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March 05, 2010


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One easy way to earn college credit is by taking 1 class per session at the local branch of a state university. I went to a private university that had a large core curriculum, so there were some classes that I needed to take but really were not that important to my future career. When I came home for the summer I took a class at the branch campus of a state university. First it was cheap. Second, I got a letter grade but for my school it was considered pass/fail. I went to all the classes, but I admit I did not put tons and tons of study time in since I could get a C and still pass (although I got a high B). There are often 2 or three summer sessions. Take one course per session and it makes it quite easy and does not eat too much into work time. Unfortunately I only took 1 class, but safe to say I will encourage my kids to do more so they can get out of school earlier or be able to double/triple major or whatever.

I see the best benefits in taking college classes while in high school and extra classes in the summer during college for those that know from an early age that they want to be lawyers or doctors i.e. people that have multiple graduate years. However, I also feel that college is a very formative time for most, so it should not be rushed absent a good reason.

I saved some money by taking some of my gen eds at the a community college near my parents' home over the summer, while working my summer job. I checked with my university before signing up to find courses that would transfer for the requirements I needed. The per credit hour cost was much lower, I had free room & board, plus the courses seemed much easier than those my friends struggled with at the university.

While I was in college, I took classes in semesters, which I'd assume is what MOST colleges do. I know some that do quarters or trimesters.

In any case, I always took 20+ hours a semester. Also, I took high school "dual enrollment" courses and earned some pre-college credit: I ended up with about 1.5 semesters worth of credits before I even began.

Taking into account that I received a 5-year degree with two varied business minors, I got out pretty quick in 4.5 years.

(Note here: I will be using my business minors to get my MBA, so this is money worth spending.)

If I wasn't going for CPA eligiblity, I easily could have done this. As it is, I saved a quarter's worth of credits simply by transferring the credits I earned during my high school's partnership program with the local college. To earn these credits, all I had to do was take regular honors and AP-level courses at my high school with my normal teachers and pay I think $200 a course. It was a hell of a deal and it allowed me to finish college on time in four years with one summer internship and enough credits to sit for the CPA exam (225 hours versus the normal 191 to graduate).

There are opportunities to save money on college. You just need to be aware of them early.

Sorry for the double post. Also wanted to add that I took about 20 hours of classes each quarter instead of the normal 15-18. It wasn't that much extra work and for the extra class, I would often take one easy general ed class that needed to be taken anyway. And at my school, it didn't cost an extra dime to take anything over 12 hours (full time status). I know at my husband's school, they changed it his junior year to where they had to pay extra for going over a certain number of hours. It's DEFINITELY worthwhile to take extra classes over the required amount and isn't that hard, especially if you strategize and have the extra classes be the easy ones.

I found summer classes the way to go for the not as academically gifted (such as myself.) They are generally split into a couple of sessions, and I found dealing with 2 classes at a time that met every day infinitely easier than a regular semester. If you go both sessions for both your first and second summer, you can easily finish a degree by the end of your third year, even without heavy semester loads and high school credits.

Even though the classes generally were a little cheaper in the summer, I think the real savings was in not losing that fourth year of opportunity cost (you can work during the summers instead of school, but that work/pay generally pales in comparison to the gains from getting started on your career a year earlier). If on scholarship or if your parents are paying and can easily afford it, you might as well get 4 years of the college experience. But otherwise, I have to disagree that you can get a degree "too quickly" (assuming the degree is legitimate and respected).

Keep in mind that some scholarships do not cover summer school (like the three I had). Most colleges I know of (I live in Texas) also charge per college credit hour, so taking 18 hours does indeed cost much more than 12 (although you would be saving some semester fees like computer lab and such). It would have cost me more to graduate in 3 years, but only because of my structured scholarships.

The difficulty with taking summer courses that are required classes is you risk breaking the sequence of when classes are required.

For example, you may take Accounting 101 in the summer but Accounting 102 isn't offered in the fall, just the spring, because it's presumed most students take the 101 course in the fall and the 102 in the spring. Thus you are SOL for the 102 course until the following spring. Didn't really buy yourself anything extra taking the summer course.

I think it really depends on the university and the student's class needs. I took 15-18 hour semesters and went in with 16 hours from high school. I graduated in 3.5 years. If you count the 16 hours as an additional semester, it was actually an on time 4 years. I would add that a good overall degree plan is important. We had some every third semester classes that were required, but if you missed getting it scheduled could sink your on time graduation.

As far as summer school goes: At the state university I graduated from just a couple years ago, summer school was actually proportionally more expensive than just adding a class in a normal fall or spring semester. Summer semesters still required all the normal computer/gym/whatever fees and were limited in the number of classes you could take (6 hours per session). For me that would have only amounted to a 12 hour semester, which although it is considered "full time" for financial aid/scholarship purposes was not a full semester that would help in the long run. To finish "on time" I needed at least 15-18 hour semesters. A 12 hour summer session meant I would have 1-2 odd classes left at the end to take in another semester with all the required fees too. Additionally, I commuted 2x per week to my university and took all my classes within those 2 days. I worked the other days I had no classes. Summer classes would've had me commuting daily, which means more gas and less work time. Our university's class schedule also tended to be limited to basics in the summer so once I got past my first 1-2 years, the advanced classes I needed were not available. Again, it depends on an individual basis.

There are some degrees that just seem to take longer/require more classes. I have some music major friends that routinely took longer to graduate unless they took summer classes. Their required classes were regularly worth only 1-2 credits. That meant for them a "full time" 12 hour semester normally had 6-7 classes. The classes might have been worth less, but didn't require any less work.

