Four-year college graduates are becoming increasingly less common, so graduating early is quite the achievement. During a time in life when many of your peers are still uncertain about what they want to do and how they want to go about doing it, you can set yourself apart by skipping that whole emerging adulthood stage and entering the real world. If you’re a driven student who isn’t afraid of growing up, then consider the following reasons to graduate in three years.
- Save Money: As you well know, the cost of tuition is continually rising, making it increasingly difficult for average middle class families to afford four or more years of tuition and fees. According to the College Board, even after financial aid, in-state students at public colleges pay an average of $7,605 per year, while students at private colleges pay an average of $27,293 per year. Graduating in three years either saves your parents a lot of money or prevents you from going further into debt. In fact, because of those reasons, some colleges have designed special three-year degree programs that efficiently utilize students’ time by requiring 18 hours per semester and commitments during summer and winter breaks.
- Make Money: Eating Ramen Noodles and fast food, drinking cheap beer, staying with five people in a hotel room during trips, and everything else that comes with the college experience may be fun in the beginning, but after a while it begins to take its toll, leaving you wondering what life would be like if you didn’t have to live dollar to dollar. The full salary that comes with your first job after college will enable you to live more comfortably and enjoy those many, many things you couldn’t previously afford. Additionally, you’ll get a head start on repaying your student loans and eliminating debt so that you’ll be able to do more financially later in life.
- Gain Work Experience: By the time most of your friends graduate, you’ll more likely than not have already received at least one raise and possibly even a promotion. The same work ethic it took to get your degree in three years will pay off during your career, literally, and starting early will allow you to achieve more at a young age. Nothing substitutes for real work experience.
- Become Independent: People in their 20s these days aren’t nearly as financially independent as the group was decades ago when fewer people attended college. The economy hasn’t helped matters, but it’s certainly not impossible to find a decent job and break the dependence on mom and dad. Graduating early gives you a head start, enabling you to no longer have to answer to your meddling parents. Plus, the self-satisfaction that comes with knowing that you’re doing it completely on your own is invaluable.
- Save Early for Retirement: The earlier you begin your career and establish yourself, the earlier you’ll be able to save for retirement. The recent economic crisis has shown that retirement is far from a guarantee, and it takes foresight and financial discipline to ensure your golden years won’t be spent as a Wal-Mart greeter. If your employer offers you a 401k plan, use it and add as much money as you can. Or contribute to a Roth individual retirement account. Retirement will become more of a reality, and you may even be able to retire early depending on how much you put into it.
- Escape Your Lousy School: Is your school failing to meet your expectations early in your college career? Are your professors uninspired and aloof? Have you been screwed over by the financial aid or bursar’s office? Does your personality not quite mesh with the campus culture? Graduating early can be your ticket out of your lousy school and an end to a lackluster college experience. Hey, college isn’t guaranteed to be the time of your life despite what popular culture has told you.
- No More Schoolwork: There’s no doubt that graduating in three years is an arduous task. It requires taking no fewer than 15 hours per semester and the sacrifice of off-time, like summer and winter break, in order to accumulate the 120 or so hours you’ll need for your degree. That means you’ll be studying and stressing over exams and projects year-round, while many of your friends will be living it up on their five-year plans. When you graduate, however, you’ll have two years to point and laugh at them as they continue to deal with the general inconveniences of college, and you’ll be able to take satisfaction in the fact that you won’t have to worry about that stuff again.
- Jump Early into Grad School: On the other hand, if you plan to seek an advanced degree, you’ll be able to jump right into grad school without losing much time. This can be enticing if you enjoy academia, as grad school is more of an intellectual challenge. You’ll be expected to exhibit more in-depth and applied knowledge, and thus your class experiences will be more engaging and enlightening. You’ll also encounter research opportunities, which will enable you to leave your own mark on your discipline. Of course, by the time you finish, many of your friends will be completing only their first degree, reinforcing that you’re ahead of the game. And if you plan to get a PhD, you’ll spend one fewer year on your quest to attain it.
- Time: You’ll have more time in general. Not only for the aforementioned reasons, but also for other things in life, such as getting married and starting a family — if you want to get a head start on that. You could travel or join organizations like the Peace Corps. You could explore alternative professions that may not require a college degree but interest you anyway. You could help out with the family business before jumping into your career. What you do with the extra year or two is up to you.
- It’s a Challenge: Like Joe Brown said, “A challenge is an opportunity to prove your ability to yourself, and others.” College is where you should build the work ethic and confidence needed to explore those limitless possibilities in life. Students who graduate in three years have high expectations of themselves, and realize that such an accomplishment will set them up for many more accomplishments in the future.
If you have a teen that is mapping their college years, maybe consider some of these thoughts above.