Opinion | Being a fifth-year in college isn’t as old as you may think

By Ashanti McLaurin, Staff Columnist

This past school year I was nervous and anxious about being a senior in college, because being a senior in college means this is the last rodeo before graduation. This is the last year I will be on the cheer team, going to college parties, and it will possibly be my last time staying in Pittsburgh.

As sad as this may sound — and trust me, I’m very sad thinking about my last year of college — I am learning to accept that becoming a fifth-year student is okay. A fifth-year in college is someone that takes five years to complete their bachelor’s degree in their respective field, and at first, I didn’t know being a fifth-year would be an option for me.

I am an English writing on the nonfiction track and Africana studies double major. English writing was my main focus, as I knew since ninth grade I always wanted to be a writer of some sort. Majoring in English to me was a given, but once I had taken one Africana studies class, I knew right then and there I wanted to major in it as well. 

Yet, I wasn’t always an Africana studies major, as Africana studies was one of my minors first.  

It didn’t take until this year, my senior year last semester, to declare it as a major. I declared it first as a minor sophomore year, which was my first year at Pitt as a transfer student. The Africana Studies Department has taught me a lot about the subject matter in classes, and the professors have shared words of wisdom with me too. I’ve always enjoyed the classes, as they go deeper than tackling being Black as just an identity.

As a New York and North Carolina native, Pittsburgh has been my home away from home for almost three years. I can’t imagine not being here next year after making lifelong connections with my teammates. I can’t imagine not being on the cheer team anymore and my cheer career actually ending after putting ten years of tears and sweat into the sport I grew up with. 

I felt insecure that it’s taking me extra time to finish a degree — I probably would have finished this year or even earlier, too. Once I learned that adding another major would require me to finish another full year of school, I felt defeated as if not graduating my expected year made me lesser than everyone else. I felt behind compared to my other friends who I went to high school with that graduated college “on time” or even earlier. 

As I think about the school year ending and actually entering adult life, I’ve come to terms that being a little older and taking an extra year isn’t the end of the world. 

I’m coming to terms with being more optimistic about taking my time to finish my degree, although I have to endure two more semesters of senior year classes. It gave me another perspective — to not take my time for granted, as college goes by so fast. I have learned to appreciate taking this time to truly enjoy my final year at Pitt and to live in the moment.

I’ve realized it’s not a race to get a degree, as it could take five years or even two years. It doesn’t equate to me not putting the same amount of work into earning it. I will still be competitive against others who might have taken fewer years to complete their degree than me when finding a job and building my career.

This extra year also gave me extra time to figure out what I want to do after undergrad ends. I know I want to go to grad school to continue education in journalism, but I didn’t know at first what programs to look into and where to go. When I first thought about grad school last summer, I didn’t realize how quickly the year had gone by, and now it feels like deja vu thinking about it again. This time, I know where to look and more about the application process, and I can actually make time to start my application. 

Being a fifth-year has its pros and cons, but I have no regrets taking an extra year to finish my degree. I was worried about what others thought about me, but it’s what I need that matters. So, if you’re in the same situation as me — finishing your major credits and graduating the year after you’re “supposed to” — it’s fine. 

Reassure yourself that it’s okay to take five years in undergrad, because it truly is. I’m still learning to accept it as well, so don’t feel like you’re alone. 

Ashanti McLaurin primarily writes about Black culture, human injustices and gives life advice. Write to her at [email protected].