Fast track


College in Europe is three years, not four. How can I get a U.S. college degree in only three years?

You bring up a pertinent question, as more U.S. students seek to graduate in less than the traditional four years. With college costs and student debt climbing, some students are wondering if they can pare a year of expenses off the bill, especially if grad school is in their future. The idea of getting a jump start on grad school or a career is a big perk, but graduating early can come with challenges.

Three-year degrees are already commonplace across the pond, the European Union made it the standard length of undergraduate study time ten years ago. The idea has been kicked around over here since the 1990s when the president of Stanford University suggested a three-year course could shrink the cost of a higher education.

Some colleges such as Hartwick College (NY), Franklin & Marshall College (PA), Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester College (IN), and Bates College (ME) already offer three-year degrees. Advanced Placement classes in high schools can make it easier for students to fast track college using credits gained before enrollment.

The primary reasons for completing college in a shorter time is to get into the workplace quicker and avoid accumulating a massive student debt. You may also want to complete your degree earlier than planned which could give you more time for internships, professional training courses or even a gap year before entering the workplace.

More than just taking on the maximum work load at college, you will need to make the most of your time on and off campus. Flexible online programs are one way of taking on extra courses and earning extra credits beyond what you will get at regular college classes. The most popular online courses are nursing and business studies, reveals UMassOnline.

Summer school courses are another option. Many colleges offer summer schools or condensed courses during break periods. This could be a good way to complete your general education requirements leaving you more time to focus on your major during semester time. Many colleges offer credits for previous military service or work experience, you may qualify for these if you meet the requirements.

Developed by the College Board, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers 33 exams over 5 different subjects each year. These exams cover material that you are likely to be studying during the first two years of your four-year course. Passing them in advance can count towards your general education requirements at participating colleges. At around $80 per test it would be far more cost effective than spending time and money on campus taking them.

Cutting down the expense for a degree can also apply to graduate degree programs. While there are no AP credits for grad school, many students turn to online study. The most popular choices are affordable AACSB MBA and education degrees. The time to get the degree is typically longer, but students can work full-time while studying.

For many, graduation marks the end of formal student life, the end of long spring breaks and of thinking that a 10 a.m. class is far too early…

Alexa Von Tobel.

Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.

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