Increasingly these days, many students are taking longer than four years to complete their undergraduate degree. In addition to those students who may take longer than the traditional four years to complete their degree, however, there are a growing number of students who may decide to attempt to complete their college education in less than four years. Students who finish in three or three and a half years may save on tuition fees. They have the opportunity to get started working in their chosen field earlier. However, these students may also need to give up some of the traditional college experiences in order to be able to complete their degree early.
There are several characteristics of students who are most successful at completing their degree in less than four years.
- These students knew from the beginning of their college career that they want to finish early. They are focused on the goal from the start.
- These students often begin to work toward their goal in high school by taking Advanced Placement courses or dual registration and beginning their college career with several courses already completed.
- These students work closely with their Academic Advisor to plan their courses carefully.
- These students may need to be focused on their major early on. A change of major may force them to readjust their timeline.
- These students carry a full load of the maximum number of courses allowed every semester.
- These students are prepared to have less free time than their classmates. Since they may be carrying a heavy load of courses, they know that they will need to work harder.
- These students may need to give up a part-time job in order to spend more time studying. They may need to make financial sacrifices since they will have less time to earn money.
- These students may need to take extra classes during the summer or during winter intercession in order to gain extra credits.
- These students may need to take CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exams (costing about $60 per exam) in order to test out of certain college courses.
- These students may need to be prepared to give up some of the experiences of college in order to focus on their studies.
Obviously, the goal of completing college early is not for every student. Students need to weigh carefully the advantages and disadvantages of such a goal. For some students, who are especially focused and anxious to move on, it is the right path to take. For other students, the stress of the approach, as well as the sacrifices of the college experience, may mean that they are more comfortable taking some extra time to complete their degree. Students, and their parents, need to remember that the college experience may be about more than just classes and credits. For some students, the social, athletic, or leadership opportunities available may be worth staying the course for the traditional four years.
It is important that parents and students discuss students’ plans and possible timetables and come to a conclusion about the most comfortable approach for everyone. They will also need to be flexible if the chosen approach doesn’t appear to be working. As always, parental support will help the student plot his path.