree credit requirements.

Also be sure to choose a college major that closely aligns with your interests. This will make it easier for you to stay motivated and to keep studying until the degree is successfully completed.

Here is a another article that goes into more detail on faster degree completion.

How much money does it cost to go to college?

At a degree completion college, most students complete their bachelors degree for a total 4 years cost of under US $10,000. But at a regular public college, the total cost can be about 3 times higher with an average of $10,000 spent per year on college tuition and related costs.

Affordable college degree
Affordable college degree

The costs at a private college or university is usually double or more than the cost of a degree at a public college or university. In addition to this, the student will have to spend on the living expenses if there is a need to stay in a dorm or another student housing.

Living expenses usually cost another $8,000 or more per year to cover the accommodation and food expenses.

Here are the different ways to have sufficient money for college:

1) Choose an affordable college that charges a lower fee for college tuition and which provides many low-cost ways to earn college credits.

2) Obtain a federal and state scholarship to cover the college costs.

3) Ask your parents to pay for any remaining college expenses, or get a part time job to cover these expenses.

4) If possible, stay with your parents or other family for college. This will allow you to save a lot of money that you would otherwise need to spend on living expenses.

Having sufficient money for meeting the tuition and living expenses allows the student to complete the college degree sooner and without taking unnecessary student loans.

What do you do when you can’t finish college?

If you are having trouble finishing college even after trying hard, there are a few things you need to review and correct:

1) Write down all the courses or exams you previously completed even from several years ago. Note down how many credits each of them are worth, your scores or grades, and the date the courses and exams were completed.

Simply taking stock of previously completed college learning can save you thousands of dollars and years of education.

2) Mentally choose a good degree major that aligns closely with your interests and any previous experience or courses you excelled in.

3) Using this consolidated list of previous learning, you can easily enroll into a degree completion colleges for quick and easy completion of your bachelors degree in your favorite degree major!

4) Talk to the college student advisor and find ways to complete the remaining degree requirements for less cost and time.

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