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October 16, 2010


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Hey, great idea! But how would you party on Mom and Pop's dime for 5 years, if you finish in three?

I actually finished in 2 years.

Took 15 hours between Junior and Senior year of High School
Got 45 hours of CLEP credit-take a test-save a boatload of money!
Then went the summer after I graduated from High School and the summer between my first and second year.

Add it all up, and I graduated 2 years almost to the day of High School Graduation. We were on the quarter system then.

And before you say, "it can't be done anymore," my daughter graduated in 2 1/2 years doing the same thing-just a couple of years ago!

I almost did this.

Took some AP courses and and 3 classes waived.
Then summer of freshman year i took 3 online core classes (they overlapped a few weeks too).
Then i always took the make, our school was flat rate tuition 12-20 credits.
I knew exactly what classes i needed and when they would be offered.

But since i did engineering and we had a senior design project i had to do a 4th year, but that year i took a bunch of business classes and got a minor in business.
Plus all those classes i took in business were the core for the MBA program.

So then i got my MBA done in 1.5 years, since i had 1/3 the program waived.

In my experience, most schools charge part time students by the credit and full time students by the semester, while placing an upper limit on the credits per term (sometimes there's one limit that can be waived with appropriate approvals and then a higher absolute limit). For example, at my undergraduate school, 11 or fewer credits in a semester made you part time, and you paid per credit. 12+ credits was full time, and you could go as high as 18 without any special exemptions. With your adviser's permission (which they generally would give without question if a student maintained decent -- not even necessarily good -- grades) you could go to at least 21 credits, and maybe higher.

So if a student did the full time minimum of 12 credits per semester and needed 120 to graduate, it would take them 5 years (10 semesters) to graduate. A student going full time, paying the same tuition (no extra summer terms) and without getting any special waiver could take 18 credits per semester and be done in 3 1/2 years. A student going beyond that and doing 21 credits per semester could be done in 3 years, or if they come in with some AP credits or test out of a few classes, 2 1/2 years. Add in summer terms and 2 years seems reasonable. But, as Dr Dean above would probably attest, a two-year bachelor's degree would take a lot of hard work, would depend partly on your degree (needing to student teach, do internships, or having a lot of sequential classes could throw a wrench in this plan), and would depend partly on luck (different high schools offer very different number of AP courses).

For example, due to classes that were required to be taken in sequence and not offered in summer terms, there's often no way to complete a music degree in fewer than 3 1/2 years. Add in student teaching for a music education degree, and 4 years is probably the minimum, and even that takes a pretty good effort. Likewise for some architecture degrees that are normally considered 5-year degrees -- you might be able to squeeze them down to 4 years, but probably no more than that. But, especially for humanities degrees that have few, if any, truly sequential courses and no internship requirement, 3 years is certainly reasonable, and less than that is attainable.

There's no way I would have wanted to graduate in three years. Sure, it cost more, but I learned so much about myself and social interaction in those last 2 years, bot to mention taking on some huuuge extracurricular responsibilities. The value I place on my last 2 years far exceeds the cost of the tuition.

Just be sure all those community college course transfer for full credit to your main college. Classes for your major often don't.

It's doubtful that 2-year community colleges would offer any classes that would count as upper-level university credit. Whether community college courses transfer as lower-level university courses can be iffy. Taking summer courses at a public university is a safer bet, especially for standardized subjects like introductory science and math. Regardless, you should get any transfer credit pre-approved.

A coworker of mine graduated from UCSB in three years - while in a sorority and apparently partying her tush off. Totally doable! A roommate of mine also ended up with an interesting option in our second semester of junior year - she could take 6 classes per semester (one more than the standard 5) her senior year and do a double major, or take 3 to 4 classes and get a single major. She ended up doing just the one major, but she had no idea that was even an option until her advisor let her know. Guess she should have been keeping track!

