While college is supposed to be a four year (or more) experience, Newsweek recently published an article about why college should not take four years. I managed to finish my undergraduate degree in three years and one semester-and this was without taking summer classes.
The main reason to graduate in three years is to save money. A second reason is to get on with the next stage of life (grad school, medical school, law school, a job or so on) a bit more rapidly. Here is my quick guide to getting it done.
First, if you are still in high school, sign up for classes that provide college credit. Be sure that the schools you want to attend will accept this credit. If your high school is near a college, you might be able to take actual college classes while still in high school. For example, my high school had a program with the nearby University of Maine that allows high school seniors to take college classes. I had six credit hours when I graduated.
Second, sign up for 18 hours each semester and/or take summer classes. If you can take it, sign up for 21. You will need to get 40 credit hours a year to graduate in three years (assuming a standard 120 hour degree requirement), so you will probably need to take summer classes. If you have good time management skills, you can still have plenty of time for extracurricular activities. For example, I did cross country, track, debate and College Democrats while taking 18 hours a semester. A warning: you might want to start with 15 hours your first semester, just to be sure you can handle the hours.
Third, see if you can get credit for school activities or life experience. When I was in school, I got some credit hours for being on a varsity sports team and for being on the debate team. While schools will vary in this policy, it is worth checking into.
Fourth, see if you can get credit from CLEP tests. Passing a CLEP test can provide college credit. While the tests are not free, they are much cheaper than what a class costs. Typically, a CLEP test will be cheaper than the book you’d have to buy for the course. Be sure that your school accepts CLEP tests before taking them.
Fifth, know what you want to major in and follow the guidelines for that major so you get your classes done in time. Be sure to be aware of pre-requisites and if certain classes are offered only in certain semesters.
Sixth, if you are not sure about your major, focus on the general education requirements first. Schools typically have a core curriculum that everyone has to complete. If you are not sure about your major, do these first so that you do not waste time by taking classes that will not help you graduate.
Seventh, make sure you know the requirements for graduation. Amazingly, I have run across students who have more or less guessed at what they needed or hoped that a class would count.
Eighth, make sure that your adviser knows her/his stuff. I have heard students complain about their advisers being wrong. In some cases, I suspect that the students made the error and are scapegoating the adviser, but I am sure that this does happen.
Ninth, know the deadline for graduation and make sure that you have your paperwork done well ahead of time. Do not wait to the last minute.
Tenth, do not work during the semester unless you have to. While it is tempting to work to get some extra money, you’ll be slowing down your graduation and you can make much more as college grad than you will working part time. If you need to work (and many people do) during the semester, keep your work hours to a minimum and try to find a job that meshes well with your class schedule. If you are lucky, you might even be able to find an employer who will help you pay for school.
When thinking about the three year plan, be sure to consider what you will be missing in terms of activities that are outside of the classroom, such as college sports, clubs, and partying.