Why You Might Want To Take a Full Course Load

JB has written some pretty insightful articles about how it can be beneficial to cut down on your course load a little bit, take an extra year or two to complete your academic journey, and use the time you freed up productively.  There are definitely some advantages to this approach.  If you take JB’s personal example he was able to build a very impressive resume of extracurricular activities.  He gained whole skill sets that most people don’t get out of post-secondary education because he had so many unique leadership experiences on campus.  Finally, the massive contact network he created will continue to pay dividends for him throughout his lifetime.  Plus, he’d be the first to admit he had a ton of fun.

Get Paid For The Skills You Have

While all these things are true, I thought I would present the other argument – that taking a full course load can also be a solid choice in the long run.  For me, the strongest point in favour of maxing out the number of courses you take each semester is that you get paid like a professional sooner rather than later.  Basically, if Student A takes 5 years to get their degree, and Student B takes 4 years, Student A has a whole year of getting paid student wages (likely close to minimum wage) whereas Student B will hopefully get paid according to their new qualifications (although who knows in this economy).  While there are some student jobs that pay a pretty decent amount of money (my brother puts out forest fires all summer and makes about $5K a month), I think it’s pretty safe to say that people will earn considerably more on average with a degree, than without a degree.

It’s Not Just What You Make, It’s What You Spend

full course load
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Another factor to take into consideration is expenses.  When you register for a year at a post-secondary institution there are all kinds of fees that you pay in addition to the specific tuition for your courses (see JB’s full report here).  An extra year of these fees is a fair amount.  Also worthy of your budget’s attention is the fact that tuition fees are currently rising at a much higher rate than inflation.  This means that generally, the sooner you are finished your degree the better in terms of the tuition you will have paid for each credit.  Your living expenses would likely be very similar whether you were attending school or working, so they are irrelevant as far as a cost comparison goes.

Take A Full Course Load For The Long-Term View For Bank Account

Because there are significant advantages to be gained by finishing your degree as quickly as possible, I think there are definitely circumstances where taking out loans in order to facilitate your educational costs, as well as your living expenses is a smart move.  It may feel like your “drowning” in debt as you watch that figure beside the negative symbol grow in your bank account, but the increased earning potential will likely be enough to offset this temporary blip into debt.  Of course this is largely dependent on the degree you’re pursuing as well.  I would be very hesitant to recommend to a student working towards a liberal arts degree that they take out large amounts of debt.  The job market with this sort of generalized education is very vague and unpredictable at the moment; however, to many students graduating from professional faculties in law, medicine, engineering, etc. it just makes sense to focus on your academics at the short-term cost of your bank balance.  The increased earning potential for the years you have your degree versus the years that you don’t will more than offset the interest you will be paying (even if you don’t have student loans).  As usual, I will add the caveat that I never support using credit cards and their exorbitant interest rates to fund a student’s lifestyle under any circumstances!

“The Choice Is Yours Alone Young Jedi”

So what is the best path for you?  The truth is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to that question.  Many students often change their course of study while in school, and the vast majority of students I know will state without reservation that the most important knowledge they gleaned while in the ivory tower of education had little to do with the classroom or the textbook.  I would humbly suggest that if you can balance a full course load, with many of the activities JB and I enjoyed, this would likely be your best path.  If not, you will have to weigh the pros and cons of each choice for yourself.  Oh, and if you’re “stretching your degree out” just because you love the student lifestyle, then get done, get paid, and then hang out at the library and campus bar on your downtime.  It’s cheap and it gives you the best part of the student experience without the all of the stress.  If you MUST have that classroom learning environment, then get your papers, find some work, and dabble with graduate studies or a second degree.  Just because it’s not the normal educational/career path doesn’t mean it’s not the right one for you.

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12 years ago

I loved your last point about getting your degree and just returning to hang out while you have a good income. haha – I know so many who took 5 to 6 years to finish their undergrad for what seemed like the experience. Not me – too much to do in life to waste a couple of extra years. ;)

12 years ago

I think if you pace yourself you can handle this in 4 years. I often told my high school students that they should think about what they want on their resumes that will get them their golden opportunity. Being proactive about your resume is better than just recording what happened.

I totally agree with being proactive regarding your career. I actually went back to school in the evening after I started working and I have done all my courses while working full time. It has been a long haul to say the least but I have gotten so much experience along the way that my marketability has increased substantially.

Reply to  Teacher Man

I understand what you’re saying, but I think it’s kinda weird. What’s not weird? Washing your clothes at the university laundry facilities after you’ve graduated and become a working professional. Now, that’s perfectly normal. ;)

12 years ago

I tend to feel that getting done sooner is better. At least when I went to college, the same tuition charge applied whether you took 12 or 18 hours. Room and board didn’t change at all. So taking that extra year could cost a lot in extra costs unless you are schooling part-time and working more than the typical student.

12 years ago

There are benefits to both part-time and full-time semesters. If the goal is to finish as quickly as possible, with the cost being slightly less since you pay for fewer semesters, then go full-time. However, if you have to pay for your own college and room and board, some people have no choice but to work part-time. I’ve been completing my teaching credential and the first 4 semesters I went part time continuing to teach. But had I really done a cost-analysis, going full time would have been financially smarter. I’m completing my credential this semester and taking a full… Read more »

12 years ago

I did something crazy my senior year–took 22 credits while working part time, interning a few hours a week (which turned into my first out of college job), and writing a thesis. Whew! The second semester was great though–I took a regular course load but did it so that I only had classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays!

12 years ago

I’m always surprised when I hear people take 4.5 or 5 years to graduate.

I literally took TWO classes my final semester: Advanced Golf, and Economics 410 and that’s it! I used the rest of the time to find a job, which I did.

I’d much rather get a 4.0 GPA over 4 years, than a 3.5 GPA over 3.5 years.

12 years ago

Not sure I understand the need to extend the course load past 4 years. Sure the college life can be a fun time that few want to give up. But from a course perspective (or mental health perspective), it is easily doable in 3-4 years tops. This still leaves time to enjoy life or pick up extra skills as well.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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