Education, Saving Money

9 Ways to Maximize Time in College


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

11 thoughts on “9 Ways to Maximize Time in College

  1. Another reason not to take the minimum # of credits- you won’t be able to drop a class without losing your financial aid. I teach at the college level and have had students stay in my class, even though they know they aren’t going to pass, because otherwise they’d be beneath the minimum number of credits to get Federal Aid.

  2. I think it’s unrealistic to expect all kids to know what they want to major in right out of the gate, and suggest they do it by the end of their first year.

    It’s such an important decision. It’s great if you have a clear and defiite idea of what your direction is, but many students would benefit by having more time to explore their options. Pressuring kids to declare a major, any major, is not really productive.

  3. I know, I was being a woseguy.

    I “maximized” the time I was in college by taking classes part time wqhile working my way through school.

    The end result was that I graduated at the bottom of a recession instead of before the recession.

  4. How about something really odd like GO TO CLASS! I’ve had several students fail this term, for simply missing too many classes. I’m sure some had decent reasons, but some just can’t handle an 8am class, and shouldn’t sign up for one no matter what!

  5. I agree with fern above. I declared my major early, but now I have added a second major. Sure, I could have graduated early if I hadn’t declared this second major, but I wouldn’t have realized what I want to do for the rest of my life. Also, now I am a more competitive applicant to grad school.

    I love this site, but I don’t like this series on college stuff. I guess my values differ from other people’s on this subject. But let me just say that eventually you have to spend your money somewhere, and spending it on your or your kids’ education seems like the right way to spend it. I have a friend who got into Princeton, but then went to her state school because she had a scholarship there. Then her parents went and bought a Lexus. Those don’t seem like the right priorities to me…

  6. I think for some people these are good points.

    For me, I paid for school as I went. I took 5 years and wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, I could have crammed it all into 4 years and had no life. It might have even saved me a couple of thousand dollars. But I also might have been too burned out with my load and/or done poorly in classes. The idea of college, to me, is not to just rush through. Sometimes taking your time and making the best of it will suit you better in the long haul. Just things to think about.

  7. You know, you forgot one way to maximize: Be sure you should be in college!!

    Many students could benefit from a gap year between high school and college to get their heads straight and work in the real world for a bit.

    If I had done that, I might have been in a different situation. As it is, I ended up racking up $15K in student loans, $8k in credit card debt, and $2k in debt to the school. This was for 3 semesters of a private school while I was working 2 jobs, picking up a 2nd major just for the scholarship it offered, and trying desperately to better my situation. The final result was all that debt and no degree yet, mainly because I had to leave school from lack of funds and stress.

    Oh, and the other cost was 14 years of my life. Now, I get to start school over at age 32, unless I want to keep being a waitress forever.

    Make damned sure you want to be in school!

  8. I’m surprised all of these are about classes. College is also an excellent place to learn things outside of class. Good ideas include:
    * join organizations to learn new things, meet people, and gain leadership skills
    * get a part-time job – working ten hours a week has been shown to help with grades, not to mention help you minimize your student debt
    * move away from home, with roommates or to a coop – transition more easily to independent living and learn what you like in roommates and housing
    * participate in intramural sports – try new things and stay in shape
    * study abroad – get credit while learning about another culture
    * volunteer – learn things, meet people, help others
    * get an internship – see what worklife is like
    * do research – get to know a faculty member and learn some field more deeply
    * date people, go to parties, etc.

    And of course, go to class, do the homework, try to do a good job, and get study partners.

  9. I think the main thing that should be focused on, is not speeding up college to cut costs, rather maximizing your returns on your investments. As a senior in college who just switched majors, I came to the realization that my original major was only worth a high salary if I attended graduate school. By switching majors, and extending college by one year now, I will be saving two years of graduate school costs later, and also start earning a great salary in a year.

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