The average cost of going to college or university in this country is high. In fact, research by the College Board has shown that the average annual college fees in 2015, without the cost of room, board, and other associated expenses, were:
- $9,410 for in state students at a public university
- $23,893 for out of state students at a public university
- $32,405 for students at a private university
What makes it more worrisome is that these costs are rising. There is now a fear that going to college or university is something reserved solely for the elite. Fortunately, some students are entrepreneurial and think outside of the box. One way they have found as a way to gain an education without being in debt (average student debt now stands at $37,172, by the way) for the rest of their lives is by learning how to graduate early and enter the workforce as soon as possible.
How to Graduate Early
Once upon a time, only geniuses were seen as being able to graduate early. However, now, all you need is a basic understanding of math: college usually means completing four courses each semester, which means eight classes per year. If you want to graduate early, you will simply have to take more classes. To do this:
- You can take lots of AP courses, scoring fours and fives to gain course credit from your college.
- You can earn extra credits through IB courses and dual enrollment courses.
- You should take all placement exams that are available straightaway. Doing this for areas such as writing, math, and language means that you may be able to earn credits.
- You could go to community college for introduction to psychology, history, and writing. This is incredibly cheap and you can transfer the credits. You could complete this in the summer before starting college, for instance. Do check with your registrar whether this is possible.
- You can consider only going to schools abroad, but if you intended to do that, check if their credits can be transferred to your college at home.
- Take as many credits as you are allowed to. You do need to be motivated and extremely diligent to actually complete more than eight credits per year, but it can be done.
The Drawbacks of Graduating Early
There are some significant disadvantages to graduating early, and you have to be aware of those if you are considering this move. They include the fact that:
- You will not be able to build meaningful relationships with your professors, which also reduces your chance of completing high quality research. Additionally, when you request a letter of recommendation, they will not be as in-depth, because your professors do not know you as well.
- You will not be part of your original class, as you will be graduating at separate times. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but some people really appreciate having class affinity.
- You won’t be able to grow and mature at the same rate as regular students, as you are forced to grow up quickly instead.
- You won’t have the time to build meaningful new friendships and relationships, discover yourself, or really grow intellectually. Rather, you will be studying 24/7.
How to Decide
Whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks is a personal decision. There are numerous factors to consider before you make your decision, such as:
- What are your expectations from college? Do you see it as a stepping stone to your career and nothing more, or do you see it as an experience, where you will build a social and professional network, writing and critical thinking skills, and soft skills such as communication and leadership? These are the skills that you develop overtime, and not by studying books for months at a time.
- How much would you save by graduating early? This is a complex calculation to make, because you also have to factor in how much you will earn sooner by graduating early.
- Will your knowledge be less in depth because you don’t take part in as many of the courses? Experiences like internships and independent research projects really allow you to develop and grow, and missing these things, as well as service activities and study sessions abroad, can be a real shame.
- Are you ready to give up on your opportunity to explore? Research has shown that almost 85% of students change their mind on their major at least once. If you are busy trying to graduate early, you may end up with a degree that you may not even want.
- Do you believe that finishing a degree early means you are a genius? Whether you are genius or not, this isn’t what some employers will see. Rather, they may look down on the fact that you are too young. Unless you also have a much above average score, you will not stand out in a positive way in the workforce.
Some Caveats and Other Ways to Graduate Early
There are a number of ways to earn extra credits, which may enable you to graduate early. These include:
- Going to school each summer, either at a public university of community college. Do remember that this costs money, so your savings will be reduced.
- Pass various exams offered by the College Board’s College Level Examination Program. There are 33 different tests available in a range of different subjects that are usually covered in the first two years of college or university. To prepare, you can go to the nonprofit Saylor Foundation, which offers free self paced courses in the same subjects.
- Ask the American Council on Education (ACE) to have your military experience, online courses, and workplace training evaluated, particularly if these were achieved through nonaccredited institutions. There are currently some 2,000 schools across the country that accept credits from the ACE.
The caveat is that many elite schools will not accept any of those credits. Additionally, if they do accept them, they will go towards your major only. This means you really have to develop a strong strategy if you want to still complete your degree early.
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