I came to Tech in the fall of 2007. I turned 18 on my plane journey of some 7,500 miles from New Delhi, India, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Young, excited and impressionable, I started in a foreign land, what has turned out to be a memorable journey through college. A journey that is in its fifth year and one that still doesn’t cease to surprise me. Over the course of my time here at Tech, I have had a plethora of experiences that have molded me into a young adult who is eager, excited and confident at the prospect of life after college even in these uncertain times.
This fall marked the beginning of my fifth year at Tech. It was another autumn, another football season, another set of young giddy freshman, another hectic schedule of rigorous classes and fewer and fewer familiar faces. What was I getting into, I thought to myself. Should I have tried to graduate in four years? Was the five-year plan a mistake? To add to the apprehension was the fact that I was coming back to school after an eight-month hiatus on account of a co-op job. As I put on my backpack and merged into a stream of students walking on the newly named Tech walkway, I smiled. At once, it felt good to be back.
One of the major differences between the American higher education system and other higher education systems is that undergraduate degrees are more flexible than equivalent degrees in other parts of the world like England and India. The programs are longer so that students get time to acclimatize to college and have more freedom and flexibility to take the courses and classes they are interested in, allowing them to discover their true passion. Extending one’s degree by yet another year can at times seem wasteful and pointless but as I see it, there are many pros to spending that extra semester or two at school that far outweigh the costs of not being able to get started on that real world job.
When I first began college, I was thinking about graduating early. However, as I began to take classes and understand the nuances of college life and Tech in particular, I started to realize why many students take that extra year to graduate. As we all know, Tech is an academically demanding school. Being the world class institution that Tech is, it has many wonderful opportunities on offer like international research, study abroad programs and the highly-coveted co-op program, participation in which makes that four year graduation a rather faint possibility. We all have our individual reasons for choosing Tech, but it is these unique offerings that made it the winning choice. To not take advantage of these opportunities would be unwise.
Additionally, college is full of young, bright and exciting minds. Unlike the lucky few students who know exactly what they want to do in life, most of us are trying to figure out our true calling after we escape the boundaries of a four-year education. In a situation like this, it makes even more sense to ease into college by taking fewer classes every semester and pushing that graduation date back. This is an even more sensible choice at a school like Tech where most classes require a lot of time commitment and hard work, and spending that extra semester here can only aid in finding the paths to success. Finally, the connections and friendships that we foster by mingling with one another in an academic environment will be those that we will remember forever.
Though I fully endorse the five-year plan, I do understand that there are some drawbacks to being in school longer. As many classmates and friends graduate and move on to real world jobs, one begins to feel old, costs stack up, loan payments are put off for later, and graduate degrees are delayed. Though these are legitimate concerns, in the long run, the benefits of availing oneself of all that college has to offer will outweigh the costs in both obvious and subtle ways.
I have in my time here, gone on a faculty led study abroad program, cooped with a Fortune 500 company, taken up many leadership roles, worked part time jobs on campus, volunteered in the community, pursued my hobbies, travelled a lot, fostered successful romantic and platonic relationships, all while pursuing a world-class engineering degree. As I near graduation, I feel well equipped to face any challenges the real world might throw my way. So for all those who have apprehensions about staying at college longer, the five-year plan is a great plan if you take the initiative and embrace all that Tech has to offer.