Save on College & Graduate Early

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It’s simply math, really. If you can manage it, graduating college in three years instead of four can save you a bundle of money and leave a great impression on potential employers in the process.

OK, that’s a lot to absorb, but here are the details.

First, not too many colleges offer formal three-year undergraduate programs, although the market is shifting a little bit. Franklin & Marshall, University of Caroline-Greensboro and Southern New Hampshire all offer formal three-year graduation programs. And some state governments are starting to get into the act.

The Rhode Island state legislature, for example, recently voted to force its state universities to offer three-year undergraduate degree programs.

Then there’s the general trend of U.S. college students not graduating too soon, but too late. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 38.5% of college students take more than four years to graduate. Conversely, only about 4% of college students graduate in three years.

So besides going against the grain, the exercise of graduating college in three years instead of four is one you’re going to have go through yourself. The good news is obvious — you can save a lot of money by graduating early. At the University of Southern New Hampshire, the average annual tuition is $25,000. That’s an extra $25,000 you save by taking advantage of the school’s early graduation program.

The actual process may be an arduous one, though, depending on your stamina for extra class work and a reduced social life on campus. Typically, the average college student takes about four classes per semester, or about eight per year. A quick look at the math reveals that, to graduate in three years instead of four, you’ll need to take about three extra classes per year to ensure that you can graduate early.

Some additional tips:

Be aggressive about placement exams. Many colleges will give you class credits if you excel at placement exams in particular academic areas like math and writing. The more credit you can accumulate early with stellar placement exam scores, the fewer classes you’ll need to complete to grab an early sheepskin.

Commit yourself to a major early. To graduate more quickly, it really helps to clarify your major — and let your school know that you want to graduate in that major early. Like most journeys, the one that has been laid out early with a specific goal in mind stands the best chance of success.

Ask your college for help. Follow the old adage about “strength in numbers” closely. Most colleges have good academic advice counsel, either directly from professors or department heads, or from school-sponsored mentorship programs. Also, ask around to see if anyone on campus — students or teachers alike — know someone who has graduated early. There’s no substitute for direct experience — and getting it from someone who graduated early can be a huge advantage.

One more benefit. When potential employers see that you wrestled a college degree to the ground in three years instead of four, they’ll tag you as a go-getter who can tackle big challenges and succeed where most of your contemporaries — and most of your job competition — fail.

And that’s one real world advantage you can’t get in any classroom.

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