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Super seniors find educational reasons to stay past four years

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Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 8:39 pm

Reginald Onate is taking longer than most students to graduate.

Onate, a senior nursing major, did not fall behind in his schoolwork, as he said he is a fairly studious person and did alright as a biology major. However, toward the end of his four years he decided to study nursing.

"I literally had four classes left before I could get my bachelor's in biology," Onate said. "I decided to switch. I got to the nursing program not knowing whether or not I could get in."

According to the NIU 2010-2011 Institutional Research data book, 50 percent of students who started college in 2005 took five years to graduate, while 26 percent of students that same year took four years to graduate.

Onate said he didn't know what he wanted to study at the beginning of his college career and was deciding between biology and chemistry. He settled on nursing but felt his peers who graduated before him were lucky to find what they wanted to study so early.

Joshua Meyer, graduate student in mathematics, said he spent eight years getting his undergraduate degree. Like Onate, he switched majors. However, Meyer said he did not do well in schoolwork during his first four or five years. He eventually improved and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in mathematics.

"I started to work harder on my homework and then get more stuff done and understand things better," Meyer said. "It was a hard process overcoming bad habits."

One of the best ways for a student to graduate on time is to work with their advisers, said Dana Gautcher, director of student academic success. An adviser can help build a relationship with students so they understand the requirements for their major.

NIU also provides a four-year degree path tool students can use to plan and pace their degree progress. The tool is not meant to replace academic advising for students, though, Gautcher said.

Gautcher said the availability of certain required courses for students can be an obstacle for timely graduation.

"Certainly in the conversations I've had working with academic colleges and departments that is seen as very much a concern for them," Gautcher said.

Meyer said he was given advice when he majored in engineering. However, he found the advice to take 15 to 18 credits per semester impractical.

"I was later told by an actual counselor in the career services that it was a bad idea to be taking that many courses in that program," he said.

Gautcher said NIU has students who don't graduate on time, just like other institutions. Students are leading complicated lives with work and family obligations, Gautcher said.

Onate said he receives much support from his friends and family. Despite accumulating a large amount of debt, he is lucky his parents are helping with payments. College is a time for students to know themselves and provides the most free time students will ever have their lives, he said.

"In the end, it's rewarding," he said.

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