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Help your child avoid the additional cost of becoming one of the growing number of undergraduates taking more than five years to complete a four-year degree.

10 tips to help keep your child on track during their educational journey:

  1. Identify existing credits. When applying to college or entering the first semester, determine whether credits previously earned for advanced placement or dual college courses taken while in high school can be applied to fulfill core or degree requirements, and what the process is for making that happen. This could give you a cost-saving head start on pursuing your degree.
  2. Notice and embrace what lights you up. Pay careful attention to what you enjoy and don’t enjoy in your first-year core courses, and experiment with various electives. Explore extracurricular activities to help you develop meaningful relationships and interests, which may in turn open your eyes to academic paths you hadn’t considered. These insights will help you to begin to think through potential majors or minors and careers they can lead to.
  3. Begin to explore majors. With the support of your academic advisor, begin to discuss various majors in your first year or by the start of your second. To understand the real-life experience of pursuing specific majors, ask for introductions to current students who are pursuing one or more that interest you, and check on LinkedIn for graduates with those majors to see how they’ve leveraged their degrees in various forms of employment.
  4. Carefully map out degree requirements once a major is selected. Get very familiar with degree requirements and any specific prerequisites so that you can begin to create a roadmap to follow as you move toward your degree. Understanding the sequence with which you must take certain courses and how often they are offered will help you prioritize enrollment to avoid scheduling conflicts and bottlenecks down the line. Also, seek insight through your academic advisor and upperclassmen about the difficulty of various requirements to make sure you balance more challenging coursework with more manageable classes.
  5. Stay on track. Avoid dropping or withdrawing from a course without having a replacement in place. If necessary, take summer classes to make up lost credits or to prepare for an upcoming semester that may be particularly challenging in terms of coursework.
  6. Balance work and academics carefully. If employment is necessary during the school year, keep the number of hours worked each week to a manageable number and if possible, seek forms of employment that can complement your coursework and at which you may be able to fit in some studying during downtime. Keep in mind that excessive work hours have the potential to adversely impact academic focus and progression.
  7. Track your progress and adjust as needed. Schedule regular check-ins with your academic advisor to review your progress toward your degree(s). This will help you to remain on course and will enable you to adjust your plan based on any change in circumstances or academic challenges. Stay informed about graduation requirements to avoid any last-minute surprises.
  8. Factor in Studying Abroad. If you’re planning to fit in a study abroad program, make certain that the program’s available courses can be counted toward your degree requirements or electives. And consider the same for any research projects or internships that could count toward degree attainment.
  9. Prioritize your physical and emotional well-being. Remember that your mental and physical health can significantly impact your academic performance and your future. Utilize campus resources like counseling centers and health services throughout your college years and seek support as quickly as possible when needed. Balancing academics, social life, and self-care is crucial for maintaining the energy needed to complete your degree on time.
  10. Envision the outcome. Visualize the achievement you’re aiming for to help keep you motivated along the way. Before you know it, you’ll be celebrating the very outcome you’ve worked toward.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.