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A college education resulting in a bachelor’s degree used to mean that students graduated in four years. On a semester-based system, the student took an average of five classes a semester in order to graduate within this time period. Provided the student only majored in one area, passing all your classes on the five-class per semester average tended to mean you earned your diploma in four years. There are some significant economic advantages to getting through college as quickly as possible, since students will pay less, and some students even complete their coursework in three years instead of four.
The flipside to the four-year plan has led to the term super senior, students who instead of taking four years of college take five or more. Each year of college, like each year of high school is linked to a named status. The first year students are freshman, the second, sophomores, the third juniors and the last seniors. A word had to be developed to account for people who remained at senior status for longer than a year.
Students who become a super senior may have many reasons for doing so. One of the most common is that they choose to take a little more time pursuing their education or taking more classes in their major. This is sometimes called the five-year plan for college education. Yet the super senior may stay at senior level for more than a year. Some have completed six or seven years of college before earning an undergraduate degree. Others are what might be termed "professional student," and choose not to graduate so they can remain in the college atmosphere for as long as possible.
A freshman who doesn’t complete five courses a semester really isn’t a sophomore when the next year begins, since class standing is based on units acquired. Students who are on the five-year plan may not technically hit senior status until midway through their fourth or fifth year of college. This means they are only super seniors for a short period of time, or may never actually be super seniors. Sometimes the term is used more loosely to describe anyone who has attended college for more than four years.
Though being a super senior can be more expensive, it can forestall paying off student loans, and sometimes it’s the only economically feasible way to make it through school. If students must work full time, it may not be possible to manage taking five classes a semester too. Some students are only able to attend halftime, while others can attend at minimum full-time, taking roughly four classes a semester. The term super senior may be a little misapplied when students have not taken the requisite units to qualify them for a certain class standing, even if they’ve been in college for more than four years.
Occasionally students take a year or a semester to travel and earn college credits through university sponsored education programs. These courses might not actually be in the student’s major. These students would be true super seniors, since they would have acquired more units than is technically needed by a student to graduate. They just may not have fulfilled all the requirements of their major.
Another reason for the growing super senior trend is that some students take double and triple majors. This means requirements for graduation are much more extensive. Even choosing to minor in another subject can mean taking an extra semester of classes. Some students just find they do better if they take fewer classes a semester. A student with learning disabilities might be able to succeed well in four classes, but not in five. Furthermore some students may need to take classes that don’t count toward as units earned for graduation, such as remedial courses or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
@Melonlity -- true, but there are still colleges out there that are pushing students to get out in four years. A good number of liberal arts colleges will allow students to hang around for five years, but they still stick to the traditional notion that students should be able to finish degree programs in four years.
Of course, you will find a lot of those programs are more traditional in that major in that they don't allow students to double-major or carry a minor. That only makes sense because such strategies would make it more difficult for students to complete all of their courses in four years.
There are some majors that generally can't be completed in four years. Take engineering, for example. While a lot of colleges have degree programs that could conceivably be finished in four years, you'll find a lot of students opt for five so they can handle a more "normal" workload while completing a difficult degree.
There are other degrees that generally take more than four years to finish. Engineering comes to mind, but there are other highly technical degrees that are shifting toward a five-year plan.