Senior Year, The Final Frontier: Why I Decided Not to Graduate Early

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Time flies and completed credits compile even faster. The remnants of a list of required courses that once filled five pages now barely take up half a notebook page. It always seemed like I had all the time in the world and then the thought of graduation came crashing in like Miley on a wrecking ball. Each completed class just felt like one step closer to an inevitable end.
A recent trip to my academic advisor’s office left me with a real dilemma. When my dreaded degree audit printed, my advisor noted that I had completed the majority of my required courses. Only 36 credits separated me from graduation. Such a revelation posed an interesting question. Do I buckle down and take 18 credits a semester so I can graduate next fall or ride out the rest of my collegiate career as scheduled?
Initially, the thought of early graduation was more than a little tempting. Worried about the 8-page paper due the next day, the thought of one less semester of all-nighters and group projects seemed like my redemption. Why stay longer when I could get it all over with now?
Finances proved an even larger draw. That subtracted semester could really lighten the burden left by attending the second most expensive public university in the United States. Knocking nearly $10,000 off my student loans could really lesson the burden after graduation, especially if I start off flipping burgers.
For a second, I was ready to sign up for six classes a semester and sign away my social life. “Later Penn State,” I thought. Then it hit me right before I scheduled: I’m not ready to graduate just yet. There’s so much I would be giving up.
Those last two semesters are among the most exciting times of your academic career. You can finally get into the fun classes that always filled up with juniors and seniors weeks before you could schedule. After three years of planning, I finally got into an Elvis Presley class that had been on my schedule wish list since before freshman year.
As a journalism major, the flexibility provided by taking fewer credits gives me time to improve my writing outside of the classroom. I finally have time to apply for the campus newspaper and dedicate more time to my position as vice president of the College of Communications student council. Internships also become more viable. I can gain real experience in the field without the pressures of being a paid employee. A mistake won’t cost me a job. When I don’t have to worry about writing six papers and studying for two exams, I’ll feel more inclined to take on more professional responsibilities. Additionally, unpaid internships are less painful as a student because you can at least receive course credit. I’d much rather work for an “A” now than work for nothing after graduation.
Moreover, I decided the experience I’d have to give up to graduate early wasn’t a fair trade. In the grand scheme of things, senior year is the final adventure. It’s the last chance to preserve my independence, but still have a safety net to protect me from the real world. After graduation, Thursday through Saturday no longer means parties, and Sunday typically doesn’t mandate sleeping in past 2 p.m.
Graduation also signals changes in the relationships you’ve built since freshman year. In my apartment alone, my roommates represent three different states. There’s only so much time before close friends become pen pals. Who knows what happens when we all accept our diplomas and (hopefully) start our careers? It’s crucial to hold on to every second we can. 
“Later, Penn State,” quickly transformed into “Never let me leave.” I’m not ready for experiences to transition into memories. I’m already going to be the washed up old guy that begins every story with “When I was in college….” Why accelerate the process?
As it is, I only have 40 weekends left in college. It’s time to hold on to the nights that I’ll barely remember. It won’t be long until that spontaneity of just going out on a Friday night and seeing where it takes me is gone. There’s nothing quite like waking up in your bed with a can of cheap beer and a half-eaten piece of pizza. 
This year will be the last time when not having my life together is the norm. Piles of dirty laundry and sinks full of dishes seem less embarrassing when your best friend’s apartment looks exactly the same. Those pictures from Saturday night that found their way on Facebook won’t cost me my career. I’m not expected to actually look like a person when I show up at my 10 a.m. in gym shorts and running shoes. Love it or hate it, this life took three years to build and I’m not willing to trade it for a diploma just yet.
I refuse to graduate until the last item is crossed off my Penn State bucket list. I’m not willing to give up my last year in the student section at sporting events or my chance to stand for 46 hours as part of the Penn State Dance Marathon. I haven’t even pulled an all-nighter at the library yet. My four years will feel like failure if I don’t manage to eat my weight in Creamery ice cream or make it into all the downtown bars (and get kicked out of one). Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll even join the throng of naked students participating in the annual Mifflin Streak.
Bring on the 12 credit semesters. With so much time out of the classroom, I can go into senior year without worrying that I’ll graduate with missed opportunities and regret. Though the situation varies for everyone, I know that I’m not ready for a cap and gown just yet.
(main image via

Daniel Kuhn is a senior studying journalism at Penn State University. A great companion. Just don't feed him after midnight.

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