One of the major costs of college is the amount of time you stay there. By being able to graduate in a shorter period of time, students can not only save on tuition, but also college related expenses such as room and board. So what can college students do to ensure they spend no more time in college than they need to?
1. Pick a major early on and stick with it: I understand picking a major can be difficult. Personally, I changed majors three times. In my first semester. After that, I stuck with my bio major and got out of undergrad in 3 years. Don’t be afraid to switch out of a major that won’t work, just do it by the end of freshman year.
2. Know graduation requirements: Once the major is selected, tackle the specifics. Write out possible schedules to fit in all the courses. Just for kicks, make up possible scenarios for 5, 6 or 7 semester college careers. Colleges are also constantly changing their curriculum. Keep up with new classes that could count for a requirement.
3. Take a community college class over the summer: When planning possible schedules, if a student is a class shy of being able to break through to the next level of classes, consider a community college class during a break. Nowhere do colleges state “thou shalt never ever attend another institution while thou art going to ours.” Talk to an advisor about the possibility of taking a class back home and transferring it to your primary institution. Not to mention the community college class may be cheaper per credit that the regular school.
4. Never take the minimum credits to be full-time: Always be over the minimum by at least a credit or two. The difference between the minimum and a little over will add up to an extra semester over the college career.
5. Take advantage of off semesters: At the University of Maryland, the month of January is winter term. Students can take the month off or get ahead. Most colleges offer summer classes also. Many times these classes are more relaxed than during the normal semester because there aren’t as many students. This can be a nice time to check off some more requirements.
6. Finish prerequisites early: Prereqs can really hold students back from tackling their majors. Once the major is set, take prereqs as soon as possible. The first semester even. Many students aren’t sure of what they are doing when they first start, so a student with a plan can really move ahead by knocking out prereq courses their first semester or two.
7. Make friends with college advisors: Advisors know things that students don’t. They can waive a student from taking a prerequisite, they can add a student to a needed class that is full, and they can also count a similar class as fulfilling credit for another required class. Make friends with these people. Let them be an ally to help with an early graduation. If they understand the goal, they can keep an eye out for options to get students there.
8. Find fun classes to fill requirements: At my college, biology majors had a variety of upper level courses to choose from to fulfill their advance requirements. Instead of taking something intense like advanced cell biology or histology I took Bioethics. It was the best class I ever took in undergrad because we talked about all sorts of ethical issues not covered in standard biology classes, like banning evolution in public-schools, when to take someone off life support, and stem cell research. The class was fascinating and I got myself closer to graduation with it.
9. Take double whammy classes: You know what I mean. Classes that fulfill two requirements. Sometimes a class can fulfill two GE requirements or a major and a GE requirement. These classes are golden because students essentially get two for the price of one.
Hopefully these tips and strategies elucidate exactly how a student can save on student loans by being strategic. Graduating early can set a student ahead of their peers financially and also in the real world. Many professional schools I applied to were very impressed with my drive to finish school so quickly and assumed I was an extremely hard worker. That’s really not entirely true. I did work hard, but I’d say it was also working smart.
Image courtesy of Jonnny