The Pros And Cons Of Extending Your Undergraduate Degree

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In today’s unstable economic climate, it seems like it’s becoming more and more common for university and college students to prolong their undergraduate career.

Case in point: out of all of my university friends, only two graduated after the typical four years. The rest decided to stay in school for various reasons, but mostly because they wanted to improve their career prospects by spending some more time padding their resume with useful extra-curriculars and work experience.

While it’s definitely true that a solid undergraduate record paired with co-op or internship experience can be immensely beneficial to a new grad trying to get their foot in the door, do the benefits of extending your undergrad justify the additional financial costs?

Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of staying in school:

Pros:

You can your skill set

If you’ve decided to complete a double major or a major/minor, then you might need to take an extra term or two to catch up on your credits. Taking on more than one major can certainly improve your employment prospects by demonstrating the versatility of your skill set.

Combining a major in chemistry with a minor in English, for instance, can demonstrate that you possess scientific and mathematical aptitude, as well as effective analytical and writing skills.

You’ll have more time for real work experience

While it might be possible to complete all your additional credits through summer courses alone, spending an extra year in school will grant you the added benefit of leaving your summers free for internships or other work experience—experience that will only increase your competitiveness once you enter the workforce.

If you’ve decided to do a co-op, then you will also likely have to extend your undergrad by some time. Successfully completing a co-op program will almost certainly improve your job prospects since you will gain both practical work experience and networking opportunities directly related to your field.

It’s a last chance to boost your grades

If you’re thinking of going to graduate or professional school and your grades are only borderline competitive, then you might want to consider delaying graduation by maybe one semester and taking a few more courses to improve your chances.

Bear in mind that you should only consider this option if your grades are within two or three percent of the competitive average, since the more courses you take, the less impact any individual grade will have on your overall GPA.

Cons:

It costs more money

Everyone knows that going to school is expensive, and if you’re already burdened with student loans then extending your undergraduate studies will not only increase your debt load but also give you less time to pay it off.

When deciding whether or not to extend your degree, you should always weigh the costs of continuing your education with the potential academic and professional benefits.

You might lose interest

If you’re considering doing an internship or a co-op, for example, make sure you’re doing it because you are genuinely interested in a certain field and you think the program will help improve your marketability. Doing poorly in a work placement program will do you no favours when you’re looking for a real job.

It raises questions about you

Be wary of the effects of staying in school for too long. Employers and graduate schools may question the drive and ambition of students who spend more than five years doing what is traditionally a four-year degree.

If you do decide to spend longer than five years as an undergrad student, make sure you have a clear reason for doing so, such as a leave of absence for personal or family reasons, a degree that typically takes longer to complete, relevant work experience, etc.

Do you think it’s worth it to extend your degree? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Photo credit: tschustoday

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About the author

Justin Louie graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2010 with a BA in History/English. Since then, he's bounced around various industries, including telecommunications and sales, but now he's finally returned to his passion: writing. A massive history buff and trivia aficionado, Justin's interests include martial arts, enjoying the Vancouver outdoors, and accumulating massive amounts of useless information. You can follow him on @louie_justin.