Life @ U of T

Introduction

The Myth of the Four Year Degree

The Myth of the Four Year Degree

While it’s true that many students graduate in four years, this isn’t always the case. As someone who’s anticipating a fifth year at UofT, I wanted to bust the “Myth of the Four Year Degree,” a myth that seems to quietly haunt the minds of undergraduate students as they go through university life.

MYTH: Only students who fail classes do more than four years of undergrad.

WHY THIS IS FALSE: While this can sometimes be the reason for delaying graduation, it’s certainly not the only one, or even the most frequent. Some people go part-time, need to focus on their personal lives, switch majors, and/or aren’t sure what they want to do yet. The list of reasons is endless. Extending the time you take to complete an undergraduate degree doesn’t equate to failure: it’s usually more about trial and error to do things right.

Personally, I’ve yet to fail a class, but I guess I’ve given myself an extra year to try (just kidding).

A picture of my degree's progress on Degree Explorer. Caption: Just one more year till this says "complete"
Just one more year till this says “complete”

MYTH: You should avoid graduating “late” at all costs.

WHY THIS IS FALSE: A family member used to taunt me by saying, “Aren’t you going to feel bad graduating at twenty-four?” Realistically, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between graduating at twenty-three and graduating at twenty-four, or at twenty-whatever. Everyone’s paths in life are different, and it’s important to remember that education shouldn’t be a race. It’s about your learning, and you can do things at your pace.

MYTH: Employers and grad schools will judge you for doing an extra year(s).

WHY THIS IS FALSE: Honestly, most employers don’t actually care, if they notice at all. It might depend on the employer, but what matters more is what you’ve done with your time. Even in terms of grad school applications, if your transcript is good then it shouldn’t matter. Studies find that only 50% of students graduate “on time,” and most grad schools are well aware of this.

While I can’t speak from personal experience to the grad school part of this particular myth, I did have a former colleague who spent seven years getting his first degree. He was only ever asked about it once in a job interview, and it was actually because the interviewer’s son was doing a seventh year as well. Last I heard, he was a photographer working for the government of New Zealand.

The request to graduate part of ACORN. Caption: I'll have to get on this soon
I’ll have to get on this soon.

MYTH: Not completing a degree “on time” is inherently bad.

WHY THIS IS FALSE: If I forced myself to graduate in four years, I would’ve missed out on some amazing opportunities and connections. Deciding to split one full-time year into two part-time years is probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Had I listened to naysayers I would’ve graduated this year burnt out, more financially constrained, and dissatisfied with my university experience. Thankfully, I listened to myself.

Remember: follow your own compass when making decisions, and if you need help listing out pros and cons, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can even meet with your college or faculty’s academic advisers: while they can give you suggestions about how to graduate as soon as possible, they can also work with you to help you figure out what path might be best for you.

Want to read some other myth busting articles? Here’s my post on course-dropping myths.

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