So how can you graduate early? The math is pretty simple. A typical college load is four classes a semester, so in a year you're likely to take eight classes. To graduate a year early, you need to acquire eight classes worth of credit. You can do this a few ways:
- Take as many AP courses as you can. If you score 4s or 5s on the AP exam, most colleges will give you course credit.
- Take all available placement exams when you arrive at college. Many colleges offer placement exams in subjects like language, math, and writing. If you can place out of a few requirements, you'll be in a better position to graduate early.
- Take community college courses for general education classes like writing, history, or introduction to psychology. Course credits will often transfer. Summer, even the summer before college, is a good time to rack up credits. Be sure to check with the college Registrar first to make sure the course credits will transfer.
- If you plan to study abroad, pick your program carefully. You'll need to transfer credits back to your college, so you want a program where all of your course work is going to count towards graduation.
- Take the maximum number of credits allowed when you're in college. If you have a strong work ethic, you can pack more into a semester than the average student. By doing so, you'll fulfill all of your academic requirements sooner.
Also, realize there is a downside to graduating early. You have less time to build relationships with professors, gain work experience, conduct research, and build your resume. Also, you'll be graduating with a class that is not the class you entered with, so you may end up without a solid sense of class affinity. Finally, if you're like me and really love the undergraduate experience, you'll be leaving college before you want to (I took the opposite route and graduated in five years, not three).
Still, the financial benefits are significant, so you should definitely weigh the pros and cons of trying to shorten your undergraduate career.