I never set out to graduate college early. But when I had a breakdown my junior year and began questioning my career choice, my mom gave me the best advice ever, “Just get a degree.” 6 months later I walked across the stage of my university’s auditorium with a B.A. in French.
Even though completing college in 3 years was never in my plan, there were many factors leading up to it that allowed me to take advantage of cutting a year of school out and in return, saving me nearly $13,000, and helping me finish school debt free. Here’s how I did it.
Completing College in 3 Years
Took AP classes and CLEP tests.
Before I even started college, I had 17 credits (a whole semester’s worth!). I had taken AP classes in high school (hello free college credit!) and my mom encouraged me to take a couple CLEP tests before signing up for my first semester classes.
If you don’t know about College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, they are basically standardized exams that you can pay a fee to take and if you pass, you are given the college course credit. The tests are only $80, so taking them is a smart financial decision! I took both French and math CLEP tests and passed – receiving 11 credits!
Read (and re-read!) the Academic Catalog.
I had a weird obsession with my university’s Academic Catalog – I loved reading that thing! I would read through my degree and general requirements and figure out which classes I could take to fulfill multiple requirements. I would play around to see how many credits of X classes I needed in order to add on X minor. Although my college advisor was helpful, it made a huge difference that I took my class schedule so seriously. This is how I took my college degree into my own hands, without even realizing it.
Took the maximum number of credits each semester.
I understand that this isn’t possible for everyone, but 18-20 credits a semester was doable for me. And each of these classes were carefully chosen according to what I read in the Academic Catalog.
Participated in the Honors Program.
Our university’s Honors Program helped me in so many ways. First of all, the only classes in college I didn’t do well in were the big lectures (who struggles to pass Intro to Meteorology?!), but the Honors classes were all small, discussion based courses. They also killed many birds with one stone, covering multiple degree requirements with one class.
This may sound like a set back in completing college on time, but because I graduated with a degree in French, my semester abroad in France gave me 12 of the 21 upper level credits needed for my major.
Dropped part of major.
Here’s the full story: I had a breakdown the fall semester of my junior year of college. My major was French Education with a certificate in ELL. All of a sudden, I questioned if I even wanted to be a teacher. My mom gave me the best advice, “Just get a degree.” If I decided later I wanted to go into education, there were lots of other ways to accomplish this.
When I realized that I had already completed all of my generals as well as all requirements for a major in French, I decided to take my mom’s advice and graduate early. I literally needed to take whatever classes I wanted in order to reach the 125 credit graduation requirement. So I signed up for German 101, Spanish 102, Intro to Wellness, Yoga, Intro to Musical Theatre Acting, and Costume Craft. Seriously, how fun do those all sound (and easy as pie)?! My last semester of college was my favorite (apart from my semester abroad)!
FYI – I’ve had lots of teaching experience since graduating college, and I am fully convinced teaching in a classroom isn’t for me. I don’t regret getting a B.A. in French without education for an instance.
Overall, I am very thankful I was able to graduate from my university in 3 years. I feel like I got the full college experience, from studying abroad to making lifelong friends, even though I skipped my last year. Whenever I meet someone struggling to finish school, I tell them exactly what my mom told me – get a degree, any degree. The time and money spent trying to figure out your major likely won’t be worth it. And if after some life experience you find your true passion, go back and spend your resources on a Master’s in that field.
How long did it take you to complete your undergrad degree?
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P.S. Here’s how I graduated from college debt free.
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