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Reduce the Cost of College, Part I: Three-Year Degrees

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I am initiating a new series of posts here at FinancialAidFinder on how to reduce the cost of college. According to the College Board, the average in-state Bachelor’s degree will run you around $50,000 today. That figure covers tuition, room and board.

The average American family earns $50,000 a year, so cash flowing that kind of money is absolutely impossible. That’s why I’m launching this new series. I’ll be looking at creative or non-traditional ways to reduce the cost of college and make it more affordable for more Americans.

This week I am looking at a new trend among some colleges: the 3-year degree. The topic of three-year degrees has recently come into vogue, causing a great deal of debate among college administrators and educators.

Setting aside the potential academic and social cost of cutting a year off your degree, there is no doubt that graduating in three years vs. four (or more realistically, five to six years, as is the average, according to the College Board) will save you thousands of dollars. After all, one-forth of $50,000 is $12,500.

The good news is that you don’t need to attend a college that awards three-year degrees to graduate in three years. You can do it all on your own. Just check with your registrar’s office to make sure they don’t have a policy against “early graduation.” (Such policies are rare these days, but if your school does prohibit graduating in less than eight semesters, you can petition the policy on the grounds of your financial situation.)

So, assuming your school is on-board, how do you manage to cut down 25% of the time to graduation? Here are three suggestions:

Double up on courses. Instead of taking four classes a semester, take five or six. If the average Bachelor’s degree requires 36 classes for graduation, you can accomplish this by taking four semesters of five classes, and two semesters of six.

Take summer classes. You can enroll in a class or two every summer session and greatly reduce your course work burden during the year. Even if you don’t spend the summer in the same town as your school, you can still take classes at the local community college and transfer in the credits. (In fact, this is a great way to further reduce the cost of school, since the per-hour fee at a 2-year college is much less than at a 4-year school.)

Take AP classes in high school. Many colleges award you credit for AP classes, which can bump up your standing a semester or even two. If you start out your freshman year with sophomore year standing, you are already on track for a three-year degree.

Are you working on the less-than-four-years-to-graduation time frame? What’s your plan for achieving that goal?

To learn more about the growing three-year trend, see this recent article from the USA Today.

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