How to Graduate Early from College

My name is Marissa Johnson and I am a 2013 graduate from Anderson University in Indiana. While there, I majored in Communications with a focus on Public Relations and I wrote for a student-run PR firm, worked for the admissions and the communications offices, and participated in PRSSA. Since graduating, I currently work as an administrative assistant and web coordinator for an elementary school near Indianapolis.
One of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of my college career was graduating early, in three years. With the cost of college rising by the minute, graduating even just a semester early can help ease the financial burden of higher education. Graduating early also allows you to join the workforce or start searching for full time jobs sooner. It can take hard work, but graduating early can be extremely beneficial. If you are interested in graduating early, consider these tips:
Take dual credit or AP classes in high school
Graduating early from college can start as early as high school. Through a program called Post Secondary Education Opportunities (in some places it’s called Dual Credit) I took several courses at my local community college, which also counted for high school credit. During my junior and senior year, I took four to five courses at my high school, and then I left and went to whichever college course I had scheduled for that quarter. My biggest piece of advice is to check (and double and triple check) that the courses you take during high school will transfer to the college you plan to attend after graduation. Colleges can have very different standards for what is necessary to graduate, so if you can offer your potential college a course guide or description, they will be able to determine if it will fit into their graduation standards.
If your high school doesn’t offer a dual credit program, most usually offer AP classes, in which you learn college-level material with a high school teacher, and at the end of the course you take an AP test. The score that you receive out of 5 on the AP test determines if/how much credit you will receive for the course when you move on to college.
Talk to your advisor as soon as you make the decision
Your college advisor is your biggest advocate when it comes to graduating early. Let him or her know as soon as you have decided that you want to graduate early, so that you can start working together on a plan to make it happen. My advisor allowed me to take an independent study course with her to expand on a project I was already working on for her, which added another credit hour to my course load. Your advisor will also know which courses will allow you to make the most out of the shorter time that you attend college.
Take advantage of summer courses
Summer courses are another way to finish up your graduation requirements early. In the summer, nearly every college will offer courses at a reduced rate, and they are often shortened so that as many as three sessions could be taken. If you attend college more than a few hours away from home, it may seem counterintuitive to spend the money to stay on or near campus, but the cost of living combined with the reduced cost of summer courses is generally still cheaper than a traditional semester. If you would rather live at home for the summer, look into online courses offered by the college you attend. You could also take courses at a local community college, as long as you (once again) triple check that they will transfer to the college you attend during the typical school year.
Utilize courses that incorporate multiple requirements
When I was in college, I was a part of the honors program, which offered one course per semester. Each honors course took the place of a liberal arts requirement, or combined two requirements into one course. In doing this, I fulfilled almost the entire liberal arts requirements. For example, one of the courses I took met for three days of the week to study Homer’s the Iliad and work on English concepts, and the other two days of the week for lectures on ancient Greek history. This made for some pretty difficult courses, but it also made for a great way to fulfill the liberal arts curriculum in about half the time. If your school does not have an honors program, you can try to seek out courses that utilize this same basic idea.
While graduating early can be a bit complex, the extra work is worth it in order to save an entire semester or even year’s worth of tuition. Not to mention you are then able enter the work force earlier, or maybe take a year off to travel and utilize the money you’ve just saved! If you have any other questions about graduating early, feel free to follow and “tweet” at me on Twitter @marissa_johns0n. Good luck!

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