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
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.80% – 9.36%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.68% – 11.98%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.68% – 11.98% (1.68% – 11.07% APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 12.40% (4.24% – 11.43% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 11.63% (1.91% – 11.33% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.93% (4.64% – 11.61% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 10.19% (1.91% – 9.47% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.91% – 8.99% (1.91% – 8.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.49% – 8.33% (2.49% – 8.33% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.46% – 9.60% (4.46% – 9.54% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.78% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of May 10, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.