Graduating in four years is harder than you think

When I started my freshman year at St. Thomas, I assumed I would graduate in four years without a problem. Both my siblings at the University of Minnesota did it, so I assumed I could too. I felt that graduating in anything more than four years—even staying for one extra semester—connoted laziness and, dare I say, a lack of intelligence. ops logo

Two years later, I’ve come to the realization that graduating in four years at this university is nearly impossible. I find myself experiencing a quarter-life crisis as I struggle to graduate “on time” by taking five classes a semester, a class every J-Term and even one this summer. How did this happen? Am I alone? Would I benefit more by graduating in four years?


Changing or adding majors adds more time to your tenure at St. Thomas. I entered college with an undeclared major, but I was leaning toward business.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I began contemplating the idea of a second major, and it wasn’t until the following year that I went through with it. I am now double majoring in marketing and due to my love for writing, communication and journalism, adding on a whopping 44 more credits.

Needless to say, this addition created panic mode.

But I’m not alone. According to MSNBC’s Personal Finance section, 50 percent of students will change their major at least once. Senior Brianna Donohue faced this situation at St. Thomas and will have to stay an extra year due to the change.

“I initially started out as a music business major, but then I began dreading going to my piano lessons. My passion for music was replaced by my curiosity for philosophy,” Donohue explained.

Donohue has now switched her major to philosophy and said that she “couldn’t be happier.”

Sure, it can take longer to graduate by changing a major or adding a second, but it’s definitely something to consider if your happiness is at stake.

Core Requirements

Becoming a well-rounded individual, enhancing creativity and pursuing moral and ethical development are all perks of the St. Thomas liberal arts education, but you also have to take an extra seventeen classes that don’t count toward your major. That’s equivalent to two years of being a full-time student.

These core requirements are the primary reason that it’s taking me longer than expected to graduate, and though I like that these classes make me a more well-rounded person, I think they are excessive.

Freshman Becky Soung, a biology major, said that St. Thomas’ core curriculum causes her stress.

“I’m taking art history, sociology, theology…all these classes that have very little to do with biology,” Soung said. “ I know it’s making me well-rounded, but 68 credits [seventeen classes] is borderline ridiculous.”

Soung plans to graduate in four years but understands that it’s not guaranteed.

Credits from High School

Unlike my brother and sister, I wasn’t an AP scholar in high school, and I came to St. Thomas with only four credits from an upper-level Spanish class.

On the other hand, my siblings combined to take 15 college-level classes in high school. My brother received a degree in biomedical engineering in four years–a major that’s notorious for taking over four years to complete. My brother even had time to take a semester off to work.

My sister is also on her way to earning her degree in four years, finishing her senior year as a physiology and Spanish double major. Both of my siblings were able to graduate “on time” with the help of pre-college credits.

To this day, I regret not taking high school more seriously. Had I taken a few more college-level courses, a four-year degree would’ve been much more plausible.

According to College Results Online, 56.6 percent of St. Thomas students graduate in four years (taken from data between 2002-2009). The duration you need to graduate is by no means a black and white issue.

If picking up another major brings forth a sense of security or happiness, I say go for it. If staying an extra year engenders a financial burden, weigh your options and choose what makes the most sense for your situation.

The answer is contingent on what’s important to you. One thing is for certain though: graduating in more than four years isn’t necessarily a result of laziness or stupidity.

Geena Maharaj can be reached at

11 Replies to “Graduating in four years is harder than you think”

  1. “According to College Results Online, 56.6 percent of St. Thomas students graduate in four years (taken from data between 2002-2009), but 72.7 percent take six”

    I hope you plan on taking your required math courses… twice. 

  2. In Geena’s defense, this is the best opinion editorial I’ve seen on TM all year. It’s well-researched and keeps her firm opinion from lede to end. It think it’s more productive to point out the well-formed and relevant editorial she put together, rather than her choice of statistic in an opinion-based piece.

  3. A few months ago I just divided 132 credits by 32 (credits/year) and realized it’s 4.125. I’d never thought about it…I’ve been really impressed w/ Tommies who graduate in 4 years ever since.

  4. Gina, I don’t think you understand the poetic justice that occurred. She wrote an article about the difficulty of graduating in fours years, blaming the burden of the core curriculum rather then an obvious lack of planning. Comically, her personal lack of numeracy in this case demonstrates the advantages of the core curriculum and a liberal arts education in general. Unfortunately, getting the student body (not to mention the faculty) to appreciate this aspect of the university was battle lost long before our time. 

  5. I have to agree with Paul, even though he had a typo in his second response (“fours years”).

    It annoys me when people complain how hard college is. I’m sorry, but if you were that ignorant when choosing St. Thomas to completely disregard the meaning of a liberal arts degree, then you should not be allowed to get one. 68 credits (17 courses as the author aptly put it) out of a 132 credit education allows a student to take 64 credits (16 courses) in any field they desire. I’m sorry, but the freshman biology student will not go to far if core curriculum is “causing her stress.”

    As to the problem of a “4 year education”, I again agree with Paul. Poor planning is the chief cause of a prolonged educational career, not adding a major. I graduated with a dual BA in History and Political science in 4 years with 136 credits (and a pretty decent GPA & no AP High School credits) while working 30 hours a week… Trust me, it is not that hard.

    Finally, I have to say I completely disagree with Gina… Statistics are ALWAYS important to report accurately, despite the nature of the piece. No matter how strong your opinion ~may~ be, a bad statistic within the piece strips your credibility immediately.

  6. I have to disagree with this article.  Echoing what Tom and Paul said, it is more a lack of planning than “difficulty” that causes one to stay over four years.  I personally know one person who graduated in four with a triple major, another who is graduating in four with a double in Engineering and Music, and many others who are graduating in four years with Education degrees, which require an entire semester of student teaching.  On top of all of it, many of these people are also working part time jobs.  

    I understand changing one’s mind in the middle of college, but as long as it is not too late, it is usually possible to get done in four with the help of J-Term and summer.  Maybe this is just the common sense in me talking, but if a person is “undecided” about what they want to study, they should probably figure that out before coming to a school as expensive as St. Thomas (unless they just really like spending money, of course).  

  7. Being intelligent and conscientious certainly doesn’t guarantee you’ll graduate in four years, but I’d be willing to bet it would help a significant chunk of those who don’t.

  8. I have to agree with Stefan, Tom, and Paul.  I personally have had experience with this issue.  I came to UST as an undeclared major with very few credits from high school, and it wasn’t until sophomore year that I made a decision as to what my major would be.  That being said, I will be graduating in 4 years with a double major in Theology, and Secondary Education, and a minor in Catholic Studies.  Technically I will have all of this done in 3 and a half years, seeing as my last semester I will be student-teaching full time.  I think it all comes down to planning, willing to be flexible, and healthy communication with academic advisors and other students who are in the same place as you.  

    And as for the discussion of the core requirements, I have to echo some of the responses already mentioned.  You knew coming to St. Thomas (a liberal arts university) that you would have to take these classes, and how much time that would consume.  If you don’t want to take these classes, you shouldn’t come here, or you should transfer.  (Just a side note, when I say “you,” I am not referring to any particular person). 

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