By Alexis Hampton
16 years. That’s how long the average student spends in school before starting their career. The average student spends about 12 years in grade school and four years earning an undergraduate degree. But sometimes, that same average student can take five or more years to get their undergraduate degree.
A more unusual concept is when students take more than six years to finish their undergraduate program. Those students can be, and often are, ridiculed in today’s society as college students are rushed to finish school and be successful.
In the case of Christopher Brown, assistant professor in the department of political science and international studies at Georgia Southern University, it took him nine years. Brown entered the University of Florida with 12 Advanced Placement credits in 1993, giving him a head start of about one semester, but was still unable to finish his program in the expected four years.
His main setback was the lack of financial support from his family. Financial aid can only do so much, and for him, it just didn’t do enough.
“I didn’t have any real support. I mean, I did get some student loans,” said Brown. “My parents weren’t helping me and they were claiming me on their taxes, so I didn’t get as much as I could’ve.”
Brown worked from the very beginning of his college journey and throughout his college career, he worked nine different jobs.
The system that he was forced to create for himself consisted of accruing debt from the previous semester. He would then pay off that debt from the money he made working during the semester, and then he would rush to register before the financial hold hit his account.
After working full-time for over two years, Brown had to take a break. It seems that taking a break is a consistent pattern for super seniors.
Alex Brantley, a GS psychology major, is currently on a break from college due to being put on academic probation. Brantley started his program in 2016 and during his time away, he has been working with the division of family and children services.
“I don’t see it as a failure now,” said Brantley, who admitted he felt like he wasn’t doing anything successful while in school “I see it as more of a reset.”
There was a lot of pressure on Brantley coming in, as he was a first-generation college student raised in a single-parent household. He was also voted most likely to succeed at his high school.
Coming from a small town with a graduating high school class of 46 people, Brantley graduated at the top of his class and felt very confident in his ability to thrive in college.
“I think that happened because the type of school that I went to [was] just a regular public school, and I made friends that came from these amazing high schools that really prepared them for the real world,” Brantley said. “My high school was just like ‘We just want you to graduate.’”
We just want you to graduate. A sentiment that Breanna Bennett, a GS mechanical engineering major, knows all too well.
Bennett graduated from high school in 2016 and started at Armstrong, as she was determined not to go to GS. After her first semester, she had to take a break when she fell into a deep depression.
She intended to go home to Augusta and take classes online, but two weeks after her return, her brother committed suicide. She decided it was best to withdraw and go back when she was ready.
After a short break, Bennett decided to take a few classes at Augusta University. It was there that she realized that she might as well just transfer to GS since Armstrong had merged with them at that point.
Unfortunately for Bennett, when she transferred, she was informed that the time she spent at Armstrong was time wasted on classes that she didn’t need for her major, which pushed her graduation date back a year. The advisors at GS were able to get her back on track.
Bennett’s situation could be considered unusual, much like Brantley and Brown, but valid, nonetheless. With the obstacles they faced, one might say it’s absurd to expect them to finish such rigorous programs in four years.
However, these super seniors did not let their obstacles define their fate.
Amidst her studies, Bennett completed two internships, which was good for her future career, but now, she’s looking at graduating in six years instead of four.
Brantley is looking forward to returning to his studies this summer and has just been offered a position with his local Head Start program.
Brown did take almost a decade to finish his undergraduate program, but he finished his master’s and doctorate programs in five years total.