Some students at Shepherd University have been going to school for more than just four years and are known as the Super Seniors.
The societal norm for college is four years. Almost everyone expects to graduate within that time. Some students, however, stay at college a lot longer than the rest.
Emily Gilmore was a senior for three years as of fall 2012. She is majoring in environmental science with a concentration in sustainability. She plans to go to graduate school to go on and build sustainable communities.
Gilmore said she changed schools three times, majors twice and minors three times. She will graduate with exactly 200 credits. Gilmore already has an associate degree in biology from Hagerstown Community College.
Gilmore said that Shepherd has not been the reason for keeping her longer. She obtained a scholarship and a grant for fall 2012, so she planned to take a couple of extra classes since they were free.
Gilmore said that since Shepherd is a small school and does not have enough teachers, some classes are only offered every three semesters. She said that if you plan right, you can do it.
Gilmore has been paying for college with student loans, a grant, a scholarship and a full-time job except for the fall 2012 semester.
Leaving Shepherd is bittersweet for Gilmore.
“I love my friends here, and I love Shepherd,” she said. “All my friends are leaving and such, so I have no reason to stay.”
Gilmore is looking forward to moving onto the next stage of life and feels that her chapter at Shepherd is coming to a pleasant close.
Gilmore advises incoming students to look at their four years and see what classes they may need and when. She advises them to have good preparation and talk to their advisors. She also said to not be afraid to change your major if it is not right for you.
“It’ll help you not to stay here longer,” she said.
Caje Markley was a senior for five semesters. He double majored in business and economics. He planned to get a job at the police department in Vienna, Va., after his graduation.
When asked why he had been in school for so long, Markley answered that he had no idea what he should do. He was an undecided major when he first started at Shepherd. He tried out computer science and finally ended up double majoring in business and economics.
Markley does not believe Shepherd was the cause of staying longer. Markley believed, though, that some courses are set up in a way that can keep other students from moving forward and being successful. Some students have had to fight for the classes they needed in order to move forward.
Markley said, “Yes, I am definitely glad that my term here at this institution has finally come to an end.”
Markley said he has spent way too long at Shepherd.
Markley, advising incoming students, said, “If you don’t know exactly what you want to do and are not intentional about any particular path, don’t waste your time and money here at this university.”
Erik Bryson graduated in spring 2012. Bryson stated that he has been doing “nothing” since graduation. As to why, he stated that he had no marketable skills. He said his degree was useless for him and that he did not learn anything that he could not have taught himself.
He said he was in school for such a long time because he placed at a remedial level when he entered and took courses he said he should have learned through high school but failed out of his first year of college. He said he also switched majors from physical therapy to communications and transferred.
Most of his credits from Hagerstown Community College to Shepherd transferred. It worked to his benefit because he dropped bad classes.
Bryson said that Shepherd offered good enough availability to get his degree done in time.
Bryson’s parents paid for half of his education. The other half has been in private and government loans that his parents cosigned for. Bryson said he will be paying off his debt, about $35,000 after interest, for a while.
Bryson estimates he can pay it off in only four years if he can get a position as an Apple Genius. If he does not get that position or a similar job, he believes he will be working at a poverty level income and will be spending the next 10 years of his life paying off that debt.
Bryson is glad that he graduated.
“I felt like I came out of a prison,” he said, “like a free man out of a jail cell.”
Bryson said that Shepherd has nothing to do with the real world and it only tested him on things that mattered to itself.
Bryson said the uselessness of his degree does not apply to the whole college. He said that degree was not for him. He added that GPA matters and that it defines your entrance into a worldly system.
Michael Chartuk had been a senior since he got to Shepherd. He has been a senior for three years. Chartuk is a communications major with a minor in journalism. After graduation, he was planning to move back home for a while to look for a job nearby or wherever one is being offered.
Chartuk went to college straight out of high school and then flunked out. He then went to NOVA, another Virginia community college, and got his general studies done there. He was a historic preservation major at NOVA. Chartuk then came to Shepherd.
Chartuk has said that Shepherd has been pretty good. He had to switch from being a historic preservation minor to a journalism minor at Shepherd because the classes were not offered in a timely manner.
Chartuk thinks it is easy to fall through the cracks at Shepherd. He said that people could be missing something important and not know about it. He believes that is probably true of other schools as well. Things at Shepherd can get lost in the clutter of weekly e-mails, though.
“They inform us of events going on,” Chartuk said, “but not the important ones. If they do, it can be sixth down the list and even end up as spam.”
Chartuk said he has been paying for college with “pixie dust and IOUs.” His parents have taken on some of the bills but most of it is in loans.
Chartuk said he is glad he will be graduating from Shepherd because he has been in school for such a long time. He is kind of excited to be entering the real world.
Chartuk tells incoming students to ask what they need to do every step of the way, like taking classes in a certain order or filling out forms.
“That’s what I wish I knew,” he said.