To save money, many students these days have decided to accelerate their college programs and graduate early. How do students graduate early? They can take more courses per semester, take courses over the summer and semester breaks, “test out” of required courses through CLEP exams, or even begin taking college courses while still in high school. And with college costs rising regularly, the reduction of overall fees by a semester or two can add up to real savings and fewer student loans. As Syracuse University graduate Kelina Imumara told HerCampus.com, she decided to graduate early because “since I’m paying for college myself, saving myself $30,000 was appealing.” The opportunity to save money and time is probably the most persuasive argument in favor of early graduation.
However, before you take that step and start planning to consolidate and accelerate your program of study, you should also be aware of some of the drawbacks to early graduation. I’s a given that there is a lot of advance planning and hard work in the cards for anyone who wants to graduate early, but there are other concerns that you may want to consider:
- Lower academic performance: Students who plan to graduate early must still complete all the requirements of their degree programs. This often means taking heavier course loads each semester-which means more work and less time to complete it. Many people will not be equipped to do all of this work, or to do it successfully. For example, one of my advisees came to me last week with a plan to complete a pre-med program in two years, which would involve tripling up on laboratory science courses (which have more in-class time than any other courses) every semester, in addition to her degree requirements. While this is her choice, I advised her that with such a course load, her grades might suffer, because she will not be allowing herself enough time to complete all her assignments thoroughly. The result can be a lower grade point average that can hurt her chances to be admitted in the competitive medical school application process.
- Internship problems: Many students want to graduate early because they want to start working and earning money-a valid reason. But it may not be that easy. At Santa Clara University’s Career Center, director Elspeth Rossetti counsels students on how to graduate early, but always issues a caveat. As she told USAToday, “Company recruitment cycles tend to focus on students who graduate in the spring. With many companies now hiring directly from their internship pools, spring internships are more important than ever.” If you decide to graduate early, it would still be smart to complete an internship, but that means you will have to pay for the internship credits-once you graduate, your degree program is complete, and you may not be eligible for financial aid.
- Hasty or limited decisions about careers: If you want to graduate in three years, you won’t have the luxury of changing your major, because you will have to fulfill different requirements. If you find out halfway through your program that you can’t stand the smell of chalk and would prefer that all small children were locked up in pens far away from civilization until they are grown up, you’re going to be stuck as an elementary school education major. Students who want to graduate early should be very, very sure that they are truly committed to the field or career in which they are earning a degree.
- Opportunity costs: If you decide to graduate early, you’re going to miss out on some opportunities that could be important to your future. For example, students who want to graduate early usually cannot complete a semester abroad, or do an extra internship-even though the benefits of such experiences may outweigh the benefits of hitting the job market earlier. University of Rhode Island Assistant Dean Linda Lyons explained this to Collegebound.net: “Students have an incredible opportunity to build more experiences into their academic program. I think this type of student has an incredible opportunity to add value to their program in any number of ways…I think these experiences could allow them to truly customize their experience based on their unique skills and interests.”
- Alienation: The post-college blues are the stuff of legend; new college graduate Benjamin Braddock’s tribulations in the film The Graduate are perhaps the most famous of these. But graduation can be a difficult period for many students. It’s a challenge to manage the transition from college to the everyday realities of a whole other way of life, whether that life is working nine-to-five, raising a family full-time, joining the Peace Corps or, in the worst-case scenario, dealing with unemployment. It’s even more difficult if you do it earlier than your friends. You will be on your own, without a support network that really understands what you are going through. It’s also natural to feel left out as your friends go on one final spring break trip.
If you feel that you can handle these five issues, early graduation might be a good option for you. But make sure to discuss this with your adviser, your family, and perhaps even some working professionals in your chosen field. They may have good advice about what employers are really looking for. This will help you make the most informed decision possible, so you can look back with no regrets.