I obtained a full 4yr ride when I went to college so I had to stay all 4 years. I had AP and Community College credits to the point that I was classified as a junior my first year in college. By taking the minimum credits possible to be a full time student and cramming my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I graduated with my main degree Biochemistry and finished a second degree in Japanese without having to go to school on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.

Dr. Dean is right,

Most schools will let you test out of so many credits per year, through either CLEP or DANTES. You can choose from a boatload of subjects and when I took them about 5 years ago, they cost around $45. I would pick a test and then study. There are many sites and places that you can get study help for the tests for free or fairly cheap.

Some of the tests are fairly easy while others are pretty hard. I did the calculus one and it was pretty killer. You have to get like a 70% to pass, but then it is pass/fail. (I passed the calculus one by "this much"!)

It will save you a ton of money as well as time.

many colleges have programs now where you can get into post grad programs straight from high school upon application. i.e. business programs and med school programs that you automatically get into upon application. these programs usually end up saving some time as well. a relative's daughter will be completing undergrad and med school in 7 years without having to go to the caribbean like many do to save a year. the only caveat is to maintain a certain GPA, which any good student will have to do irregardless. it's a win win situation for all involved, the parent, college and the student.

yet another way to cut some time and expedite life . . .

Its a good idea if you can swing it I guess.

I'm not sure why they suggest community college courses in the summer. WHy not just take summer courses at your normal school? Guess that might be a money saving idea.

It would be very tough to get through a BS in 3 years at some programs. It would take good advance planning and an early decision on major for sure. In my engineering school they had series of courses that were ONLY offered fall, winter, spring. Classes were not offered every quarter and there were many upper level classes that had prerequisites of lower level classes. So you basically had to take many required courses that were laid out sequentially over a defined 4 year plan. I was one of the only people who got out in 4 years and that took good planning. Most people took 4.5-5 years.

"Get on with life"? Isn't college part of your life? Your plan sounds great if you're finishing high school with 100% certainty of the field you want to go into and where you want to be, but I think that's a pretty unrealistic understanding of most young people getting ready to go to school. Not every class you need will be available at community college, nor will AP credits meet every requirement for your major. I notice you didn't mention the possibility of taking a year off before starting - I think this can be a financially and personally better alternative for many college-bound students who need time to get their heads straight and earn a little money before they start.

Okay, maybe I'm the odd one in the group, but I actually learned stuff outside of class while I was in college... Not to mention gaining life-long friends! Why accelerate a good thing so that it is over quickly and with a higher amount of stress?

Then again, I've always heard that college is a great time in life, and to enjoy the rare moment before it's over. So I did... But then again, I went to a state college instead of a more expensive Ivy League selection.

Hmmm, thinking about this has caused me to think about increase my contributions to my kids 529 plans by $100 more each month...

I know my opposite thoughts on this matter might not be optimal from a financial sense; it will still be a balanced and enjoyable option.

Two other options:

1. Take AP classes in HS and then take the AP test. Many schools will grant you credit based upon your score on the AP exams.

2. There are programs which allow you to obtain an professional degree (i.e. law, medicine) in less time than it would take normally. For instance, to get a med school degree, you normally have to go to school for 8 years (4 undergrad, 4 med school). With an accelerated program, you can get it in 6 years. You go to undergrad for 2 years to do all of your prerequisites (bio, chem, etc), and then the last four years are your standard 4 school program. Obviously you have to show that you are committed to the profession, which might be a hard thing to do as an 18 year old, but if you know you want to be a doctor, this will shave two years off of your college.

Colleges may let you "test out" of classes but you still need to get the credits. Very very rarely are they going to give you 3-4 credits for just passing a test. You still need to earn the credits in another class.

And from a financial POV the college wants it's $$$.

I did my undergrad in 2 1/2 years:

Had AP credit from Highschool
Tested out of gen eds using CLEP exams (the best kept secret)
Took full course loads, online summer school, and even taking an extra online class during thr school year because there were no deadlines and something I could do in my "free time."

