Should I Graduate Early?

Are you a little burnt out from school? Trying to save money? Have a fantastic job opportunity you would need to leave school to take? Last year, I decided to graduate a semester early from college. It was a really hard decision to make and I spent many months thinking about it, but now I have been out of school for 8 months and I know it was the right choice for me. Is it right for you? Here are five things to think about as you make the big decision.

(This is geared towards people who, like me, only started thinking about graduating early right before senior year. Many people plan from the start to graduate a semester or year early and I hope that some of this can be helpful to those people as well).

1 . Is it too late?

Most colleges have a deadline to apply for early graduation. Check at your school – if it’s already past this deadline, congratulations! The decision has been made for you and you can wonder no more. Focus on enjoying the rest of senior year and know this happened for a reason.

2. Do I have the credits? Will I finish my major?

If you’re even thinking of graduating early, you should probably already be familiar with your credit situation. Graduating a semester early usually means that you had to take 4 or 5 extra classes somewhere along the way. Maybe you accrued them from high school AP classes and a wintersession course, maybe you’ve taken a music performance class in addition to your regular schedule. Maybe you need to take an extra class this semester to finish. Talk to your adviser and class dean to make sure that you’ll have enough credits and what you can do if you’re falling a little bit short.

Credits in general are just the beginning – are you going to finish your major?  Ideally, you and your adviser have talked before to make sure that you’re on track to finish the major on time.  Do you need to enroll in an extra elective to finish early? Is that possible? If credits or major completion are going to prevent you from graduating early, it’s best to find out sooner rather than later so you can stop wondering and debating.

3. How much money will I save?

Maybe you’re a little bit reluctant to graduate early: you want to stay with your friends on the campus you love, take some classes you never got to take before. This is what clinched the deal for me: money. I went to a private liberal arts college and tuition was insane. Once I realized how much money I would be saving by spending one less semester there, there was no way anyone could talk me out of leaving. I did think about that time with my friends, many of whom are a year younger than I am, and the classes I really wanted to take, but I asked myself if those experiences were worth tens of thousands of dollars and the answer was clear: No way.

4. Do I have a plan?

When you leave school at the end of the fall semester, where will you live? Will you stay with your parents for Christmas and New Year’s? What about after that? Do you have a job lined up starting in January? Do you have a place to stay while you look for one? I was very lucky in that I was able to move back in with my parents while I look for a job (it did make it easier that I have a brother still in high school who lives at home as well). But before you cancel those last few tuition payments, make sure you have some logistics figured out.

On the other hand, have you been planning to write a thesis? If you’ve been dedicating the past few summers to research and are working on a thesis or trying to publish a paper with a professor, you do have a plan, and it requires you to stay in school for the spring semester. My college had a program where you could “partially enroll” and stay on campus to finish your thesis but not take any classes. If this more closely matches where you’re at, talk to your class dean or adviser and see if your school has a similar program.

5. Will I make this time meaningful?

This is where my planning for my early graduation fell short. I had the big logistic figured out (“I will move back in with my parents and look for a job”) but I didn’t have the little ones. It took me longer than expected to find a job and in those winter months where it was just me and indeed.com alone in a cold house all day, I felt a little adrift. You don’t need to have this all sorted out before you graduate, but be sure to start thinking about how to make this time meaningful. Are you going to take a computer science class at a local community college (at a fraction of the price it would have been for you at your college)? Are you going to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, or freelance as a tutor for high school students?  Being suddenly outside of the structure of school can send you a little bit adrift. If you don’t have a job lined up for January, I highly recommend planning some volunteer service, nightschool classes, or freelance jobs because the job search can be very lonely, especially when all of your friends are still partying hard at school. Take some time to think about what you want to do and how you’ll feel before you make your early graduation decision.

 

Graduating early was one of the best choices I made, particularly financially.  But it also brought the change of graduation to my doorstep 6 months early. That’s why I encourage you to both see if you can logistically finish college early but also plan and think about how you will spend those first few months out of college. Good luck!

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