How to Finish College Faster

How to Finish College Faster

To finish college quickly, you can take college courses as a high school student, attend winter and summer sessions, and work closely with your advisor to map out your course requirements. Those are important steps to take to avoid spending extra time in school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 41.6% of students graduate from college within four years. For each additional semester you spend in school, you may rack up extra student loan debt.

To learn the fastest way to get through college and minimize your student loan balance, use these seven strategies.

1. Take AP courses in high school
2. Complete the College Level Examination Program exams
3. Work with your advisor and plan ahead
4. Consider taking online courses
5. Add summer, winter courses to the mix
6. Enroll in a fast-track program
7. Consider an associate’s degree
Finishing college faster can mean less debt

1. Take AP courses in high school

For high school students, one of the best things you can do while you’re in high school is to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. These courses are designed to give high school students an introduction to college-level curriculums, and tend to be more intensive than high school classes.

At the end of the course, you’ll take an AP exam. According to Vicki Cook, MAT supervisor at SUNY Empire State College, some universities will give you college credits for the AP courses you complete if you pass the exam.

“A number of college-level classes you can take in high school cover general education credits you are required to take in college,” she said. “This can help lighten the load during a semester or even reduce the amount of time you’ll spend in college by a year or more. Check out the colleges you are interested in and see what their policies are on accepting college courses you take in high school.”

2. Complete the College Level Examination Program exams

The College Board operates the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). The CLEP is a series of 34 exams you can complete to demonstrate your understanding of different subjects and to earn college credit for material you’ve already mastered.

The CLEP is accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities, and there are over 2,000 test centers nationwide. Each exam takes between 90 and 120 minutes to complete, and is done entirely on computers at test centers.

The College Board reported that adult students who earn 15 CLEP credits toward a degree could save between $5,000 and $17,000, depending on the type of university they choose to attend.

For more information or to register for an exam, visit The College Board’s website.

3. Work with your advisor and plan ahead

Your university advisor can play a pivotal role in mapping out your education and helping you finish college faster.

When you have selected your major and minor, schedule a meeting with your advisor to discuss what requirements you need to complete before you graduate. Your advisor can tell you about any special details you may need to know. For example, some schools only offer certain required courses every other year; if you need that class to graduate but miss enrolling in it, you’ll have to delay graduating so you can take it.

Your advisor will also work with you to ensure you complete all of your necessary core or elective classes on time so you can graduate on time — or earlier. And, they can even help you if a required course is already filled, or develop a plan if you need to take a break from college.

“Your college advisor is the expert when it comes to helping you meet program and graduation requirements,” Cook said. “They can also help you manage communication with college faculty if you need a seat in a class that is full or to get a course approved.”

4. Consider taking online courses

With online courses, you can take classes and complete coursework when it works for your schedule. Many online courses are offered on a compressed timeframe, so you can complete classes — and get the necessary credits — in less time.

In fact, a survey by LearningHouse, Aslanian Research, and Wiley Education Services found that 31% of students said that programs that offered the quickest path to a degree was the most important factor they considered when choosing a school.

If you don’t want to do a fully remote program, you can enroll in a traditional college program and live on-campus, but take some courses or even extra classes online. This approach can be a smart way to fulfill school’s core requirements, if applicable. You can complete language, mathematics, or basic science courses online.

5. Add summer, winter courses to the mix

While many students look forward to the traditional winter and summer breaks to relax and decompress, Cook said these periods can be a great time to finish required classes so you can finish college more quickly.

“Students should take advantage of winter or summer terms when possible to make up lost credits, reduce their credit load during challenging terms, or to get ahead of requirements,” Cook said.

Winter and summer classes tend to be in shorter duration; instead of a full semester, the material is compressed to just a few weeks. The demands of the class may be more rigorous, with longer class sessions and more coursework, but you can finish the class in a short time, making it possible to graduate faster.

However, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research with Saving For College, cautioned students about researching their financing options if they plan to take winter or summer sessions.

“[…] There’s a year-round Pell Grant program, where you can get extra Pell Grants in the summer if you are in an accelerated degree program,” he said. “Federal student loan eligibility, however, does not increase to cover a summer term.”

You can use federal student loans to pay for summer or winter sessions. However, if you’ve maxed out your federal loan allotment paying for the fall and spring semester, you can’t take out additional money to pay for extra courses during the summer or winter.

For example, the maximum you can borrow as an undergraduate student in Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans ranges from $5,500 to $12,500 per year, depending on your dependency status and what year of schooling you’re currently in. If you already used that money to pay for your fall and spring semester, you aren’t eligible for additional federal student loans. Instead, you may have to use private student loans to pay for the extra coursework.

6. Enroll in a fast-track program

While classes within a traditional bachelor’s degree program typically last for 16 weeks, accelerated programs work very differently. Classes are compressed into five, eight, or 10-week sessions. With shorter class sessions, you can finish your degree much more quickly. Depending on the program, you could get your degree in as little as 12 to 18 months.

There are some drawbacks to this strategy, however. The compressed sessions mean they are much more intensive. Each class will meet more often and for longer periods of time, and will require more independent work on your part. With such a heavy workload, you may not have a lot of extra time, so you may not be able to work while in school and will have to rely on student loans, instead.

7. Consider an associate’s degree

Finally, another strategy to finish college faster is to get an associate’s degree instead of a bachelor’s degree. By attending a community college, you can get your associate’s degree in two years or less.

Community colleges tend to be much less expensive than four-year schools. The College Board reported that the average cost of a community college for an in-district student was $3,730, while a public four-year school for an in-state student costs $10,440 on average.

If you want to get a bachelor’s degree later on, you may be able to transfer the credits you completed in community college over to your new school. Not only will transferring credits help you save money, but it may allow you to get your degree sooner, too.

Finishing college faster can mean less debt

When figuring out how to get done with college faster, it’s important to balance your goals on degree completion with limiting student loan debt. While it may be tempting to take out more loans so you can finish college more quickly, make sure you know how much money is a reasonable amount to borrow.

“Student loans are affordable if your total student loan debt at graduation is less than your annual starting salary,” Kantrowitz said. “If total debt is less than annual income, you should be able to repay the debt in 10 years or less.”

To get rid of your student loans as quickly as possible, check out this guide on paying off your education debt faster.

Elyssa Kirkham contributed to this report.

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