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    How to Graduate College in Three Years: Everything You Need to Know

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: October 10th, 2023
    How to Graduate College in Three Years: Everything You Need to Know

    Do you want to graduate college in record time and save thousands of dollars in tuition? If so, you could be holding your college degree in three years! Discover how to make this a reality by reading this guide (written by a three year college graduate!) about how to graduate college in three years. The pros and cons of graduating early, as well as how to actually graduate early, are all covered. Let’s get started!

    Pros of graduating college in three years

    Lower cost to earn your degree

    By graduating in three years, you will reduce the amount of tuition, fees, and housing costs by one year. This will save you a substantial amount of money for the same degree.

    Enter the workforce earlier

    Graduating early provides the opportunity to receive a steady flow of income from a job earlier than your peers. This can help you pay off any debt you may have or allow you to begin building up your savings. 

    Able to enter grad school sooner

    Similarly to being able to enter the workforce early, you will also have the opportunity to enter graduate school earlier and receive your credentials in a faster time frame. This will help you lower the number of years you will need to be in school for your education. 

    Related: What is the average amount of graduate school debt?

    Ability to take a gap year

    If you graduate early, you may not feel as pressured to get a full-time job or attend graduate school right away. Rather, you can take the year to travel or figure out what you want to do next. This is the perfect time to do so because you will still be on the same timeframe as your peers who are taking the typical four-year route to complete their undergraduate degree. So if you graduate early, you will not fall behind by taking a gap year. 

    Also see: Taking a gap year: everything you need to know 

    Student author perspective

    Graduating in three years has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made. It saved me a significant amount of money and provided me with the opportunity to take a gap year to earn money and experience for graduate school. Additionally, my gap year will provide me with more time to spend with my family, who were thousands of miles away during my undergraduate studies.

    Cece Gilmore | Student, Arizona State University

    Cons of graduating college in three years

    Dealing with a tougher workload

    If you plan to graduate in three years, you will typically have a tougher and longer workload than your fellow classmates. This is because you will need to take more credits per semester in order to graduate with the necessary number of credits. This means your college life will be filled with a lot of exams, studying, and time management. Your classmates may have a more flexible and lenient college schedule. 

    Missing out on some of the college experience

    When you graduate, the rest of your class will be enjoying their senior year together, which can be extremely hard to part from. This means you will lose out on one year of the college experience which includes networking with students. Additionally, with a shorter timeline, you may need to prioritize academics over other activities which could limit your chances for personal and professional growth.

    Student author perspective

    As my graduation approaches, reality has set in that I am actually receiving my degree and leaving ASU. Although I am very excited to be moving into the next phase of my life, I will truly miss my college friends, professors, clubs, college town, etc.

    Cece Gilmore | Student, Arizona State University

    May not be ready emotionally

    Post-college life is very different from college life. When you enter the real world, you will have greater financial worries that involve finding a place to live and applying for a steady job. Therefore, it can be hard to transition from college to the real world,  exacerbated by leaving behind all of your friends who are staying in school.

    Missing out on internship opportunities

    You may miss out on internship or externship opportunities if you graduate early. This could be a disadvantage because employees typically want to hire individuals with work experience that can be earned through internships and externships. 

    Also read: How to get an internship guide

    How to graduate college in three years

    Ok, so if the pros are more appealing, and you are ready to throw your hat in the “graduate in three years” ring, keep reading! Ideally, you are on your way to graduating college early by being aware of some of the tips below, but if not, there is usually a way to come up to speed as far as required credits. Let’s find out what you need to do next!

    Start in high school

    There are many opportunities in high school to receive college credit such as AP, IB, dual-enrollment classes, and CLEP exams. Taking these more challenging classes allows students to enter college with credits already earned towards their degree. This means that students who have college credit are able to pass over taking some core  classes. Ultimately, students will need to earn fewer credits to graduate with their bachelor’s degree from the college they attend.

    Student author perspective

    I went into college with around 12 credits from high school because I participated in the IB diploma and took several IB. I also took one AP course and received college credit. These credits allowed me to skip several intro level courses.

    Cece Gilmore | Student, Arizona State University

    Also read: Why should I earn college credit in high school? 

