We’ll be “empty nesters” in less than a month and it’s hard to believe that last summer, we were busy making college visits with both of our kids. As kids begin researching college options, they’re bombarded with information. I wrote three posts about choosing colleges that you may find helpful:
- How Do I Choose the Best College?
- How Do I Choose the Right College?
- Making Assumptions Can Cost You Thousands of Dollars When Choosing a College
With the cost of college on the minds of students and parents, I thought I’d share how both my daughter and I finished college in three years – without much stress. And I’ll finish with my son’s plan to do the same. He’s entering college next month with 39 credits and sophomore status after graduating high school last month. And he had late arrival and early dismissal during his senior year. He worked hard, but it wasn’t that stressful either!
Graduating from College in 3 Years in 1988
Graduating from college early isn’t a new idea. I graduated from high school in 1985 and started college with 22 credits – 8 from AP (Advanced Placement) Physics, 6 from AP English, and 8 from AP Calculus (which we learned via VHS tapes from a local university – one of the first “video” learning experiences!)
As a science major, my normal semesters were 16 or 17 credit hours because of labs (compared to a typical 15.) My degree required 120 credit hours and all that I did “extra” was take one 4 credit summer class at a local community college to finish my undergrad degree in 3 years. (And I was still able to work two jobs that summer…) And I finished college with more than 120 credits.
I took AP classes my senior year because I was done with most of the “regular” high school level classes. My teachers were terrific and with having class everyday – we learned more (and had more support) than in a typical freshman level college course. Our AP classes met for about 120 hours/year, when a college course meets around 40 hours/year. Keep that in mind if you have kids in high school!
I then stayed on a 4th year at my undergrad college to complete my Master’s degree (which is required of teachers in New York state.)
Graduating from College in 3 Years in 2017
Fast forward almost 30 years, and my daughter finishes college in three years too – but with WAY more options to earn credits before she gets to college and during winter/summer breaks. She’s now at West Virginia University, getting paid to earn her Master’s degree!
She started earning college credits in 10th grade with AP World History (and she didn’t take it “early” – that’s when it is offered in our high school.) Here is a breakdown of the credits she earned before she went to college:
Advanced Placement Classes (AP test required at end of course to get college credit)
- AP World History (score 3) – 6 college credits, taken sophomore year of HS
- AP Chemistry (score 5) – 8 college credits, taken junior year of HS
- AP Literature & Comp (score 4) – 3 college credits, taken junior year of HS
- AP Physics B (score 4) – 8 college credits, taken senior year of HS
- AP Calculus BC (score 5) – 8 college credits, taken senior year of HS
- AP Language & Comp (score 5) – 3 college credits, taken senior year of HS
Community College Classes (offered as dual enrollment IN our local HS)
- Spanish 201 & 202 – 6 college credits, taken sophomore & junior year of HS
- Psychology 101 – 3 credits, taken senior year of HS
- Sociology 101 – 3 credits, taken senior year of HS
- Computer Science 101 – 3 credits, taken junior year of HS
That’s 51 college credits all taken during her normal high school day! She was a second semester sophomore when she started college because the state university she chose to attend accepted most of these credits. (They only accept 45 transfer credits.)
Now you might be thinking – wow, this kid is SMART and must have worked crazy hard to do that…
You’re right that she is smart and worked hard – but she also played an instrument, played on a varsity team, and worked a part-time job throughout the year. It wasn’t just about her academic classes. (And many of her friends did all of this too without that much stress.)
Does your child have to take all of these to finish in 3 years? NO. But if they take a well-rounded advanced high school schedule, they will be well on their way to earning many college credits before they even spend their first day on a college campus!
This gave my daughter the chance to finish in 3 years with some good planning – but we also gave her the option to stay a 4th year and add another major, do an internship, or study abroad. She chose to finish early and go on to a 2-year Master’s degree program. She basically ended up with a “3 + 2” that is offered at some colleges.
The college credits she gained in high school prevented it from becoming a 4 + 2 and saved her (and us) almost $25,000!
The cost for the credits she earned in high school was less than $1000. (The AP tests have fees, as did the community college dual enrollment courses she took.)
