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Why do All Degrees Take 4 Years?


If you think about it for a moment, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Really why do all degrees take 4 years. Do all degrees require exactly the same amount of education, the same amount or learning, and the same amount of experience? I highly doubt it, which means it doesn’t make sense why all college degrees take 4 years!

I won’t debate why you should or shouldn’t go to college or university, it could be to learn to learn, to acquire a skill, to acquire knowledge, etc. It really doesn’t matter for this post, the question is why does it take 4 years no matter what subject you’re getting your degree in?

Some topics are more involved than others. And it shows! I remember taking some “hard science” courses where each course had a lab section to it. If you take 5 of these courses in a semester, that was also 5 labs (don’t ask me why but I did this for a few semesters – and no I’m not insane, at least I don’t think so). For other subjects, there were no labs. Some classes had virtually no assignments where others had weekly 5+ hour assignments (university calculus classes are a good example of classes with higher workloads). If I compare my computer science assignments to my psychology assignments, well let’s just the say the amount of effort wasn’t comparable on average. And almost none of my psychology classes had any labs whatsoever. In case you’re wondering I have a BSc. in Computer Science with a Math and Physics minors. I was also just a couple courses short of a full second degree in Psychology (1 semester) before I left academia for the workforce.

Of course I assume things haven’t changed that much since I went to university years ago, except that now laptops are standard whereas when I went it was only one or two computer science students that could afford any laptops at all. Actually, almost no one had computers period. You generally had to find a friend that could help you out or go to the dreaded computer labs. That was also back when we used to walk 50 miles in blizzards with 100mph winds. But seriously, I assume there’s still as much discrepancy between how much effort goes into getting different degrees.

And that’s how it should be. Some material is harder to learn and takes more effort. That’s life. It’s just the way it is. But why is it that almost every college degree still takes 4 years. Why don’t they vary depending on what’s required?

Is it a perception thing, where people will put less value into a 2-3 year degree versus a 4-5 year degree. I’m sure that will happen, but that can’t be the real issue. At least I hope not.

Or is it that it’s just easier to make everyone go through the same 4 year program, and expand or shrink the program to make it fit it into 4 years (Parkinson’s Law – work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.). Plus, and I just can’t resist, it’s relatively pretty easy money to have a 2-3 year program take 4 years.

Personally though, I believe the main reason is that’s easy and it’s standard to make it 4 years, no matter how much time it really takes (or should take). It’s hard going against convention. It’s the standard. Why rock the boat. And any other of the million cliches and tag lines you can come up with. Sure the other benefits are nice, but I simply think it’s because that’s the way it’s always been. And that’s why we should really question why college degrees almost always take 4 years to complete!

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  •     Scott Kane
    · March 3rd, 2010  · 8:20 am  · Permalink

    Can’t argue this specifically for other countries, but I suspect part of the reason – at least here in Oz – is down to funding. If youre degree takes less time to complete it can’t be worth as much in funding (admin logic and possibly in our case government department logic as the government funds the Universities etc).

    We have a different system here. High School graduates to either University or TAFE. University if for formal degrees, TAFE for certifications and diplimas. To get a full diploma at TAFE you end up doing the equivelent of the four years in many courses (like IT related diplomas vs IT degrees and comp sci).

  •     QC Watchdog
    · March 5th, 2010  · 9:31 pm  · Permalink

    I honestly believe that originally is may have been started as a standard that 4 years of schooling would amount to a B.S. in whatever subject you so chose.

    However, I think in today’s society there is no need for 4 years worth of school. In fact, one can become a nurse in only two years of intense training which currently pays a pretty penny no matter where you go.

    I’m currently a college student and I can tell you that I literally spend much of my time wondering to myself, “What the hell does this class have to do with what I want to do in life!?”

    I believe those who want to learn more about a specific subject should opt to take such classes. But in all honesty it is only the core subjects (probably a two year program) are all that are needed to learn about your career aspirations. After all, it is on the job training where you’ll learn far more in the first year than you ever will at a university.

  •     Steph
    · March 7th, 2010  · 4:28 pm  · Permalink

    In my experience, I find 4 years to be very short for computer science compared to Psychology. I could have crammed my psychology in a lot less time, but for my computer science degree, you it was very difficult to do in 4 years, and I had to skip a lot of items.

    The other thing that is interesting is that I’ve only used maybe 10% of what I learned in computer science. The thing is that you can’t know which 10%, and it’s a different 10% for everyone else. That being said, there are some things that I learn that I less often reference but are critical and that if I learned on my own would never have been exposed to it.

    That’s really the difference you see in the IT world between those who went to school and those who are self-thought. Both are amazing, but there are some theories and concepts that almost no self-thought person knows. You don’t apply them often, but in the odd times you do, wow what a difference. The question is, is it worth it? In most IT positions today, it honestly doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re just hacking and slashing code to get something done.

    And don’t think computer science teaches you how to write better code or structure projects better, it really doesn’t in my opinion. That’s not what computer science is about.

    In any case, the key is that in many cases the length of a degree has nothing to do with the amount of knowledge or work involved.

    One of the other benefits I did get from university/college is the ability to learn and think critically. That’s not something you can get overnight, it does take time. Just like although someone can be technically amazing at karate, they still need to understand the philosophy and concepts behind it. And university helped me with this a lot more than it thought me the techniques.

  •     Casey Strouse
    · July 24th, 2011  · 2:11 pm  · Permalink

    Not all degrees take 4 years. The bachelors degree program that I was in only takes 2 years and 9 months to complete.

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