How To Graduate Early From College?

By Amanda HoyleJanuary 7, 2022
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Amanda Hoyle
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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Some college students choose to graduate early for different reasons. 

Some of the common reasons include:

  • To save tuition
  • Because of their intentions of still going into Medical or Law school
  • To start a family
  • Feeling too old for college

Whatever the reason might be for you, graduating earlier than 4 years from college is absolutely achievable, and if you’re considering it, here are a few steps to take:

It requires taking action from High school and thorough planning early on. 

Test Out Of Classes: CLEP

The abbreviation CLEP stands for the College Level Examination Program. It is a test developed by a team of varying college faculties. It allows highschool students to earn college credit after achieving satisfactory scores in introductory college courses. Score range is typically 20-80. With over 1800+ test centers in the U.S, they conduct tests all year round at a cost of around $89. The test format is multiple choice and a little bit of writing sections. 

Test Out Of Classes: AP

Just like CLEP, Advancement Placement tests are tests that afford highschool students some college credits if satisfactorily passed. APs are organized by the college board. Tests run only in May every year in about 22,000+ highschools in the US. Scaled score range is between 1-5. A score of around 3-5 can afford you college credits in most college institutions. Test format is usually multiple choice and short answers. The test costs $94; some dollars above CLEP costs. Unlike CLEP also, you are required to take some classes before writing the test.

Take The International Baccalaureate (Ib) Diploma Programme

Look out for the IB college credit policy for your school to know if it is recognized and can provide you with college credits.

College credits are the key to graduating early. Amass as many as are relevant to your course of study and intended college institution.

Take Extra Classes

The usual requirement to graduate with a bachelor’s degree is 120 credits. Equating to 30 credits for each of 4 course years. The exact number varies depending on your major combination or institution. You can decide to take the maximum number of course credits allowed per semester so you can graduate earlier. It is important not to take more than you can handle though, so finishing early doesn’t affect your grades.

Every major has specific class requirements, and changing a major will affect length of study because you might have to take some new course requirements for that major. It is advised to not change your major if you want to finish college early.

Take Summer Classes

This is where it gets harder. You might need to sacrifice your summer break for extra classes. After attending classes in your college during the school year, you can attend summer classes in your local community college for some credits. Community colleges have partnerships known as articulation agreement. This allows students to transfer credit courses between varying college institutions. These extra course credit from a community college comes at a fraction of the costs of your main college institution which is an advantage.

During the summer you can also get course credits for relevant internships. Look out for internships around you that offer course credits acceptable by your college. It  is not certain that this internship can count for course credits, so it is important to clarify at your department or see your advisor. 

Take Dual Enrollment Classes

You can earn up to 24 credits in high school. This is equivalent to more than one full semester in college. Students in highschool are allowed to take college courses in affiliation with a community college around them. While in highschool, look out for community colleges around you offering dual credit certification. 

Take Similar Courses Simultaneously

Sometimes, courses might count as two different entities, but might have similarities or are interconnected. Taking these courses together in one semester is a cool way to manage workload and finish college earlier with good grades still.

The Pros And Cons Of Graduating From College Early

As  great as it sounds to spend  less time in college- it has its cons.

Some of the obvious advantages of graduating college include:

  • Saving money on tuition. Staying for fewer terms in college will save you money for tuition. It saves you on some student loans. For example, if you finish in 3 years instead of four- you have had one year of tuition and gotten an extra year of income.
  • It is a reflection of hard work- this is something that might seem attractive to your potential employers.
  • Great jumpstart for your career. You gain real-world experience earlier than others, putting into practice all you have learnt in college. You’ll have more time to grow your professional network as you have an extra year of industry experience.

Some of its disadvantages include:

  • College is more than studying, it's a whole experience. When you graduate college early, you are limited on how much college experience you get. In terms of building relationships, extracurricular activities - these kinds of experiences are lost. There is barely enough time to join clubs or make new friends.

 A lot of students who graduate early miss out on the non-academic aspects of college experience which is essential in building life skills like building social networks, personal growth. It cuts down on the time that could have been spent discovering interests, carving out how you want your future to be. Asides from hindering peer relationship building, it can affect relationships with your Professors. With an overloaded schedule, there is little time to make interactions with your professor outside of classes. The downside to this is, you might not build relationships with your tutors that might have been valuable in the future i.e if you want recommendation letters in the future.

  • Graduating early can save you money, but when you’re on student loan- graduating means you enter repayment mode earlier. This means you need to have the capacity to earn enough to start paying your loans.
  • Fewer chances to do internships or externships organized by your college because your summer time is occupied.
  • Your schedule is rigid and doesn’t give room to explore.

What To Consider Before Making This Choice

  • Why do you want to accelerate college?

Understand why you want to graduate early, weighing your options; analyze if it will serve you in the long run. Whether it is to save on tuition, or start working on time  or to start a family- graduating early is worth considering. But make sure to also analyze the effects of graduating early on your college experience. What will you be missing out on if you graduate early; is it a priority and are you willing to forego it without having future regrets?

  •  Work Load: 

You should be aware of your work load capacity. If you’re already struggling with your current course work, do you think  you can take extra? Don’t underestimate the amount of effort to take in extra credits and still excel at them. It is important that you have proper time management skills and good study habits before you decide to graduate early.

  • Be sure of what you want to major in. The idea of graduating early is defeated if you end up changing your major. It is not worth accelerating college, if you’re not sure of your career path yet and don’t know what to major in. Give yourself time if you are unsure- there is no need to be in a hurry. Go through the course catalog; see if the course description tickles your fancy and you will like to major in it. 

How Does Graduating Early Affect My Grad School Admission

This varies from field to field. Some Professors say graduating early might impact your research and internship experience thereby affecting your chances of getting into grad school easily. Because students who graduate college early, only take the minimum required number of courses; this  means they probably have lesser chances of having adequate research or internship experience which is a common requirement for grad school admission.

But also, admission officers may see your ability to complete that many courses in less than 4 years, as a sign of hardwork and grit which is an essential attribute of students in grad school. They might even overlook grades that are not so good because of this.

Overall, it is important to take matters in your own hands in making this decision- do not just rely on advisors on steps to take. Make a very detailed plan on how to go about the entire process. Your advisor will guide you but not make a plan for you. Typically,  accelerating college is not so much of a common thing to do. Do your research and check out the scheduling for these courses to make sure they don’t clash and if you can handle the workload.

Accelerating a college degree might be a better option for non-traditional students i.e students way older than the usual 17-19 year olds who just enter college. But for traditional students, there are both advantages and disadvantages of graduating earlier than 4 years- these pros and cons should be weighed over each other before making the choice.

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Amanda Hoyle
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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