College in Three Years? The Pros and Cons of the Fast Track
Going to college can be an eye-opening and exhilarating four years. From the interesting new people you will meet to the vast sum of knowledge you will gain in each of your classes, many people walk out of college with new career opportunities and a new perspective on life.
However, your college experience doesn’t have to last four years. Completing college in under four years will still get you many of the invaluable opportunities and memories. It is fairly common for students to look at their degree plan, financial situation, or career prospects and decide that they want to earn their bachelor’s degree a semester or even a year early.
If you’re thinking that you may want to take the fast track to completing your undergraduate studies, here are some things you can start doing in high school to make that happen, along with some general pros and cons of graduating early.
How Can I Graduate From College Early?
If you want to graduate early from college, there is often a bit of planning required. After all, most colleges expect you to finish your degree in four years, so they design their degree plans accordingly. Here are some ways that you can get ahead on your degree plan so that you can graduate early:
- Earn College Credit While in High School: The most common ways that high school students earn college credit is through taking AP Exams, IB courses, or some college-level courses at a nearby college. These courses and exams test you on college-level material, and the credit can be transferred to your college to help you towards your bachelor’s degree. Usually, college credit obtained in high school is used as elective credit or allows you to “test out” of some of your required college introductory courses. You will have already completed some of the requirements for your degree when you walk into college, so you can jump into the more advanced courses. Bear in mind, though, that not all colleges will count all transfer credits towards your degree.
- Take more classes than the minimum: College courses are generally measured on a unit system where students are required to take a certain amount of units each semester (usually 12-13) and must complete a certain number of units to graduate (around 130 at most colleges and universities). In order to graduate, many students end up taking 14-18 units a semester, which is the equivalent of four classes on average. If you want to graduate early, you may need to take more than the average number of classes for a few semesters. For example, if the average amount of classes per semester at your university is 4 and you take 5 classes every semester until the end of your sophomore year, you will have shaved off one semester of your college career!
- Plan From the Beginning: As soon as you decide that you want to graduate early (the earlier, the better), make an appointment with a college advisor to hash out a basic degree plan. An advisor will be able to tell you whether it is possible to graduate early with your intended major(s), which courses you need to take, when those courses are offered, and other helpful information that you may need to know in order to complete your college education by your specified date.
Pros of Graduating College Early
- Saving Money: Each semester you are not in college is a semester that you save on tuition, room and board, textbooks, and other fees associated with college. Graduating early is a huge money saver for you and your family.
- You Get to Enter the Workforce Sooner: If you want to go straight into the workforce after college, you may be at a slight advantage if you graduate early. For starters, you will have more time to find a job than your classmates who are still in school (since you won’t be juggling the job search and classes), which means that your job search will be more efficient and perhaps more lucrative. Also, if you graduate in a winter semester, you may be looking for jobs in January, which is a far less competitive time in the job market.
- You Still Get a Graduation: Regardless of when you graduate, you will get to walk across the stage in a cap and gown and accept your degree. If you graduate a year early, you’ll walk with the people who entered college a year before you. If you graduate a semester early, you’ll be able to come back in the spring and walk with your class.
- “Me Time”: Many students decide not to get a job straight out of college if they can afford it. They may decide to take a gap year to travel, participate in a non-university affiliated study abroad program, or have an adventure of their own. It could be good for your mental and physical health to take some time off after those busy and stressful college years, and graduating early will give you the time that you need while still allowing you to enter the workforce at the standard age.
Cons of Graduating Early
- You May Have to Pay Your Student Loans Sooner: Some student loans are designed so that you don’t have to start paying them back until you graduate. If you graduate early, however, you may have to dish out money sooner than you anticipated—which could make arranging for a year off for vacation or study abroad more difficult.
- Less Academic Freedom: If you’re trying to cram four years worth of classes into only three years, there won’t be a ton of room in your schedule for any extra classes you want to take simply because they sound interesting or any extra degrees like a double major or a minor. This isn’t to say that pursuing such things is impossible if you want to graduate early, but it is more difficult.
- Missing Out on Time With Your Friends: One of the great things about attending college is that you’re always in close proximity to your friends on campus and can have mini adventures with them whenever you want. Once you graduate, that time you used to naturally get with your friends because you were all in school goes away. This isn’t to say that you won’t still get to see them—you can always come back for the big events like the homecoming game and graduation—but you may miss out on some quality everyday friend time that you might have had if you had stayed in college.
- “Adulting”: This is a word that is commonly used by Millennials to describe the responsibilities of being an independent and self-sufficient adult working and living in the “real world”. While college prepares you for this a little bit by making you do things like take care of yourself, do household chores, and perhaps even pay bills, truly living on your own without your parents’ money and support is a whole different ball game.
- Less Time To Utilize University Resources: If you’re taking extra classes and studying all the time in order to graduate early, you may not get to utilize everything that your campus has to offer. For instance, you may not be able to join those cool extracurriculars because you didn’t have time, or attend those free on-campus concerts because you had to study. In addition, if you graduate early, you will have less time to access university programs and services that could benefit you, like the career center, study abroad programs, and campus career fairs. Note, however, that sometimes graduating early can open up resources instead of taking them away. For example, some non-university affiliated study abroad programs are cheaper than a university study abroad program and even classes at the university in general. It may be worth it to graduate early so you can take advantage of those off-campus opportunities.
There is a lot of excitement associated with being a college student, due in large part to the freedom and the fun adventures that college can bring. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to stay a college student as long as possible. If you plan ahead and start taking college classes while you’re in high school, you can graduate early, save money and time, and still get the valuable “college experience”.
For more information on how to start planning for college and get ahead, check out the following blog posts:
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