Everyone said I was crazy for wanting to get out of college - I thought they were crazy for wanting to spend thousands on a worthless liberal arts degree and then complain when they didnt have jobs [I was an english and poli sci major - went on to get a masters in a field I KNEW had jobs] best decision ever.

You can spend time on a degree that is worth something [nursing, engineering, etc.] But other wise get in and get out cause you'll need to get a masters in something else.....or work while in school to get some experience.

@MasterPo: Sorry but you are wrong. It depends on the college and your major but they most certainly can and will grant you credit for passing AP exams. Both my wife and my sister graduated in 3 years primarily through AP credits. If you google "advanced standing" you get links to college web sites where they discuss this. The first page of google hits has links to advanced standing policies at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, University of Oklahoma, Penn, Oregon State, and Gonzaga.

The bottom line is that it isn't "very very rare" as you suggest. As always people should do their homework for themselves since policies differ by school.

Thanks for reminding me that I still haven't graduated from college! (my parents thank you as well).

I'm going on 9 years now since I began....I'm really close, but not quite there yet. I took a class last year, and just have a few close.

3 years is great from a financial perspective, but can you enjoy college at all at that pace?

I did this! I took 1 year of community college classes my Sr. Yr of HS, then made sure to take 1 -2 summer classes on top of a full load. I was also on the Track and Field team and X-country team's in college, along with other activities. I could have graduated in 2.5 years, but wanted to run another year of track. I also studied abroad in Germany. I graduated at a time when hiring was very strong, and that only helped me now that the recession hit. 1 yr later and the hiring had slowed down already. So grateful that it 'timed' out well not only so I didn't take out a ton in loans, but also to get a good paying job right out of college. Plus it really does impress your future employers!

I'm doing/did this. I took 25 quarter hours at my community college senior year of HS (last year). I only took 2 quarters worth of classes, probably should have done the spring quarter. But Senoritis got the best of me.

I also took 2 AP courses in high school that got me some credit.

Now in my freshman year of college, I'm planning to graduate at least a semester early. I'm taking 12 credit hours currently to ease into things, but I'm taking 20 next quarter. Assuming I finish before 4 years, I'd like to study/live abroad for a while, maybe to even earn a double major.

I graduated in three years after coming in with a semester's worth of AP credits from three classes in high school and taking a full course load one summer. My parents were willing to apply the money I saved them during undergrad to a Master's program.

I had two degrees in 4.5 years when some of my high school classmates were just deciding on a major. Figuring out what I wanted to do quickly, having a plan, and sticking to it made it all work. Amazingly, I'm now in a career where I'm actually using both degrees.

The other thing that really helped me get through in 3 years was being enrolled in the Honor's College at my university. This allowed me to waive pre-requisites and schedule my classes before the general student population, meaning I only had to take the classes I really needed to graduate and generally got into all the classes I needed for a given semester. If your school offers this kind of program, I would highly recommend pursuing it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, my husband is now working on his Master's degree while working full time and we're being very intentional about not taking out loans. It takes forever to get a 3 year degree when you're picking at it 2 classes at a time, but he only enrolls in the number of credits we can afford in cash each semester.

It took me four years to complete my undergrad, but I did this in the evenings while working a full-time job to support my family. How I did it:

- I took 12-16 credit hours each regular semester.
- I took 6-8 credit hours each summer (total of four, as I had to finish up during the summer after my 4th year).
- High school foreign language (5 years of French... going back to middle school that counted for high school credit) waived my foreign language requirement in college.
- CLEP'd a few classes

If I had been serious in high school, I could have easily knocked off a year by doing more courses with college credit. I slacked off towards the end of high school and did not do Calculus, which I had planned to do. When I started college, I took Intermediate Algebra, Finite Math, Algebra/Trig, Calculus, and Stats; I could have made it with proper planning and taken just Stats.

My university charged a semester rate for full-time day students (15 - 20 credit hours), but they also charged a lower hourly rate for evenings-only students, which was on par with state school tuition (I went to a small private school).

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