At Belmont University, about 10 percent of each graduating class is leaving with a diploma one or two semesters early.
“It was like, I could either go ahead and save lots of money, or get even worse into debt,” said Brittany Hodges, scheduled to graduate this December a semester ahead of a four-year schedule.
In college, money is on everyone’s mind. For most freshmen it’s the first time away from family, and the first time for even have an inkling of true independence.
It’s also the first time many realize how much money it takes to live, and how much money parents (and students) are shelling out for them to attend a university.
For some, the inevitable desire arises to save money. Setting a budget, scholarships, work study and graduating early are all ways students can minimize expenses during their college years.
“I came to college with a lot of AP hours and an internship,” Hodges said. “But I changed majors, so I thought it wouldn’t really matter. I didn’t find out till fall of junior year that I could graduate early.”
There are many ways to cut a semester off college. Community college classes during the summer, transfer credits, AP credits and Belmont summer school can fill up key general education credits for far less money than taking the same classes at Belmont during the regular school year. Even people who’ve switched majors several times can sometimes muster up the credits needed to graduate with half a year to spare. For Hodges, it was not an easy decision.
“I’m really involved on campus, with international students especially, so [deciding to leave] was hard,” she said. “Ultimately, it was my first adult decision. Graduating early was the best option.”
According to a 2007 study titled “Driven and No Regrets,” the feeling of most people who graduate early is that you miss out on a lot of the experiences that make going to college fun. Social activities sometimes go to the wayside with extra studying and coursework to deal with.
Also, many feel like they get out with the bare minimum in classes.
“Most [students] could think of specific costs to graduating early,” the study noted. “These included less time and dedication to their social lives, relationships, the dorm experience, extracurricular activities, and experience and knowledge through internships or taking more courses.”
Not only is there that to consider, but the actual experience of graduating a semester early is very different from finishing a full four year college experience. A student has to go out into the real world on his or her own and find his or her own way with less opportunity to share the experience with someone else.
However, not all former connections are necessarily abandoned.
“Graduating early, you can still stay in Nashville and be around people. You can still see your friends, you know,” Hodges said.