Planning to Graduate from College in 2020
My son just graduated from high school in June. He took many of the same courses my daughter took and he just finished taking an online community college class this summer. He even got an “early college scholars” discount at our local community college for taking classes before he “started” college. We only paid 50% of the fee because of that discount!
There are programs out there that offer money if you seek out the opportunities!
He will be starting at an out-of-state public university (University of Vermont) in less than a month! With scholarships and grants from the university, the cost of the out-of-state university was LESS than the public in-state option! DON’T make assumptions that out-of-state will always be more expensive in the end!
He will start college with 39 credits and most of his “gen ed” requirements completed. Again – he chose a college that will accept the credits he earned in high school. You need to be careful of that in your college search if you are planning on finishing early. His 39 credit hours cost us about $1000 too.
He’s a smart guy and maintained a strong academic average, but he also played football, worked a part-time job, and had fun with his friends. He is also planning on finishing college in 3 years, but he’ll have the option to stay a fourth year too. If he changes his mind about majors after the first year, he will still be able to finish his degree in four years – not five or six… (My guess is that he will be on to a MS program or he’ll be off to a great job at the end of 3 years though!)
Earning college credits in high school is giving him options (and it will likely save us all money in the end!)
It’s not just about the money. Really.
We ended up saving money by finishing in 3 years – but it wasn’t the goal. Having options was the goal (and not spending tons of money to take classes that we weren’t really interested in motivated us to finish early too!)
High schools and community colleges offer an incredible number of options for students to earn credits before students go off to college.
If you have kids, look at your school district website for the course offerings. Go to your local community college registrar’s page and do a search too. And pick up the phone and call them. Our community college is terrific and they are the ones who offered the “early college scholars” financial award. You can also look into earning college credit by taking CLEP exams.
Plan ahead. And then make sure the credits will transfer.
My son didn’t originally sign up for Psychology 101 in his high school and the course filled up. Earning college credits in high school is becoming very popular! He ended up having to take it online through the community college, rather than at the high school. But it cost us a little extra and he missed out on being in class with his friends. He did get the experience of taking an online class though – and that was important too!
You and your child should also look at websites of the colleges you are interested in to see what credits may transfer in and what scores you will need. Here is a great example of how you can check transfer credits from one institution to another. And this page shows where you can find information about what AP, IB (International Baccalaureate), and CLEP exam credits are allowed for credit at this particular state college. Most colleges have this information readily available to you – when you know to look for it!
They don’t have to finish early.
Just a reminder that finishing in 3 years isn’t mandatory (and it is hard to plan a schedule to actually do it! You have to be ON TOP of scheduling to make it work – and sometimes appeal to departments/registrar.) There are also some cons to finishing early that should be considered.
*Also know that people from the college will not encourage you to finish early. They may allow it or help with questions you bring up. But you need to be prepared to advocate for yourself. My daughter was ready to tell the department chair of her major that she could transfer out after three years and do the “3 + 2” option at another college. But they did allow her to take a class that she was supposedly “not ready for” in their sequence so she could graduate in 3 years (she had no other classes left to take!)
It doesn’t have to be a stressful 3 years.
If you start without any credits, finishing in 3 years can still be done at some colleges. But it might be MUCH more stressful because of overloads and the need to take winter/summer break classes. (Although some colleges do have “fast-track” 3 year degree options now too.) Planning ahead and earning some college credits in high school can help if you ever need to drop a class too!
So what do you think about finishing college in 3 years? Did you know about all of the options available to high school students? Did you graduate early? Did your kids graduate early – or have to stay longer than planned? If you have kids in high school, have you looked at classes that offer college credit options? Do you think it is too stressful to have kids taking college level classes in high school? Or do you think these classes really aren’t “college” level?
I don’t call myself an expert at too many things, BUT I do have a really good understanding (and would even call myself an expert) on this! If you have questions, feel free to reach out! AP or dual-enrollment community classes (with strong high school teachers) are a great low-cost way for students to be introduced into college level course expectations (whether you take the AP tests and get credit or not!)