three year degree

The Three-Year Degree: Battling The Rising Costs of Higher Education

People love to say that college is the best – and fastest – four years of their lives.

Now imagine doing it in three.

Graduating from college a semester or a year early is becoming the reality for an increasing number of college students, many of whom are coming in with advanced credit from high school, and are looking for a way to deal with the rapidly rising costs of higher education.

While cramming four years of college into three certainly isn’t for everyone, the financial benefits of such a maneuver make the sacrifice worth it for many students.

Nicole Jacques is a broadcast journalism major at Boston University’s College of Communication (COM), and she’s graduating a year early, in the spring of 2015. Jacques said that money was a major motivating factor in her decision to speed up graduation.

“When I realized I could save $60,000, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely graduating early,’” Jacques said.

Jacques came into COM last year with credits from the Advanced Placement courses she took in high school, which helped her fill out her basic class requirements and propelled her to junior standing this year.

“More people would probably do it if they had the option,” Jacques said, “just because it’s so expensive to go to college.”

Celina Bertoncini, a film and television major in COM, will also be graduating in the spring of 2015 after only three years. She said that both money and time weigh heavily on her mind.

“It’s really sad because I love BU so much, but I really have to get on track to my actual career goals,” said Bertoncini, who is also a visual arts minor, and is hoping to go to graduate school or a one-year degree program in animation after graduating.

“Being able to reach those career goals, and [not] be in a mountain of debt as well,” said Bertoncini. “That would be ideal.”

Many students already have plans lined up for after they graduate, so saving money now as an undergraduate is the best way to afford those long-term goals. Shannon Watts, a political science major in BU’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), is planning on going to law school after getting her undergraduate degree.

“If I can save myself an entire year…that would be excellent,” said Watts.

For many students, finances are a non-negotiable reality. For the upcoming 2014/2015 school year, Boston University’s total billed expenses will reach $60,694, a 3.7 percent rise from last year, according to BU Today.

Despite these daunting increases, the percentage of students who try to fit four years into three is still small. Micha Sabovik, the assistant dean of Student Services, Career Services and Graduate Services in COM, said that while the college doesn’t have specific numbers, a small, but rising, portion of COM students try to do four years of college in three.

Student Services will “bend over backwards” to help students reach their early graduation goals, Dean Sabovik said, but “we don’t want to hand-hold the student. We want to guide the student.”

Jacques has gone to Student Services many times to double-check that she’s on track to graduate, and she said she sometimes finds their approach to be “nonchalant” and “scary.”

“They haven’t been unsupportive,” Jacques said, “…[but] they expect you to keep track of that stuff on your own.”

Kyle Clauss, a journalism major graduating from COM this May after only three years, also found the process “frustrating.”

“I was fortunate enough to have a very good advisor,” Clauss said, “…but he was only there if you go and seek him out.”

In a college of 2300 students, Dean Sabovik stressed that while students are “not on their own at all,” it’s important that they also advocate for themselves.

“There’s a lot of different ways to get the advising you need,” she said.

Kerry Buglio, the assistant dean of Advising and Academic Services for CAS, emphasized the importance of coming in to the office to talk over early graduation plans with advisors.

“It’s not just how to do it,” she said, “but should you, and why, and what’s it going to give you.”

Many students come into college with the credits and the option to graduate early, Dean Buglio said, but they choose to stay anyway, in order to have a full four-year experience.

“There are things you might not be able to take advantage of if you focus on getting out as fast as [you] can,” she said. “It’s a trade-off.”

The college experience is certainly altered when a student shaves off a quarter of the time that he or she would normally have at school.

“It’s been difficult to balance twenty credits and my other activities and extracurriculars at BU,” Bertoncini said. Because she’s also planning on spending her last semester in Los Angeles for BU’s film program, she won’t be able to study abroad in Europe.

Watts is also missing out on a study abroad experience in Europe, but plans to spend next spring semester in Washington, D.C. She has mixed feelings about leaving college, although she knows she’ll be back in a classroom for law school soon enough.

“I’m a little bit sad,” Watts said. “And a lot apprehensive.”

Clauss had no regrets about not going abroad, but looking back on his overall experience, he wished he had had a little more fun during his first year in college.

“I wish I didn’t take everything so seriously during freshman year,” Clauss said, but the words of a friend have fueled a different mindset for his last year at BU.

“He told me, if there’s anything in this last year that you’re [unsure about doing],” Clauss said, “do it, and then do it twice.”

Dean Buglio stressed that a student’s degree is just one aspect of his or her college experience. Experiences like internships, leadership opportunities, and extracurriculars become that much more important when dealing with a shorter time period.

“There’s so many non-academic things,” she said, “that happen as part of student growth.”

In the end, though, Dean Sabovik said it all comes down to what the student feels prepared for and capable of doing.

“Students have to do what’s best for them,” she said.