Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award

Summer 8-8-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Jonathan Smith


About 48 percent of bachelor’s degree graduates take longer than four years to complete their degree. While earning a college degree is associated with substantial labor market benefits, the diverse paths students take towards completing their degrees may be important determinants of outcomes after graduation. Since employers routinely make inferences about a worker’s productivity based on observable characteristics such as on a resume, time to degree could be meaningful in the labor market if employers value it as a signal of an applicants’ potential performance as an employee. Moreover, the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree is an important source of the private returns to completing a college degree. Given existing racial and income disparities in graduate degree attainment rates, it is critical to understand where students may fall off the path to earning a graduate degree. Time to bachelor’s degree is an understudied point in this pipeline.

In Chapter 1, I study whether the amount of time students take to complete their bachelor’s degree affects labor market outcomes after graduation using a resume-based field experiment. I randomly assign a time to degree of either four or six years, as well as the selectivity of the public colleges where the degrees were received, to fictitious resumes of recent graduates where all other resume attributes are equivalent on average. I send over 7,000 resumes to real job vacancy postings for entry-level business jobs on a large online job board and track employer response rates. In the full sample of jobs, resumes listing bachelor’s degree completion in six years received about 3 percent fewer employer responses than resumes indicating graduation in four years, but this difference is not statistically significant. However, for jobs with relatively large applicant pools, resumes listing six years to degree receive 17 percent fewer responses. Meanwhile, I estimate that listing a relatively more selective college increases response rates by about 13 percent, and by about 33 percent among higher paying jobs.

Chapter 2 studies the relationship between the amount of time students take to complete a bachelor’s degree and graduate school enrollment. Using nationally representative data from the Baccalaureate and Beyond survey and taking a selection on observables empirical approach, I find large disparities in graduate school enrollment and graduate degree attainment for delayed graduates compared to on-time graduates after controlling for a rich set of student characteristics. Importantly, I show that students with a different time to degree report having similar expectations for earning a graduate degree in the future when asked during their final year of their bachelor’s degree, suggesting differential graduate school goals do not explain the results. Additional analyses find that these enrollment patterns are driven entirely by differences in full-time enrollment in graduate programs within the first year after completing the bachelor’s degree. Delayed graduates are not more or less likely to enroll in part-time graduate degree programs or to initially enroll between one and ten years after completing their bachelor’s degree.