College. Everybody wistfully tells you it’ll be the best four years of your life, right? However, lately many students are cutting some time off the experience and graduating college in three years.
Hardly any college student or recent grad needs to be reminded that the cost of higher education is soaring. The price of attending a private four-year university is an astronomical $42,000 per year on average, up 60% in the past 10 years. Since those kinds of costs can be hard to swallow, even with financial aid, more and more students are opting to finish their degrees in three years, saving tens of thousands of dollars on tuition and fees in the process.
Recognizing the appeal of the three-year track to a bachelor’s degree, certain universities have devised programs to make graduating early more convenient for students. About 20 colleges have introduced three-year degree programs since the economic downturn, according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Wesleyan University became one of the most prestigious liberal arts institutions to introduce such a program when college president Michael S. Roth, who himself followed a three-year route to graduation from Wesleyan in 1978, announced the school’s inaugural three-year degree program this past spring. Wesleyan students who choose to follow the three-year track will save an estimated $50,000 on their undergraduate education.
But all those savings don’t necessarily come easily. Because students who follow Wesleyan’s three-year degree program are still expected to complete 32 credits like everyone else, enrollment in three summer sessions is required. These summer classes, taught by tenured and tenure-track professors, prevent students from overloading on courses during the school year.
David Pesci, director of media relations at Wesleyan, said that interest in the school’s new cost-saving, three-year degree program has been tremendous.
“The admissions office has been absolutely inundated with inquiries,” said Pesci. “A lot of people thought this couldn’t be done at a liberal arts institution. I think this shows it can be done, and it can be done in a way that’s still aligned with the institution academically.”
Other schools that have pioneered three-year undergraduate degree programs include St. John’s University — where student savings can amount to $29,000 — Hartwick College, Lake Forest College and Chatham University.
Not every three-year degree program is designed as a cost-saving strategy, though. When American University introduced its three-year Global Scholars degree program, its stated purpose was something other than cutting costs for students. Instead, the Global Scholars program was designed to meet demand for an accelerated international service track and to create a tight-knit community of highly motivated students with a shared passion. The Global Scholars program began last year, with a class of 57 students.
Participants in the Global Scholars program complete core requirements together, live together and participate in summer study abroad programs together, fostering an intimate and rigorous academic community.
“Our goal was not to create a program that would fast track students to graduation and allow them to save some money along the way,” Leeanne Dunsmore, associate dean for program development and graduate admissions at the AU School of International Service, noted. “Our goal was to build a cohort of students who would engage in community-based learning, service and research through their living-learning community and co-curricular activities.”
Dunsmore described Global Scholars program participants as students with a clear and proven commitment to scholarly work, intellectual curiosity, social maturity and a commitment to international affairs.
Whether you’re looking for academic rigor, community, a head start in your job search or a shaved tuition bill, the reasons to pursue accelerated degree programs seem to keep piling up. Who says college can’t be the best three years of your life, anyway?
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