The standard timeline for a college degree used to be four years. But with the ever-evolving college landscape, that's not necessarily the case any longer. Some students take more time to complete their undergrad degrees, and that's perfectly normal! In contrast, there are a few extremely motivated students who seek opportunities to finish college faster. This allows students the opportunity to join the workforce more quickly, sure, but it can — in some cases — also result in a less expensive college education. Here are three ways to potentially shorten your time in college as well as a few things to consider in order to ensure you make the right choice for your learning style and workload.
Take AP Courses
By now, chances are good you've heard of AP (advanced placement) courses at your high school. Of course, I recommend AP courses purely from a college admission standpoint anyway because they can:
- Acclimate you to the more intense workload you'll face in college
- Let you more deeply explore the subjects that interest you
Above all, these courses also prepare you for the AP test at the end of the year, and that can score you college credit. The cost of the AP Exam pales in comparison to the cost of tuition for equivalent classes. Consult with the college you're interested in to see if they accept AP credits. Even if they only allow you to place into higher-level classes, that can save you money on the more introductory-level courses. While some schools don't accept AP credits, many do, which can enable a student to save literally thousands of dollars. Some students are even able to skip their entire first year this way — consider that 25 percent less you'd be paying for college!
Earn Credits on CLEP Exams
Similar to AP credits, you might also consider earning college credit through the College-Level Examination (CLEP) program, which — also similar to AP courses and the infamous SAT — was developed by the College Board. Think of these as essentially the equivalent of an AP exam without the preceding AP course: They can help you earn the same number of credits.
While there are currently 33 different CLEP exams ranging from foreign languages to business subjects, this is another instance in which you'll want to thoroughly research which credits are accepted by your future school before counting on taking any of these exams in lieu of the equivalent college course. And keep in mind that not all CLEP credits are created equally: Some schools might accept credits only from a science exam, for example, meaning a history credit won't do you any good at that particular school. On the other hand, some schools might not offer direct credits for CLEP exam, but they might still use those test scores to allow you to place out of entry-level courses or to fulfill core distribution requirements.
Enroll in Summer Courses
Another option that many students take advantage of is moving some of their courses out of the regular school year and into the summer months. I know what you're thinking: summer is supposed to be a break! And I don't blame you for wanting that time to rest! But consider this: Summer credits at certain schools are sometimes cheaper than those during the fall or winter/spring semesters. Plus, moving some courses up could mean the difference between finishing a semester (or even two) early. So, as long as you feel comfortable taking on the extra work, sacrificing some of your summer break could be worth bringing that college finish line just a little closer!
Every student is different, and therefore you deserve a college experience that is customized to your wants and needs. So if you're thinking that an expedited college degree might be for you, start planning early in high school by narrowing down your list of potential colleges with our books The Best 385Colleges and The Complete Book of Colleges. From there, figure out how you're going to fund that education with Paying for College and 8 Steps to Paying Less for College.