    Choose a major with fewer requirements

    Some majors have fewer required courses or allow for more flexibility in course selection. Consider choosing a major that not only aligns with your interests and career goals, but also has a manageable and flexible course load! 

    Work closely with your academic advisor to create a plan 

    If you want to graduate college in three years, let your academic advisor know this from the start.  This will allow them the opportunity to help you plan out the best course of action in order to graduate early without being too stressed. Some students create a mock three year plan for their course schedule for reference.

    Working closely with your academic advisor, take it upon yourself to learn the degree programs requirements. Some students schedule  a variety of in-person and asynchronous online courses to ensure that they have the proper amount of time to focus and succeed in their classes.

    Overload your credits

    The average number of credits a student takes per semester is around 15 credits. However, most colleges allow students to take more than 15 credits a semester with approval and/or extra cost. Therefore, try to take as many credits as you can manage per semester to help give you the flexibility and opportunity to graduate in three years. 

    Student author experience

    I took anywhere from 18-24 credits per semester in order to successfully complete my degree in three years. Since I overloaded my credits each semester, I did not have to take any summer or community college courses to graduate early.  

    Cece Gilmore | Student, Arizona State University

    Take advantage of summer classes

    Summer classes can help you complete your degree requirements in a quicker time frame. Many colleges offer summer courses which can be completed in a shorter amount of time than a regular semester-long course. Summer courses even offer the opportunity to focus on one to two courses at a time which can help boost your GPA. Additionally, summer courses can allow you to take prerequisites earlier allowing more freedom and opportunities to get ahead in your degree requirements. 

    Also see: Does financial aid cover summer classes?

    Utilize community college course offerings

    Similarly to summer classes, community college courses allow students the opportunity to get ahead in their course credits. Community colleges offer an abundance of intro leveled classes during winter break and summer break. Community college classes offer an alternative to summer courses that allow students to get ahead on credits.  

    Graduating college in three years with a minor or a double major 

    Adding a minor or double major could make it more difficult to graduate in three years, but it is very dependent on the requirements of the additional program. A minor requires fewer credits than a major and can be completed simultaneously with your major. Therefore, it may be straightforward to add a minor and still graduate within three years. 

    A double major requires a significant amount of additional coursework and may be more difficult to complete within the three-year timeframe. It is very important to work closely with your academic advisor to plan your schedule in order to ensure that you will meet all of the necessary requirements for two majors. 

    Ultimately, it is very dependent upon the programs and the college if adding a minor or a double major could still allow you to graduate in three years. Therefore, work with your academic advisor to go over your options and choose programs that fit with your three year goal. 

    Should you graduate college in three years?

    Whether or not you graduate college in three years depends on your individual circumstances and goals. Graduating college in three years can be an amazing opportunity for students who want to save money on tuition and enter the workforce or graduate school sooner. However, it may not be the best decision for everyone (re-read the “cons” shared earlier if you are still not sure). Also, consider the following when trying to decide whether graduating college in three years is right for you:

    Financial situation

    The most tangible benefit to graduating college in three years is the amount of money you will save. Graduating in three years will save you a significant amount of money on tuition, room and board, and other college related expenses. Review your financial situation (and personal aspirations) to determine whether graduating in three years is the best financial decision for your personal circumstances. 

    Your academic goals

    If you plan to pursue graduate school, graduating in three years may limit your academic and research opportunities that could help make you a stronger candidate for graduate school. Ultimately, think about what you want out of your education and if completing your degree in three years will still allow you to complete your academic goals. 

    Internship opportunities

    Graduating in three years allows you to enter the workforce or graduate school earlier. However, one less year of college may also limit the opportunities for internships, which can be valuable for building your resume. 

    Personal life

    An accelerated plan to graduate can be a challenging college journey to face. Ultimately, it requires that  you sacrifice time and energy that could be spent on social activities, a job, hobbies, or personal interests. Therefore, make sure you are willing to make these sacrifices and can manage a heavier workload than your peers.

    In addition, it can be really hard emotionally to graduate before all of your friends and enter the real world feeling alone or not connected to your graduating class. Ultimately, reflect on your personal life and whether or not the benefits of graduating in three years outweigh the drawbacks. 

    Will graduating early from college affect my financial aid and scholarships? 

