Pros & Cons of Graduating College Early

Dean Tsouvalas, Editor-in-Chief, StudentAdvisor

Taylor Cotter (StudentAdvisor’s former intern and now full-time staffer) saved herself and her family about $30,000 by graduating college early. She is part of a growing trend of students who are squeezing four years of college into three. In Taylor’s case she took the initiative, leveraged AP classes, took summer courses and chose not to take a semester abroad to accomplish her goal.

Some colleges and universities are also rethinking their curriculums to give students and their families a 25% tuition break. A handful of students at Hartwick College, in NY (Be the first to write a review of Hartwick College) graduated this past spring in three years. This fall according to Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University (who also graduated from Wesleyan in three years) announced that Wesleyan would also support a three year degree program.

By graduating in three years, students can save up to $50,000 in tuition and fees and avoid unpredictable tuition hikes. This is especially significant when you factor in that 39% of college students take longer than 5 years to graduate.

Some education advocates argue that students can’t properly learn and digest information in three years. Not to mention many disciplines such as engineering, health sciences and architecture, graduating early is rarely possible. The three year college degree initiative is not appropriate for everyone, however if you are someone like Taylor you want to consider these factors when choosing to accelerate your degree program.

To graduate in three years,
you should:

  • Take AP courses and exams in high school – many colleges offer credits or higher placement if you receive a 4 or a 5 on an AP exam. This is something that colleges are steering away from because too many students are coming in with credits. However, even if colleges don’t take your credits, they can probably put you in a higher level course.

  • Take placement exams before arriving at colleges. In some cases, if you’re proficient enough in a subject (particularly foreign language), you can have requirements waived.

  • Take summer classes (at home, at community college, or online) to get more credits per year. Summer classes are cheaper because tuition hikes are implemented in September. Taking more classes the summer after your freshman year would be cheaper than taking summer classes after your sophomore or junior year. Many schools offer courses on weekends or over winter break as well.

  • Take the maximum amount of courses each semester. This may cost a little more per semester, but you can save more than a semester’s worth of tuition and room and board.
  • Pros:

    • Saving 25 percent of the cost of college which can translate into $50,000
    • Being able to apply for jobs in January or February means you may be applying for jobs in a less competitive market than applying in May and June.
    • Can enter the workforce or graduate school early
    • Did we mention the cost savings


    • It becomes harder to switch majors, double major, or minor
    • Studying abroad is rarely an option, unless you can take enough credits that count towards your degree
    • Less time to build relationships with friends and professors
    • Miss out on some traditional senior experiences
    • May have to give up summer vacations

    Things to remember if you choose to graduate early:

    • You may save a year or semester of tuition, but you will still have to pay for
    • AP Exams
    • Summer Classes/Summer Housing
    • Overload Credits
    • Credits from Community College
    • More textbooks per semester