Graduation time

A worried mother wrote to me: “I have been told that it takes only four years to get a Bachelor’s degree in the U.S. My son has been studying in the U.S. for over five years, but he has not graduated yet. We have been paying for his education for the past five years, and I am worried. Do you think anything wrong that he does not tell us? I do not know what to do. Please advise.”

Answer: An average U.S. college student who takes a “full load” of required courses (i.e., 15 to 18 units per quarter.) will graduate in four years. But international students who need to take additional language classes to improve their English usually take longer than four years. Many of them often take less than the required full load, may be 10 or 12 credits per quarter to give them more time to study, to improve their grades, or to adjust to the environment.

There are factors that may delay the expected graduation time. Some schools have too many students but not enough space for classes so students must wait in order to get in, and it may take longer. Many international students are not prepared early to study in the U.S., and they need time to adjust to the fast learning pace of the new method of teaching, and it may take longer for them to graduate. Some do not read the guideline instructions carefully and may not fulfill the school requirements to graduate. For example, international students often do not talk to a school advisor before signing up for class but follow their friends and taking the wrong class, or “non-requirement” classes for their field of study. If they are enrolling in business but taking history, music, or art, but these classes do not count toward their degree fulfillment. Of course, there are many other reasons, but it is best to talk to your son and ask him for an explanation.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University