Recent surveys show that more than ever before, students are concerned about the dangers of graduating college with too much debt. And while applying to the right colleges and seeking need-based aid are still your best cost-cutting strategies, here’s another. With good planning and hard work, a motivated student could graduate college up to one semester or even a full year earlier than the traditional four-year plan, saving thousands of dollars in college costs. Here are a few ways to accelerate your college progress.
1. Choose a college where AP credits will transfer.
Not all colleges accept all AP credits, but many will allow students to skip required courses with enough AP credits earned. If you’ve taken AP classes and passed the associated exams, find out how many of those credits will actually transfer.
2. Meet regularly with an academic advisor.
A student who wants to graduate early can’t afford to make scheduling mistakes. An academic advisor can be both a guide and an ally. They can recommend appropriate courses, answer questions about potential course availabilities, and even help you get into a required class if you were unsuccessful when registering. Plan to meet with your advisor at least once a semester. And don't wait for them to contact you, especially if you attend a large university.
3. Take summer school at a community college.
You can certainly take summer school at your college, but the tuition at a community college is much cheaper. Ask your academic advisor which course requirements could be satisfied over the summer at a local community college.
4. Make sure you’re really on board with the “graduate early” plan.
Students who plan to graduate early have to give up some luxuries. They won’t have as much freedom for academic exploration. They may not be able to commit to as many outside activities. They may have to give up the chance to study abroad. But if finances are a big concern, it’s much better to accept those terms and still get a college degree, preferably with minimal loans that need to be paid back.
I’m not a big fan of the three-year plan. I think that getting out of college as quickly as possible can make it harder to extract the maximum value from the experience. But it’s an option, one that you might consider if cutting college costs is your highest priority.