Fifth-year students talk about their educational paths at UC Davis
With college being broken up into four years — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior — the undergraduate experience is often depicted as a four-year endeavor, despite the presence of students who take a longer or shorter amount of time to complete their degrees.
Nancy Nguyen, a fifth-year communication major who has changed her area of study three times, believes that students aren’t provided with adequate time and resources to explore their interests.
“I feel that our education system is set up in a poor way in that after going through high school and applying for college we’re expected to know what we want to major in,” Nguyen said. “I think a lot of people struggle with that concept — a lot of the topics and majors that are offered at colleges [are] not offered in high school or people aren’t even exposed to [them].”
Nguyen entered as a chemistry major based on how much she liked the subject in high school. Since then, she has switched to pharmaceutical chemistry, computer science and finally communication. She plans to graduate in June 2019 with a major in communication and a minor in computer science.
Jean Cobar, a fifth-year managerial economics major, also switched her major. She started taking managerial economics coursework in her junior year, but she officially switched from pursuing a math major midway through her senior year.
“I really enjoyed being in the math major, but as I continued on in the course I felt like I couldn’t see myself doing it in the future, and for me, [managerial economics] is something that I can go into different fields that I think I would enjoy a lot,” Cobar said. “Right now it might seem like an extra year feels like forever, but in reality your career after is going to last much longer. I think taking an extra year to do something that you’ll enjoy more and that you find more rewarding just makes more sense to me.“
Cobar believes that there are other more important factors to consider than how long one takes to graduate.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking extra time or finishing early; it’s just dependent on the person,” Cobar said. “I don’t think it really matters when you go into the field because what it seems like matters are your skills and your ability and how sure you are of the subject you’re going into.”
Fifth-year Adriana Castillo entered as an animal biology major but ended up switching to animal science. She had a mental health emergency when her grandmother passed away in the Spring Quarter of her first year. She petitioned to drop a course after the drop deadline, pushing her below the full-time student unit requirement. She took community college courses, but she didn’t check in with advising, and the units didn’t add up to what she needed. In winter of her second year, she was told that as long as she passed her classes, she would be fine.
“I came in thinking, ‘Hey, I just had a really hard time. I feel like I should ease myself back into school again,’“ Castillo said. “I didn’t find out until winter week eight, when I was already failing organic chemistry, that I had to pass all my classes so that I could stay … I failed organic chemistry [that] winter and that was pretty much ‘You’re going to be kicked out for spring [quarter].’”
That spring and summer, Castillo took more community college classes in preparation for her readmission application and talked with an advisor about how she would work to improve from then on and what steps she took to not let it happen again. She also worked to improve her mental health.
“That second year once I got kicked out, it was a hard time for me. I went through a bit of depression and that was when I felt I was at my lowest,” Castillo said. “At the end once I finally got readmitted, I took all the resources that I needed and I began mental health counseling. I started kind of just talking to friends more, and getting their support, because … one thing that I should’ve done from the start was talk to people because I kept all my emotions bottled in which kind of led to the breakdown and failing in classes. Just — self care.”
Castillo still has mixed feelings about being a fifth-year.
“I’m not going to lie — I’ve had my ups and downs with being a fifth-year,” Castillo said. “I’ve had that closure but there’s also still that want to be out there, be working towards my future goals and there’s also that sadness —But there’s more to it. There’s no shame in taking a fifth year at all. If anything, I’m grateful for it because I feel like it’ll give me the chance to thrive and be able to focus on my studies and take all the opportunity I can get … You definitely have to look at the bright side of it all.”
All three mentioned that they believe there is a stigma on those who take more than four years to graduate, yet they firmly believe there is nothing wrong with people taking however long is necessary for them.
“You definitely don’t need to graduate in four years, even though that’s the common thing, and there’s this huge stigma on people who take longer than four years to graduate. I think you should just disregard all of that,” Nguyen said. “I feel that the amount of time it takes for you to finish your study or major doesn’t define what you can do and potentially achieve in the future.”
Some fifth-year students, including Castillo and Cobar, occasionally refer to themselves as “super seniors.”
“I think the term’s kind of cute because it doesn’t have a bad connotation to it,” Cobar said. “I think of it like a superhero — you know more.”
Written by: Anjini Venugopal — firstname.lastname@example.org