Quickest Ways to Graduate College Early and Save Cash

“Racing to the pigskin” isn’t just term for football players – it describes the challenges of every budget-minded college student. Getting into a college is only one half the battle. Graduating with the least amount of time and debt, though, is the other half of the battle. Life is too short to be redundant, so we’ve compiled seven simple suggestions to save you both time and money.

ways to graduate early

1. Community College

Did you receive an acceptance letter from an expensive university? Don’t cross it off the list just because you can’t afford to enroll. Instead, spend a year or two at a community college before transferring to the campus of your dreams. On a transcript, all credits are created equal – meaning a Bachelor’s degree earned in two years with transferred credits looks identical to one earned after four years on-campus. But on your checkbook, all credits are not created equal – you’ll save so much money.

Saving on room and board by living at home is one reason why Zack Bissonnette of DailyFinance declares that “the smartest college grads are the ones who started at two-year colleges.” He points out that tuition and fees at the average community college run $2,544 (and a tax credit will cover most of it) compared to the $26,273 annual average for four-year colleges.

2. Summer/Night Classes

Why work while your peers play? Because taking classes during “down time” can equal an incredible running start. Not only are summer semesters generally less expensive, but they are also shorter. While this translates to longer class times, they do not span as much of the calendar, and are therefore generally easier than the same class taken in the fall or spring. As for night classes, moonlighting as a student several times a week allows students to maintain a day job while at school.

Though this is technically no cheaper than taking classes during the day, it allows for increased revenue and therefore means less debt in the same amount of time. If you’re already a night owl, you may as well be productive.

3. Overload Semesters

It’s time – to put your semester hours on steroids. While most colleges limit the number of classes a student can take in a semester, a quick meeting with an academic advisor can quickly waive that limit so you can take an extra class or two per year. Like Costco-style economics, you get more credit for your buck.

By overloading semesters, you can easily do in three years what it takes most people to do in four. Free at some colleges and universities, extra courses can equal to huge savings. At other schools, these overloaded semesters may come with a nominal fee, but the cost is worth it. Even if you only shave one semester off, the money saved on six months of room & board will be worth it. Just be sure not to bite off more than you can chew!

4. Take Online Classes

What if overloading semesters would just, well, overload you? Then you can nix another part of the cost equation: Room, board and transportation expenses. Tuition, dorm and crude oil price hikes are the norm everywhere. The good news is many universities offer online classes to compliment their on-site courses.

By taking an online course, students are free to save money while enrolled in classes that can be attended at any time of the day or night. Perfect for students with odd schedules, inconsistent work requirements, or who simply do not wish to dedicate the time or money needed to attend college full-time, online courses provide an alternative option.

5. Kill Two Birds With One Course

Four years can seem like eternity – especially if you’re a double major, or minoring in a field with intensive core requirements. Good news: The registrar won’t blink if you overlap your classes to fulfill requirements in more than one area.

To overlap, or to not overlap? Definitely overlap, if you want to graduate faster. For example, a Shakespeare class often counts as both a theatre and English credit. So if you’re majoring in both, then you need only sign up for one semester of Hamletian monologues and sonnets – and wash your hands of that requirement (if not also the blood off Lady Macbeth’s palms). Look for this overlap in areas such as communications, English, theatre, marketing, and art.

6. CLEP, Don’t Schlep, Your Way To a Degree

In the academic world, "prerequisite" is a dirty 12-letter word. You're busy and on a budget - so why waste an entire semester or year's worth of tuition, textbook and gasoline on a redundant subject? Instead, invest 10 weeks to study for The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP), and gain 3-8 credit hours.

If you pass the 90-minute exam, you can erase semesters off the time spent earning a bachelor's degree. When you pass, your Admissions Advisor adds your CLEP score to your transcript. At only $77, the CLEP exam fee is an absolute steal compared to tuition and fees for a corresponding course.

7. The Early Applicant Gets … The Warm Welcome

Lastly, consider concurrent enrollment. This program, which is only available at select schools, is like the “kill two birds with one elective” method, with a twist: You can receive college credit that meets the core and elective graduation requirements AND college credits.

That means high school students can concurrently earn an associate’s degree while still attending high school. Their transcript seamlessly reflects this efficient duality. The classes don’t cost high school kids anything, and the program could save as much as two full years of tuition! Also, textbooks are generally subsidized by grants, and very motivated (and efficient) participants can actually finish college well before reaching the legal drinking age. Coincidentally, long nights at the pubs don’t really foster early graduation.

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