Buyer Beware on Fifth Year Free

October 23, 2011 at 7:07 am 1 comment

My daughter’s college, Clark University, offers a “fifth year free” program. (My alma mater, Stephens College, used to do this, too, and there are probably other schools that do it to entice their best students to continue on to graduate school.)  No, it doesn’t mean that, if a student fails to graduate in 4 years, he can keep trying to graduate free of charge.  It means that a successful undergraduate may be able to get a Masters degree by staying for one additional year.

But, we’re finding out that there are some tricky requirements.  Sometimes I feel like the admissions department was writing blank checks that the finance office or the faculty don’t want to cash.

  1. You must have a certain (high) undergraduate GPA.  That makes sense as it is an indicator of how well you will do in grad school.
  2. You must major in certain areas for a certain Masters program.  That makes sense, too.   You can’t shorten a Masters program if you don’t have the foundational courses.
  3. You must finish your undergraduate degree in 4 years.  At first blush, that makes sense, too.  If you can’t finish in 4 years, you probably dropped classes you were failing and therefore are not the caliber of student who will do well in the more difficult graduate level courses.  However, here comes the first big caveat:  you also cannot graduate in less than 4 years.  This happened to one of my daughter’s friends.  She came to college with a bunch of Advanced Placement credit and got a full semester of classes waived.  She planned to spend four full years taking undergraduate classes, but she met all the requirements for general education courses and for her first major within 3-1/2 years.   When they found out she wanted to get her fifth year free, they made her graduate in 3-1/2 years, which meant she had not met the requirement of spending 4 years in the undergraduate program, so she couldn’t get the fifth year free.   Ouch!  I could maybe understand if a college said “you chose to graduate early, therefore we didn’t get 4 full years of tuition from you, therefore you can’t get the fifth year free”, but it seems harsh to say we want to make you graduate early so we don’t have to give you the fifth year free.
  4. You must take certain prerequisites for the graduate program, above and beyond the requirements for your major.  In other words, you’re starting the graduate program before you finish the undergraduate program.  This requires good planning in course selection so you can fit everything into 4 years.
  5. You must have a good answer for the question, “What makes you think you can succeed in graduate level courses?”  Luckily, my daughter had been invited by one of her freshman professors to take a Ph.D. level seminar class from her and she took that class in sophomore year.  If she hadn’t taken a graduate level course by fall of her junior year, this would be a tough question to answer convincingly on the grad school application, which is due in spring of junior year, long before most graduate school applications are due.

Her advice:

  • Ask “what if I…” questions about the requirements for the fifth year free program not only of the admissions department but also of the faculty in that department.
  • Don’t fulfill all of your undergraduate requirements until spring of senior year.
  • Take a graduate level course midway through your undergraduate program…and do well in it.

Caveat emptor.  Let the buyer beware.

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Entry filed under: admissions, Clark U., grad school, merit scholarships, Paying for College.

Don’t Drop Out! Early Birds Win

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. ninjanan.quora.com  |  February 25, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Man, you definitely did research for this post! I haven’t ever considered most of that before looking at this. Superb!

    Reply

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