How to Graduate from College in Four Years or Less


Ah, college. Known as the “glory days” to some and just a blip on the radar for others.

I spent my undergraduate years at a popular public university in my home state. After classes got started and I got further into my freshman year, I quickly realized that I could graduate early. I was lucky enough to earn my undergraduate degree in three years and I’m so glad I did. Graduating early allowed me to put my skills to good use and enter the workforce right away. As a result, I've been able to gain invaluable experience in my field and have somewhat of a leg up over my peers. 

Nowadays, it seems that students take four or more years to earn their undergraduate degree. Each person’s college experience is different, but if you’re reading this post I’m guessing that you’re ambitious and goal-oriented like I am. Maybe you've entertained the idea of graduating from college early or you're looking for some advice on how to earn college credit in an alternative way. Well, you're in luck because this post will highlight some things for you to consider. 

Here are my top tips for graduating from college early:

1. Have a sense of what you’d like to major and minor in before stepping foot on campus
Okay, I know this is hard, but if you have a pulse on what you’re passionate about before you go to college, you’ll have a definite advantage when it comes to selecting the proper classes. In most cases, people who are undecided will schedule basic gen eds during their first few semesters. Sure, it’s great to get those classes out of the way, but it’s also important to take classes that count toward your major. 

2. Take AP classes in high school or test out of a college class by taking CLEP tests
This is a no-brainer. If you take AP classes in high school, do yourself a favor and take the AP test. If you’re confident in the subject and feel like you could pass the test, go for it and see what happens. You could end up earning college credit (which will save you time and money in the long run) if you pass. #Winning. If you excel at certain subjects but don’t have the opportunity to take AP classes, l highly suggest you look into taking a College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) test. This basically lets you test out of a subject you’re well-versed in. In return for passing the test, you earn credit for the course. Most tests are multiple choice, but some do have essay portions CLEP. When I was in college, I took the “College Composition” CLEP test and passed. This meant that I didn’t have to take the basic English class designated for freshmen at my university. Score!

3. If you’re still in high school, consider a dual enrollment program at a college near you
Many colleges partner with school districts to offer high school students the opportunity to take college classes on campus. In many cases, you need to submit a dual enrollment application and send your transcripts to the undergraduate admissions office of the college you’re applying to. The number of credits a student is able to take per semester may vary, but this is definitely something to look into if you can move beyond the curriculum offered at your high school.

4. Meet with your academic advisor during your first semester
I cannot stress this enough. Meeting with your academic advisor is extremely important. I met with my academic advisor during my first semester and I’m so glad I did. She helped me by laying out the exact requirements that I needed to fulfill. On top of classes you need to take for your major and minor, there are other classes such as prerequisites and gen ed courses you need to take in order to meet your graduation requirements. In order to ensure I stayed on track, I set up another meeting with my academic advisor during my second semester. During this time, we mapped out the rest of the classes I would need to take over through the remainder of my college career. I knew exactly which classes I was going to take during which semester. My “major map” even included the number of credits each class was worth so I could see a running total and make sure I would hit the number of credits needed to graduate.

5. Declare your major
So, this may seem like a given, but the sooner you declare your major and sign the necessary documentation, the quicker you’ll be able to take upper level classes in your area of study. At my school, I had to set up an appointment with one of my department advisors to discuss classes, career options and more. After meeting with my department advisor/professor, she approved my application and I was officially on my way to earning a degree in a field I was (and still am) passionate about. 

6. Load up on classes to earn the maximum amount of credit
When you first register for classes you may be encouraged to take the minimum amount of credits. If you’re enrolled in a few classes that total 12 or 13 credits, don’t be afraid to take on another class and bump your total number of credit hours up to 15. This is merely something to consider and not necessarily advice you need to follow. Only you can determine how many credits you’re able to handle during each semester. If you want to start off with a few classes to get into the college groove, that’s totally understandable. From an academic perspective, the adjustment from high school to college can be extremely difficult. 

7. Take classes during the summer (either on campus or online)
Summer is often a time when you’re able to kick back, relax and take a break from school for a while. But, if you want to graduate in four years or less, you might want to consider taking courses either on campus or online between your spring and fall semesters. During my last two summers in college I took online classes through my university. The first summer I took nine credits and the second summer I took 15 credits (which included an internship that I earned college credit from). You might be wondering how much time summer classes will take up. From my experience, I was able to balance working part-time as a lifeguard, going out on dates with my boyfriend (now husband) and taking summer courses. The key is balance and time management. If you set aside enough time to work on homework, study and take exams, you should be golden.

8. Take classes through your community college and transfer them to your school for credit
Community colleges are so underrated. What if I told you that you could take the same course offered through your university at a fraction of the price through your local community college? It's true. To top it off, several community colleges offer online classes, so you can live on campus at your school, take courses online through a community college and transfer them to receive credit toward your degree. Now that's a win-win! This is especially useful if you decide to take a few gen eds through your community college. Might as well save money on classes that aren't necessarily specialized to your major. To find out what courses are transferrable between your community college and your university, speak to your academic advisor. If you like in Michigan like me, use the website Michigan Transfer Network -

9. Rock that cap and gown and move that tassel! 
After your final paper is turned in and your last exam is completed you can breath easy for a little. Your hard work will certainly pay off when you have the chance to walk across that graduation stage and accept your diploma. To graduate early, you'll sacrifice a lot of things, but one of the biggest will be your time. If you don't put in the time and the effort, you won't be able to reach your goal. But, with the right attitude, a lot of planning and support from your family and friends, you'll get to wear the robe and the silly looking hat! 

Are you interested in graduating early from college?
If you're a college graduate, how many years did you spend in college?
I'd love to hear in the comments below!