    Graduating in three years from college may affect your financial aid and scholarships in different ways, depending on the conditions of your aid. If you have received scholarships or grants that are linked to a specific number of years or semesters of enrollment, graduating early could impact your eligibility for those funds. However, this is a very situational exception that could occur. Ultimately, you should consult with your college’s financial aid office to understand how graduating in three years may impact your eligibility for aid. 

    So, should you graduate college in three years? 

    Ultimately, whether or not you should graduate in three years is a personal decision that depends on your individual goals, priorities and circumstances. Consider all of the benefits and disadvantages of graduating college in three years to determine the best path forward for you. Be sure to discuss your situation and goals with your academic advisor who could provide advice on if graduating in three years is obtainable and worth it for your personal situation.

    Remember, your college journey is your own path so it can be as long or as short of a journey as you want it to be! 

    Final thoughts from student author on graduating college in three years

    My advice is to truly think about whether the benefits of graduating early outweigh the drawbacks for your personal situation. Remember, there is no shame in graduating in four years or even longer! Everyone has their own path to travel on and it does not matter how long it takes you. Just make sure you are making your own decision in your best interest. 

    If I could go back in time, I would not change my decision. Graduating in three years has been the most rewarding experience so far, and I am excited to move on to the next phase in life.

    Cece Gilmore | Student, Arizona State University

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Pros of graduating from college in three years include: lower cost, ability to enter the workforce and graduate school sooner, and the opportunity to take a gap year
    • Cons of graduating from college in three years include: a tougher course load, you may miss out on the college experience, you may not be emotionally ready, and you may miss out on internship opportunities
    • In order to graduate college in three years, you should take college credit courses and exams in high school, plan your college schedule carefully, overload your credits, and take advantage of summer and community college courses 
    • Always work closely with your academic advisor and discuss your options
    • Consider factors such as your financial situation, your academic goals, and your personal life to help you determine if graduating from college in three years is the best option for you

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    Frequently asked questions about how to graduate college in three years

    Can anyone graduate in three years?

    Yes! Anyone can graduate in three years as long as they put the work in and get the proper coursework done in that timeframe. 

    Is it possible to graduate college in three years if I did not take any AP courses in high school?

    Yes! There are other ways to graduate college in three years. This can be done by taking a heavier course load each semester, participating in summer courses and working closely with your academic advisor. AP courses and college credit earned in high school can be extremely helpful in accelerating your progress toward a degree, but it is not the only way to graduate college in three years. 

    Are there any majors that cannot finish in three years?

    There are some specific major programs that may take longer than three years to complete based on the requirements of the program. Some examples of major programs that may not be able to be completed in three years include: 
    • Nursing
    • Engineering
    • Education

    However, it is completely up to the specific college’s program and the academic status of the individual to determine whether or not a major could be completed in three years.

    Can I still study abroad if I graduate college in three years?

    Yes, it is still possible to study abroad if you graduate college in three years. However, it is important to plan ahead and work with your academic advisor to ensure you will meet the graduation requirements while still having time to participate in study abroad.

    Will graduating college in three years impact my ability to join Greek life?

    No! Graduating college in three years should not impact your ability to join Greek life. However, it is important to consider the time commitment and financial obligations associated with Greek life. Be sure to talk to current Greek life members about your goal to graduate in three years to see if this may affect your ability to join. 

    Will graduating college in three years affect my ability to find a job?

    In general, employees will be more interested in the skills, knowledge, and experience you bring to the table rather than the amount of time it took you to complete your degree. Graduating college in three years could show your potential employer that you are able to manage your time effectively and set goals and achieve them efficiently which can be a favorable characteristic for an employer. 

    However, graduating early may reduce your chances to gain experience through internships which can decrease your chances of being hired. Ultimately, whether graduating early affects your job prospects depends on the individual and other situational factors such as your qualifications.

    What should I do if I fall behind in my coursework while trying to graduate college in three years?

    If you are starting to fall behind in your coursework, you should take action as soon as possible. Talk to your academic advisor, prioritize your coursework, consider adjusting your schedule, and most importantly, take care of yourself. Ultimately, graduating in three years is a benefit, but is not expected. Remember, you can always take a step back and graduate later than three years if needed!

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