Changing Course Midway: How Picking a College and a Major is Related to Picking a Financial Future

Years ago a friend's daughter was admitted to Tufts and UCLA. The daughter preferred Tufts but the parents felt they could not afford four years at a private university and that in-state tuition at a University of California campus was realistic. Imagine their surprise during their daughter’s first semester when they learned that although UCLA was cheaper per year, it often required more years to graduate.

Here are ways a student can drive up college costs beyond four years of tuition, room, board, fees and travel:

  • Change a major or seek multiple majors -- this can require more time to graduate
  • Transfer to another university -- not all credits will be recognized at the new college
  • Enroll in a college with a low rate of graduating students in four years -- the fifth or sixth year are often an unplanned cost and delay income for one or two years

Now that applications are submitted and students are waiting to learn their options for the fall, it is a good time to think about the financial implications of selecting a college. One financial issue often overlooked is how a student’s progress can affect the ultimate total cost of a college.

A good discussion of these issues can be found in a 2012 op-ed piece by Laura McKenna in The Atlantic, and in an NPR “Money Coach” discussion.