Next month, I will be graduating from my college two whole semesters early. Graduating from college in three years isn’t typical for most college students. I frequently get people asking me why I chose to graduate early, and more importantly, how I did it. If you’re in high school and are starting to plan your collegiate years, you may be weighing your options and considering graduating early. There are a few things you have to get started on in high school to ensure that you can graduate early if you plan to take this route.
Consider why you want to graduate early
What are the pros and cons of graduating a year or even two years earlier than most? For me, one of the biggest cons was, of course, FOMO. At my school, football games, formal events, and just getting to walk across that stage with your besties from college is a really big deal. I knew I would be missing out on all of these things, and prepared for that accordingly. Another con for me was not having as long to be the officer over my clubs. I didn’t realize this until I was already an officer of two different clubs, and it was too late. But realize now that if you commit to graduating a year early, that’s one less year that you can dedicate to being the president of your pro-life club or the treasurer of College Republicans. I realized that these small cons were really not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. Graduating early would mean less financial stress from student loan debt, a leg up on competitors in my field by proving I can work hard and take a rigorous course load, and a jump start on a career. It just made sense. Once you decide if it’s worth it, you can proceed to start taking some steps that will allow you to graduate from college early.
Start taking classes that will earn you college credit
Figure out what kinds of options you have at your high school, as far as AP and dual enrollment courses go. My high school offered many options for both AP and dual enrollment, as well as work studies where you could take half of the school day off to work in an internship somewhere in our town. Then, the high school would offer you college credit for doing so. I utilized both the AP and dual enrollment courses, but if your high school offers dual enrollment, go for that over AP. Dual enrollment allows you to earn college credit without having to pass any sort of exam at the end of the semester. If your high school doesn’t offer dual enrollment, not all hope is lost. Some community colleges will work with your high school. In fact, they might allow you to take classes there during your normal school day and earn both high school and college credit simultaneously. By the time I graduated from high school, I had racked up 27 credits. That is almost a whole year’s worth.
Take a lighter load for your first semester of college
This may seem counter-intuitive at first, but taking a lighter load for your first semester can help you feel out your classes and workload, get involved on campus, and get all of the inside knowledge from friends and peers about the best classes and professors to take. College shouldn’t be all about work, 100% of the time. Make sure you still get involved with something that you love on campus! This also gives you time to make sure you’re still set on graduating early and become friends with your career adviser.
Advise early, advise often!
My adviser was probably so sick of me by the end of freshman year. I went in to see him about once a month to make sure I was still doing everything necessary to graduate with two majors, and from my honors college, at the end of three years. I got his advice on career planning, outlining my courses, which professors to take, how to build a resume, how to dress for interviews, how to land internships and everything in between. Build a relationship with your adviser. Let them know that you’re really serious about graduating early.
Take courses during any and every semester they are offered
If your school offers summer classes or winter interim classes, take them. Even if you just take one or two during each additional semester, that can save you precious time. I took 9 credits during the summer of 2018, 3 over winter of 2018 and 12 during the summer of 2019. That works out to being almost an entire year of credit. I took them during nontraditional semesters. These courses are often offered online, which is easier for a lot of people. At some schools, the courses during these semesters are much cheaper than normal Fall and Spring classes.
Stay on top of your grades
There is no point in graduating early if you’re graduating with less than stellar grades. One failed class could set you back an entire semester.
Learn how to time manage
If you can’t manage your time, you will have a very difficult time balancing the workload that is required to graduate early. For me, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, a social life, me-time, and even just making time to call home were all things that were important to me. I wanted to be sure I could make time for all of them. Make a list of the things that are non-negotiable for you each week. These could change from week to week. One week, studying might be your absolute top priority. Another week, getting yourself a mani-pedi or attending a sorority formal might be your top priority. List these things out. Make sure you can work everything into your schedule that you need to.