For most undergraduate college students, a typical bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete. Within this timeframe, students can take core classes, decide their major, and dabble in classes that are irrelevant to their main study while also being involved in extracurriculars and work. However, with options like AP/IB scores, Running Start, and dual-credit– in which students can take college classes in high school and receive both college and high school credit for the same course — some people enter college with a handful of pre-matriculation credits already under their belt.
In my senior year of high school, I took a few dual-credit classes at my local university and, coupled with AP scores, had 18 credits coming into college. Because of this, in my first year, I made the decision to graduate early, as it would give me a chance to explore my career options outside of academics sooner while also saving tuition money.
This required me to speed everything up by a year or so. I ended up declaring my major by the end of the first semester of freshman year, and went to study abroad as a sophomore rather than a junior. It also required me to make arrangements with the Registrar Office to change my graduation date, and chat with my adviser to figure out how (or if) I would complete my senior thesis. There were a handful of steps I had to take in order to proceed with my graduation plan.
I don’t regret my decision to graduate early, especially with the financial strain that college can have, but sometimes it felt wrong to claim that I am a senior when I have only spent three semesters on campus. It can be off-putting to watch your peers doing things at a level pace when you are always on a “go go go” mode. I was trying hard to make up the 124 minimum credit requirement for graduation by taking summer classes and taking a full load of courses every semester, which can start to feel overwhelming. Because of this, although my original intention was to graduate a full year early, I made a fairly recent decision to prolong my time at Whitman for one more semester and graduate in December.
Since I’d been telling everybody that I would graduate a year early, I was surprised at just how receptive and supportive everybody was of my decision to stay a little bit longer. I also felt relieved, because that meant that I could take the time to focus on a more diverse selection of classes rather than trying to cram my remaining major requirements into one final semester. Additionally, it gives me the chance to spend a few more months with my friends before hitting the “real world.”
Although graduating early is an amazing opportunity to kick-start the rest of your life and save precious tuition dollars, it can be hard to say goodbye to the places and people you have spent so much time with for the past few years. I encourage it if you can, but it’s also smart to have the ability to step back, take a good look at the decision you are making, and maybe press pause. There is no point rushing through college if you feel ill-prepared to leave by the time graduation gets close.