Across the United States, college graduation rates have been decreasing slowly, with fewer students completing bachelor’s degree programs in the recommended four-year time frame.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), just 64 percent of students seeking a bachelor’s degree complete their degree at the same institution within six years.
In her article “6 Reasons You May Not Graduate on Time (and What to Do About It)” New York Times columnist Meredith Kolodner attributes extended degree completion to the numerous distractions and obligations modern students must balance.
Yet through a combination of planning ahead, taking advantage of opportunities and resources available to her, and sheer determination, Winona State alumna Mikaela Mohr ’22 was able to complete her bachelor’s degree in just two academic years.
Mohr has had many successes inside and outside of the classroom while accelerating her degree’s completion. Here are Mohr’s seven tips to graduate on time.
1. Utilize post-secondary education options in high school
Mohr enrolled in Winona State’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) Program during her junior year of high school. Through the program, she simultaneously received college credits and credits toward her high school diploma.
When she graduated high school, Mohr was just a few credits away from earning her associate’s degree, putting her a full two years ahead of her peers academically.
Kolodner says many students “end up taking, and paying for, many more credits than they need,” often because it can be difficult to transfer credits from another university or community college.
In the State of Minnesota, PSEO is available at no cost to students and is a great way to get a jump on your college education. Credits are often transferrable to out-of-state colleges too. Mohr recommends websites like Transferology to determine whether credits will transfer to other colleges and universities.
2. Take classes during the Winter and Summer Sessions
Taking classes during “break” times is an easy way to accelerate your degree plan, according to Mohr. Many of these classes are available online for students who are traveling or living at home during break time, making them a great, flexible course option.
Utilizing these extra terms can help you get ahead or stay on track. It also allows students to reach their goals without overloading their semesters with extra credits.
3. Get involved with clubs and extracurriculars
When Mohr wasn’t attending classes or studying, she was running to all her extracurricular meetings and events.
Kolodner agrees that staying socially active outside of the classroom is a key contributor to academic success. Without adequate social interaction, social isolation and depression can discourage students, making them more likely to drop out.
During her two years at WSU, Mohr served as the chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board, co-captain of the NSSC College Championship-winning Sales Team, and club president of the Entrepreneurship Club. In 2022, she was crowned Miss Winona, and she competed for the Miss Minnesota title in 2023.
It may seem counterintuitive, but being involved in Winona State’s campus community was not only enjoyable for Mohr, it was necessary to her degree progression.
“Be active with what you’re doing because that’s what’s going to get you far,” she said.
Her secret to balancing such a busy schedule? Daily and weekly to-do lists. These lists helped her visualize everything that needed to get done. Developing good time and project management skills was crucial to balancing her busy life.
WSU students can join more than 170 clubs and organizations. Multiple club and organization fairs are held each year to share information and recruit new members.
4. Develop relationships with your advisor and mentors
Another great tool for Mohr was the relationships she established with her mentors. Kattie Sacia, the coordinating advisor for the College of Business, and Ryan White, the chair of the Marketing Department, played influential roles during Mohr’s time at Winona State.
When Mohr had questions about her graduation timeline or how to balance her classes, it was easy for her to call or email her mentors and get the advice she needed.
Students often fall into what Kolodner calls the “12-credit fallacy.” Although a 12-credit courseload is defined as a full-time schedule, it will take students more than four years to complete their degree at that rate. Instead, Kolodner recommends that students take a 15-credit courseload to stay on the four-year completion track.
Rather than check boxes on a cookie-cutter plan, Mohr’s mentors helped her customize a plan unique to her to ensure that her class schedule allowed her to reach her academic goals.
Mohr’s best advice? “Always get your advisor’s insight, especially when you’re taking a heavy course load. Ask for your advisor’s opinion to ensure the work is balanced and manageable.”
WSU’s Warrior Success Center can help you schedule an advising appointment with an advising professional or reach out to your academic advisor.
5. Talk to advisors and mentors outside of your advising appointments
“When you’re studying throughout the semester, it can be easy to get lost in your own mind, so it’s good to check in with your advisor to help you reflect on where you’re at,” Mohr said.
Mid-semester check-ins with her advisor helped Mohr reflect on her class load, identify areas for potential improvement, and analyze where she was at, both in her academic and personal life.
For Mohr, creating deeper relationships with advisors and mentors fostered helpful connections she knows will last beyond graduation. These relationships also helped her form post-graduation plans at C.H. Robinson in Eden Prairie, Minn.
“I truly believe, especially in the business world, that it’s all about who you know. Professors, advisors, and mentors provide you with support, and also networking opportunities,” Mohr said. “Without those relationships, I never would’ve gotten my job at C.H. Robinson.”
6. When you are unsure of where you want to go, rely on your gen-eds to explore potential career paths
One in three students pursuing bachelor’s degrees will change their major at least once, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The time required to engage in this level of career exploration may cause many students to push back their graduation date.
Mohr recommends using the required general education classes to evaluate a potential major change.
“If you don’t know what you want to do, use your gen-eds to explore potential career options,” said Mohr.
The Winona State online Academic Program Finder is a great place to get acquainted with different program areas and degree programs, as well as how they compare to one another.
7. Keep going!
Feeling burnt out can cause students to feel discouraged about their future. Mohr experienced burnout and discouragement several times during her college career but kept persevering to reach her goals.
Her advice to others experiencing similar feelings: “Just keep going. I could have quit, but the two years still would have passed. Time doesn’t stop for you, so make the most of it.”