How to Graduate College Early: When It Is Worth It and What Early Graduation Requires

Nicolas Cesare
graduate
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Paying for college is expensive. Whether you’re going to an in-state public university or an Ivy League school, these days you’re probably going to spend years saving money for college

Since each semester will cause you to rack up more expenses and, quite likely, more debt, it’s not a bad idea to be thinking about graduating from college early. However, figuring out whether you should graduate early is not a simple decision. Let’s go over the pros and cons. 

Pros and Cons of Graduating College Early

Below are the pros and cons of graduating college early:

Pros:

  • You’ll save money;
  • You’ll take on less debt;
  • You can show employers your work ethic;
  • You can get a jumpstart in your career;
  • You’ll have more time to dedicate to personal obligations.

Cons:

  • You’ll miss out on the typical college experience; 
  • You may miss out on internships or research opportunities;
  • You may not be able to study abroad;
  • Your GPA could suffer if you take on too much at once;
  • You could be losing free money.

Now that you’ve considered the pros and cons, the rest of this article will discuss how to graduate early. 

Have a Good Reason

College is tough enough as it is. If you’re putting in the overtime to graduate early, you should make sure that you have a good reason. Good reasons to graduate early might include:

  • You want to minimize student debt. You will spend more money on tuition, books, and room and board the longer you stay in college, so getting out early can be a good way to shave a semester or two off your total student loan debt.
  • You have a job waiting for you. The sooner you’re able to join the workforce, the sooner you’ll have a real income. If you know that you’ve got a career lined up for you after college, that’s a good reason to sprint through your education.
  • You have personal obligations that would be easier to carry out if you spent less time in school. Maybe you need to take care of your aging parents or maybe your spouse has a job offer in another city. Whatever your reasons, it’s totally fine to want to finish school early in order to keep your personal life intact.
  • You need to start earning money now. This could be to support family, pay for medical operations, or any other important reason. You may even desire to start earning money now, especially if you’d be leaving with one of the highest-paying degrees. If you’re looking to find a job sooner than later, fast-tracking your college career may be a necessity. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the reasons why you might want to graduate college early, but whatever your reasons are, make sure that you’re ready for the challenge of graduating early from college. If you’ve made your mind up, here’s how to graduate early from college.

5 Ways to Graduate College Early

After carefully considering your options, with a post-graduation plan in the works, it’s time to put in the effort and make the adjustments now that will get you through college and out into the ‘real world’ as quickly as possible.

Start in High School

It’s funny to think about high school as being important to graduate early from college, but what you do before you ever set foot on campus can make a big difference for your college career. By taking advanced placement or dual-enrollment classes while you’re in high school, you’ll be able to earn college credits before you’ve even applied.

These credits can be applied towards your early graduation, helping you to shave semesters or even years off of your college experience. Even if you’re not planning on graduating early, getting college credit in high school will enable you to skip past many of your core classes and get straight into the subjects that really interest you.

Take Community College Classes and Placement Exams

If you took a college-comparable course during high school or you’ve taught yourself a few college-level subjects, then it’s still possible to skip out of some of your college credits. 

By taking cheaper classes at a local community college or testing out of the basics, you can earn college credit without spending tons of money. You could take these the summer before college or even during high school, granted you have enough time.

Max Out Your Course Credits Each Academic Term

Most colleges estimate that taking four or five classes a semester is plenty for the average student — and two or three for a quarter system, and three or four for a trimester system. 

However, if you plan on graduating early from college, you’re going to have to challenge this preconception. By going up to your max credit limit per academic term or even going over it, you’ll be able to speed past the goal posts and graduate early.

If you do go over your credit load for the academic term, you will probably have to fill out some paperwork and may have to pay a fee. If there are additional costs, there is a chance they will not be included in the cost of attendance calculation or reflected in your financial aid. Just make sure that you aren’t paying more in fees than you’re saving by graduating early.

Be warned, though — taking six or seven classes in a semester is very difficult. Make sure that you budget your time wisely so that you don’t fall behind in anything. Having to retake a class could slow you down even more than cutting your course load would.

Take Summer and Night Classes

You don’t just have to cram extra credits in during the regular semester. Taking summer classes or night school can help you get all of your credits to graduate early without having to max out your credit load during the semester. 

For those relying on financial aid, make sure to check with the bursar’s office to see if you’re still covered for summer or night classes. Some student loans, grants, scholarships, or other forms of aid don’t apply outside of the traditional fall and spring semesters. You may have to take out an additional loan dedicated to a summer semester.

Take Online Courses

Online courses are another way to meet your course requirements outside of the standard system. Today’s online courses are just as rigorous as a regular college class, but you’ll have more flexibility to do the coursework on your own time. 

Know What You Are Missing

Graduating from college early is a great way to reduce your student debt, but it’s not automatically the right decision for everyone. You should know what you’re going to be missing before you go down the path towards early graduation.

Below is a list of what you may miss out on:

  • Internship opportunities: You won’t get as many internship opportunities. Internships take a lot of time and aren’t usually available until you’ve completed a lot of the coursework for your major. By missing out on internships, you could be hurting your career prospects once you leave school.
  • Research opportunities: You won’t get to do as much research as you would if you stayed in school longer. 
    • Research opportunities (especially research positions that let you work during college) are another thing that won’t be available until you’ve taken many of your courses. 
    • If you skip out on these opportunities, you won’t be getting the full breadth of knowledge and experience from your degree that you could be getting.
  • Study abroad: Don’t count on studying abroad if you graduate early. Semesters spent abroad are more about experiencing a new culture and region and less about cramming in credits.
  • Networking: You will miss out on building relationships with your professors if you try to blast through their classes. A good relationship with a well-placed professor could turn into an influential letter of recommendation some day.
  • A free ride: If you were given a free ride to college or large sums of scholarships, you may be throwing away the chance to go to school for a free to low price. These scholarships typically last four years; graduating a year or even a semester early could be the equivalent of losing thousands of dollars. 

Graduating early from college can be a smart move if your situation calls for it. However, if you’re less concerned about student debt and you want to get the most from your college experience, it’s probably best to do the normal four years.


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