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The Pros and Cons of Graduating Early That They Don't Tell You In School
Adobe Stock / sebra
J.P. Pressley
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Writer, Entrepreneur, Jocky-Nerd/Nerdy-Jock
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Amidst skyrocketing tuition rates, the golden age of entrepreneurship, and the opportunity to learn for free via platforms like Khan’s Academy and even YouTube, the concept of graduating college early is an intriguing one for many students. 

But is graduating college early really worth it? There are many convincing arguments that say it is, just like there are many convincing arguments for why you should stay in college the full four years. Yet when you consider these specific arguments, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Is it possible to graduate college early?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is possible to graduate college early. By no stretch of the imagination does that mean it’s easy, however. Graduating college at all requires discipline, sacrifices, consistency, perseverance and more. That’s why only 60% of college students finish a four year degree within six years, let alone in four years or earlier. 

Nevertheless, graduating college early is more than possible...if you’re willing to put in the work.

How to graduate early.

There is no one set path to graduating early. That being said, graduating early requires that students do at least a portion of the following:

Take college-transferable courses in high school.

Whether it's AP classes, CLEP, dual-enrollment or something else, taking courses in high school that will transfer to college definitely helps you graduate early. Each course that transfers is one less course you have to take once in college. If enough of those courses add up, you could be knocking out a semester, an entire year or even more of college.

Take extra courses each semester. 

Though the exact number depends on your specific school and major, colleges typically require about 120 credits for you to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. That equates to 15 credits per semester to graduate in four years. So if you increase your course load and take, for example, 18 credits per semester for five semesters, you can graduate a semester early. Increase your load even more and you can graduate college even earlier.

Stay with your major (or at least a very similar one).

 One of the reasons that college often takes people more than the standard four years is because people frequently switch majors. While there is nothing wrong with this, it does have the potential to delay one’s graduation. The reason for this is that different majors have different class requirements. So if a fourth-year psychology major decides to switch majors to accounting, he will have to go back and take all of this new major’s required courses that he failed to take before, thereby delaying his graduation. While this might be okay with some major changes — from English to Literature, for example — it becomes tougher the more drastic the switch.

Take summer classes.

An alternative or add-on to taking extra courses during the standard school year, foregoing summer break to instead take classes can help you graduate early in the same way that taking extra courses each semester does. 

  • Internships for credit: Some internships, both paid and unpaid, can serve as course credits for your school. When this is the case, internships can help you graduate early in the same way that summer classes and extra course during the standard school year do. Keep in mind, however, you’ll need to check with the head of your department and/or your school’s registrar for each internship. It is not a given that each or even any of them will count for credits.

Pros

As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to graduating college early. And of these pros, money is pretty high on the list. Graduating early allows you to save money on tuition and simultaneously stop accruing debt while starting to pay off any college loans you may have.

In addition, graduating from college early allows you to gain more real-world experience that much quicker. Instead of being stuck in a classroom or doing homework for the bulk of each day, you’ll actually get to be putting into practice what you learned in the classroom. Additionally, being in the workforce full-time, you’ll be able to grow your professional network that much quicker than your peers — if you put in the effort, of course.

Cons

Though some may think it improbable, there are a couple of cons to graduating from college early. One of these cons is relationships. Graduating college early automatically makes it harder to have a relationship with the peers and professors you leave behind. And while this could be said for graduating at any time, graduating early means that you will have had less time in college to forge these relationships in the first place. Of course, graduating early does not altogether prohibit these relationships. But it does make it significantly more difficult.

There is also the potential con of experience, though a different kind than was mentioned in the pros section. If you are unsure of what you want to do with your life, staying in college allows you the opportunity to explore multiple careers without the real-life consequences of hopping around so much. Graduating college early simply does not allow for that.

Who should consider graduating early?

Graduating college early isn’t for everybody. But if money is a huge concern for you or you know exactly what you want to do in your life career-wise, you should at least consider it. In this case, graduating early can save you both time and money that can be better utilized elsewhere.

If you’re the rare student who isn’t challenged by your college course load and is rather bored with everything, graduating college early is something that you should consider too. Time is going to pass the same way regardless of what you do. So the question is what do you want to do with that time? It may be best to graduate early and take the money and time saved to start a business, go into the workforce, continue learning on your own via online courses, go to graduate school or a whole host of other possibilities.

Who shouldn’t consider graduating early?

If you’re struggling with your course load as it is, are unsure of what you want to do post-graduation, think you want to switch majors and/or want to invest more into the various relationships you have in college, graduating college early probably isn’t the best route for you to go. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Take the time to maximize your college experience.

Graduating college early simply isn’t for everyone. In fact, for most it won't make sense. But if you'd like an accelerated college experience, whether it's to save money or because you'd like to join the workforce ASAP, it's an option worth considering. 

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