I’m struggling in college. Is it OK to go part time? | Ask Kelly

Aerial photo of Mercer's Macon campus

Dear Kelly,

I am in my sophomore year at Mercer and have really been struggling. I’m trying to juggle a job while also being a full-time student with four classes, and my grades are really suffering. I’m thinking about reducing the number of classes I take in the spring. Is there anything wrong with going part time?

There is a lot to consider when trying to decide whether to reduce the number of course hours you are taking per semester. To begin with, some majors require students to maintain full-time status. Other programs only accept new applicants at certain times of the year, and prerequisites must be completed before being accepted into those programs. Some programs are set up in blocks, where only certain classes can be taken in certain semesters and aren’t available year-round. And finally, reducing the number of hours you are taking may affect any financial aid you are receiving. While all of these are things you need to consider and research, my personal opinion is there is nothing wrong with reducing the number of classes you are taking, especially if you find that you are struggling to keep your head above water.

I am a firm believer in putting your best foot forward. As a preschool teacher, I always told my students, “Always do your best, and remember, your best may be different from someone else’s best. So, don’t worry what others are able to do. Focus on what you are able to do.” This sentiment really doesn’t change just because we are in college. You know what you are capable of, and you know when you are overextended. Yes, reducing the number of hours you are taking per semester will extend your graduation date. But my question to you is: Is it more important that you finish on time, having stressed and narrowly passed classes, all while feeling that you barely scraped by? Or would you rather take a little longer and finish strong with the confidence that you excelled at your studies and are now ready to move into the career you worked so hard to go into?

Truthfully, a number of students choose to go to school only part time, so they can focus more on individual classes. My son, Dalton, is one of them. As a full-time student, Dalton struggled with keeping up with all of his classes. Dalton is the type of student who really wants to excel in everything he does, yet he found that while taking a full load, he wasn’t able to do that. Every semester, he was finishing with mostly C’s and D’s. After sitting down and having a heart to heart, we decided he should reduce his course load to no more than three classes per semester. Since making that choice, Dalton has become an A and B student. His GPA has risen dramatically, and he feels more in control.

Originally, Dalton was supposed to graduate this past spring, but because he cut his course load, it will take him a couple of extra years. I asked him the other day how he felt about that. I wrote down his answer because it is a perfect explanation of why it is OK to reduce your course load if the program and major you are in allows you to do it. He said, “Mom, in college, there are enough deadlines without also having to worry about getting everything completed in four years. I can put more of myself into the classes I’m taking, and while it may take me longer to finish, I will finish. When I do, I will be more confident about what I learned and will retain more of the information. It’s absolutely worth it!”

And I have to agree. I got so overwhelmed with college back in my early 20’s. I was working a full-time job, and my studies became such a burden that I dropped out. I wished I would have had the courage and conviction of my son and decided to cut back rather than drop out completely.

The truth is, though, while cutting back may help, there may be other options. Talk to your adviser. You may be able to move from being a traditional student to being a nontraditional working student, or working adult student, if you qualify. This program offers evening and online classes, and semester classes are divided between two eight-week sessions, meaning if you are taking four classes in a 16-week semester, you will take two of those classes in the first eight weeks and the other two during the second eight weeks. Depending on your major, this program may or may not be available to you, so it is always smart to speak to your adviser first.

Ultimately, I want you to remember part of Mercer University’s mission statement is, “We encourage our students to discover and develop fully their unique combination of gifts and talents to become leaders who make a positive difference in the world.” That mission statement doesn’t list a timeframe of completion. Instead, it is Mercer’s mission that you fully develop your gifts and talents, which may take four years for some and maybe more for others. That’s completely OK. What I hope for you is that you complete college in such a way that you can be proud of what you accomplished and how you chose to accomplish it.

Before making any decisions, discuss your options with your adviser and with financial aid, if necessary.

As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.

Do you have a question about coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.


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