Taking the long route to graduation

Cheyenne Perry

College isn’t always a four-year experience, even when enrolled in a four-year program. Some students attend college for longer than expected. Alicia Varcelli, a senior human development and family studies major, has taken a five-year path. Her freshman year as an undecided major at Edinboro University left her feeling like maybe college wasn’t for her.

“The hardest part was figuring out how to be a college student–how to schedule, how to pay for it,” Varcelli said. “I felt like there were a lot of loopholes.”

Varcelli took a semester off to regroup. After that, she transferred to Kent Geauga, which is closer to her home. She said going to a smaller school made it easier for her to figure college out. Her advisors were more available and helped her answer questions about scheduling, programs, financial aid and her interests.

“It felt manageable, and I wasn’t overwhelmed,” she said.

It was at Kent Geauga that Varcelli learned about the family life education program and then ended up at the main campus, on track to finishing her degree.

Varcelli’s struggles represent some of the many loopholes students face when coming to college. Varcelli said she had no idea it would take 15 credit hours each semester to graduate on time when she got to college, or that taking a semester off would cause her to have to take more than 15 credit hours per semester during her last three years.

Because Varcelli is a first generation college student, her parents couldn’t help her to navigate college. She said was unaware of any programs offered to help first generation college students at Edinboro.

“I didn’t know what the heck I was doing,” Varcelli said.

University advising director Steven Antalvari said most students face these issues. He recommends getting to know your advisors well.

“The advisor is kind of like Google,” Antalvari said. “Our jobs are to help take the student from their first day on campus through graduation. That includes helping them identify what their purpose and path is [when] students have no idea.”

He pointed out that programs like Destination Kent State and Transfer Kent State are there to help students understand what programs are offered and what help they can get. He suggested the exploratory advising center for students who don’t know what to major in.

“[It] offers a structured six step plan that takes students from ‘I have no idea’ to ‘I know exactly what I want to major in and what I want to do with that,’” Antalvari said.

Deciding on a major can be a huge obstacle to overcome if you’re not sure but want to graduate in four years. It took Jordan Kibler, a senior integrative studies major, some time to settle on his major. Unlike Varcelli, who remained undecided until she made a choice, Kibler tried a variety of majors. He studied everything from anthropology and criminal justice to pan-African studies, communications and geography.

“I’ve done everything,” Kibler said.

He hadn’t originally planned to attend college right after high school, but his mother, Marlo Kibler, the assistant director of scholarships and funding at Kent State, talked him into it. So he started right after high school by joining the Academic STARS summer program.

Once in college, Kibler bounced between majors until he decided it may be best for him to take time off college and join the military. When he couldn’t join the National Guard because of an injury, he had to stay and figure something out for school.

That’s when he decided on Integrative Studies, in which you can combine three minors to make one major. Kibler chose pan-African studies, communication and geography.

Choosing a major wasn’t the only problem Kibler faced. He said he normally only took 13 credit hours each semester, not knowing he needed 15 to graduate in four years. He also said he didn’t realize how hard college would be compared to high school.

“I was literally sleeping in class every day and still graduated high school with a like a 3.1 (GPA),” Kibler said. “But college is different,”

Antalvari said this is a common surprise among freshmen.

“The level of effort in high school is minimal compared to college,” Antalvari said. “Not everyone believes me when I say that, especially in DKS.”

He also explained that University President Warren’s campaign urging students to take 15 credit hours each semester may be a new way to publicize the information, even though he said the advisors have always told students that 15 is the magic number they need.

Still, for students who feel as though they are falling behind, Antalvari said “it’s never too late.”

Jordan Zook, a senior integrative studies major, realized it was never too late for her to finish a degree in design, even though she couldn’t finish it the way she wanted to. She didn’t take school seriously enough her first two years, which meant she would either have to start over or switch majors.

She took a semester off to get herself together.

“I was contemplating not going back to school,” Zook said. “I still wanted to do design work—I still feel like I have a talent for it—I just didn’t take it seriously.”

Zook came back for her third year as an integrative studies major in design, photo illustration and psychology.

“Even though it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to, it was a blessing in disguise,” Zook said.

Varcelli said exploration is important.

“Trust the timing of your life,” she said. “It all happens for a reason. I don’t think I would be the person I am now if I didn’t go through that specific way.”

Kibler also felt that taking a longer route helped him to grow.

“It’s taught me patience. It has given me confidence in myself to do things I didn’t know I could do,” Kibler said. “Don’t give up. Nobody gives you a degree, you have to earn it.”

Contact Cheyenne Perry at [email protected]