Achieving ‘super’ status

Tara Pringle

Most students stay beyond the traditional four years at college

Credit: Andrew popik

Like many students, Kevin Hoy graduated high school in four years, and he expected college to be the same deal.

Now that he is in his fifth year, assuming “super senior” status, the biology and psychology major is ready to move on to graduate school.

“I came with the intention of graduating in four years,” Hoy said. “My fifth year has been kind of hectic, not like the first four at all.”

According to the university Fact Book, only 16 percent of Kent State’s class of 1998 graduated within four years. Forty-one percent graduated in five years or less and 50 percent graduated in six years.

Kent State is not the only school with numbers this low. Both The University of Akron and Youngstown State University have six-year graduation rates below 40 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Many Kent State students have been here long enough to be considered “super seniors,” the nickname given to students who have gone beyond the traditional four years.

Hoy said he began as a psychology major only. Because he was done with his requirements after his third year, he decided to pursue a biology minor, which turned into another major. It was then Hoy realized he would be at Kent State for five years.

Rob Malcolm is in his eighth year. The hospitality management major said he is definitely ready to graduate.

“A lot of the people I met when I first came here already graduated,” Malcolm said. “I’ve been through several different phases of friends.”

Because of his work schedule, Malcolm said he only takes two or three classes a semester.

“I’ve almost always had two jobs,” Malcolm said, who works seven days a week. “I don’t have time to go full-time.”

What causes super senior status?

There are many reasons why students may be in school for longer than four years, including students who come in without a major or change their course of study.

“It’s more comfortable if students pick a major right away,” said Honors College adviser Becky Gares. “But it’s not always realistic. Sometimes students want to experiment and take a few classes before deciding.”

Gares said whether students graduate within four years depends largely on the program.

“There are some majors where if you don’t start your core courses in the first semester, it’s automatically a five-year program,” Gares said. “We don’t encourage students to pick a major just to get out in four years.”

After choosing a major, students still need to register for the right classes. Failure to do so could result in spending extra semesters in college. The Honors College and Undergraduate Studies advising offices require their students to meet with advisers at least twice a year to check their progress.

Financial concerns

Constance Dubick, associate director of Student Financial Aid, said as soon as students realize they aren’t going to graduate in four years, it’s time to explore their options.

For students who have scholarships, it might be as simple to just ask for help.

“Depending on where the funds come from, students may be able to ask for an extension,” Dubick said.

In some cases, students would be required to write an explanation for why they need the extension.

For students with loans, the first step is to determine how much they have already borrowed.

Dubick said dependent undergraduate students are allowed to borrow up to $23,000 in federal loans. For independent students, that amount is $46,000.

Students who are close to the limit can seek alternative loans, which are usually financed through a private institution. Dubick said the interest rate on the alternative loans might be higher, depending on the institution.

Concerns about the future

Hoy said the key to graduating on time is being proactive.

“Make sure you know the rules of the university,” Hoy said. “People need to ask more questions. It’s not just ‘show up and you’ll get a degree.’”

Hoy, who will be attending graduate school in the fall at Texas A&M University, said staying in school the fifth year was worth it since he received a fellowship and now won’t have to pay for school anymore.

“I’ll miss Swenson’s burgers, but not the snow,” Hoy said.

Malcolm had some concerns of his own.

“It’s easy to make friends. Out in the real world, it’s not,” Malcolm said. He also said he is worried about finding a job.

Malcolm said he had fun and remembered playing basketball at the Gym Annex before the Student Wellness and Recreation Center was built.

Malcolm said sometimes it is frustrating to still be in school.

“You see people who came in with you and they have a career,” Malcolm said. “You think ‘Why isn’t that me?’”

Hoy said most of his friends already graduated two years ago.

“College is the best time of your life,” he said. “I’m not in any hurry to leave.”

Contact enterprise reporter Tara Pringle at [email protected].