At a time when public universities are suffering budget cuts that can make it tough to graduate in four years, some students are still finding ways to earn a degree in less time. Students who have taken community college courses in high school, or who have AP credits, and take a few summer classes, may be able to finish college in three or three and a half years. While many colleges informally allow students who have the credits to graduate in three years, a number of colleges have added or are considering more formal three year programs.
But there are trade-offs. If students are taking a heavy course load during the semester, or going to summer school during the summers, they miss opportunities for internships and in-depth involvement in extracurricular activities that can be as educational as what they study in the classroom. A summer job is not only a chance to earn money, but to check out a possible career interest, do research that will enhance graduate school applications, make contacts and gain experience that could lead to a job after graduation.
In England, students typically earn a degree in three years, but they aren’t spending their first two years taking general education courses while they decide on a major. Students apply to a specific program and focus on that subject when they start their university education. This is one of the reasons that taking a gap year is popular there, as students can take some time to decide what they want to study in college.
Students who know what they want to study do have opportunities to fast track their education here. Accelerated programs enable motivated students to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees in less than the usual amount of time. Strong students who are sure they want to attend medical school can apply to a seven year program, where they begin medical school after three years of undergraduate work.
Students who want to go into law may want to apply to a six year program, where they spend three years as an undergraduate and then begin law school.
The advantages of accelerated programs are clear. You save a year of college tuition. Knowing that you have a place in medical or law school when you begin college can lower the stress level that comes with being a pre-med or pre-law student. It takes years of training to become a lawyer, and even more for doctors, so if you know that you want to enter one of these professions, getting started sooner can be very appealing.
There are also some trade-offs to consider. You won’t have as much time in college to pursue other interests in depth, and it can be more difficult to fit in a study abroad term. You may need to attend summer school and miss out on the opportunity to have a summer job or internship. If you choose a college just because it offers an accelerated program, you may overlook other schools that could be a better fit. You might also change your mind about attending the medical or law school at that university.
If you are interested in an accelerated program, it’s important to start preparing well before senior year. Get some experience in the field by volunteering at a hospital or courthouse while you’re in high school. Arrange to shadow a physician or attorney. You will find out if this is the right path for you, and you’ll be able to make a more compelling case for admission in your applications and interviews.
Make sure you are taking all the required courses in high school. In order to be a competitive candidate for an accelerated medical program, you should take calculus and physics, and score well on SAT or ACT and Subject Tests. Application deadlines for accelerated programs may be early, so start researching those programs now.
If you don’t get into an accelerated program straight from high school, you may be able to do so once you’re in college. Many schools offer opportunities for students in different fields to begin graduate work early. Some schools offer a five year MBA/BA program. Students usually apply once they have completed a couple years of undergraduate work.
These are just a few of the opportunities available to students who know where they’re headed and are in a hurry to get there.