Not only could you take classes at a local college for credit while in high school, most colleges accept AP class credit in place of college credit. So if you score a 3,4,or 5 on any AP test, they will use that in place of your pre-reqs. A lot of people I entered freshman year in college with were already considered sophomores by credit hours. Not a bad deal!

I started off as a college sophomore out of high school and took more than a full load each semester (including summer terms). A little over 3 years, I completed my BS degree. Based upon the course requirements, I don't see how anyone starting off without any prior credits could have pushed below 4.5-5.5 years. The credit requirements at my university were greater than any of the other schools in the state.

Getting some basic credits while in high school is a great way to go. I took AP classes in high school and ended up with 15 credits from it or 1 quarter. I graduated in 4 years which was better than most for engineering at the time.

Overloading on classes would be more challenging. I know I had some quarters that taking 5 classes instead of 4 would have been too much. So I wouldn't bite off more than you can chew by trying to handle too many courses at once. I'd rather get A's in 4 classes than get B's in 5.

It's doable, and what my wife did..... but I don't recommend it.

If I were to go back, I would do FIVE years instead of 4. College was so fun! Once you're out, there's no return, unless you go to grad school.

It is great to see everyone's feedback, comments and conversation on this post. This my first time doing a guest post, so I appreciate everyone's interest in the topic. - [email protected]

@Financial Samurai - Trust me.. we have some students that are managing to stretch it out to 6 years and enjoying every moment!

@Jim & Dj Wetzel - Now that AP classes are being accepted at some colleges and universities for credit, it is really providing a financial benefit and time savings for students

@Kjaxx- Yes, unfortunately, states schools don't offer much, if any, discount for summer classes. Most of the discounting comes from private universities and colleges.

@Anthony- You are a bright one to be able to take at least 20 credit hours each semester. Kudos to you!

@Melissa- Great way to save on education costs. More students now than ever are going to community colleges for their first 2 years and then transferring to the 4 year college of their choice. It saves them a great deal of money on the front end and also provides them with the proper study skills and habits to succeed at the 4 year institution.

International Baccalaureate is becoming more recognized and more popular and also provides a way for high school students to graduate with college credit. In some states, (including our home state of Texas), the state legislature has passed legislation stating that the IB diploma is worth a minimum of 24 credit hours at any public university. In addition, students may also take AP exams. It's not unheard of for local students to graduate with well over 30 credit hours. If your local school system offers an IB diploma, it's well worth looking into.

CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests are a good way to pick up some credit hours, too.

It depends on your degree. Engineers should at minimum take 4 years, and some companies are starting to prefer 4.5-5 years, because it creates more well-rounded engineers.

This is how I got my degree. Took lots of AP in high school and CLEP in college. I also made sure that I took some courses in the Summer and it allowed me to graduate in just 3 years. Good tips!


Easy: go google/learn what AP (Advanced Placement) courses are.

I did this nearly exactly. I took "dual enrollment" classes in high school. Busted my tail in college taking (usually) 5 classes a semeter and at least 1-2 during the summer. 3 years after high school I was debt free with a college degree and my parents didn't pay a dime (couldn't if they wanted to). I had 1 scholarship for 75% of my tuition (Thanks FL Lotto!) and I worked nearly a full time job all through school. I get so frustrated when I hear the kids whine about going to school and I can't pay for it and blah, blah, blah. Grow up. Get a job and do something.

At my school, you could be taught AT the high school with your normal teachers, but they would have further training from the Advance College Project of Indiana University. I didn't sign up because you had to pay IU tuition. Putting that on top of the $14,000/year that my private school cost was not something I felt I needed to do. Instead I went and took 10 AP exams. I began college last semester as a junior.

I did it in two! SO glad I did!! Took AP classes in high school, and AP tests that there wasn't even a class at my school for. I started college with more than a year's worth of credits, took on a heavy load, took classes over break, and graduated in 2 years flat in June '09! So worth it! When I apply for jobs people always do a double take for the years I went to school though :)

I have noticed that what used to be cheaper tuitions is now charged by whatever credit hours you earned. In other words if credit is awarded, they are charging the same price no matter how you got there, be it internet, examination, summer school, heavy load or whatever. You may save some time, but they are looking for ways to get more money out of you.

I once faced the ridiculous situation of a college attempting to make me retake freshman English. I say retake but I actually never took it the first time as my ACT score was high enough to comp me out of it. When I was transferring credit to the local community college (to go to nursing school) they noticed the lack and were going to force the issue even though I had a bachelor's from a Big 10 school.

There is also the scam of "these college credits are too old". applied when you go back to school for some reason. Thus you end up repeating classes you already had because of some arbitrary expiration date that once again is there merely to collect more money. Therefore, beware of interrupting your schooling if at all possible.

I did this. Because of how my scholarship is structured it is making my college education much cheaper. I have a five year unlimited tuition waver, so I can take as many courses from my university as I can cram into that time period without paying tuition. I've taken a lot of summer and intersession courses. I'm using the last two years of my scholarship towards law school tuition at this university (which costs three times as much as undergrad). More people should consider the flexibility of scholarship packages when comparing offers. I received several offers that were estimated to be worth 3 times what my scholarship at this university was, but they were fixed amounts. I'm definitely getting more education and value because of the flexibility of this kind of scholarship.

I found this post really interesting because in the UK most standard degrees are 3 years. 4 years is the exception.
I think it's like we miss out the first year having decided our major before even setting foot on campus.

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