How to Finish College Faster

June 15, 2020 Loans & Finance

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

1. Take AP courses in high school

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.”

2. Complete the College Level Examination Program exams

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.

3. Work with your advisor and plan ahead

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.”

4. Consider taking online courses

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.

5. Add summer, winter courses to the mix

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.

6. Enroll in a fast-track program

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.

7. Consider an associate’s degree

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.

Finishing college faster can mean less debt

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.

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* 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 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
CollegeAve Disclosures

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.

1Rates 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.

2This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 6/15/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval based on a margin plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 0.667%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes. Rates are effective as of 06/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)

Undergraduate Loans: Variable rate loans have an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 2.71%- 12.99%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between  3.82%- 14.50% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% (for Credit-Based Loans) on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate (See Undergraduate Loan repayment examples.)
Graduate Loans: Variable rate loans have an APR range between 5.71% and 11.17%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 6.64% and 11.92% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Rates reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25%. (See Graduate Loan repayment examples.)

Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment.
Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
Interest rate reduction of 0.25% for enrollment in automatic debit applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner signs up for automatic payments and the regularly scheduled, current amount due (including full, flat, or interest only payments, as applicable) is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of In-School, Deferment, Grace or Forbearance. If you have two (2) returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the 0.25% interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the 0.25% interest rate reduction.
All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
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1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:

The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.

Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.

.br-none br{display:none}4 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Discover Disclosures
Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
Aggregate loan limits apply.
Lowest APRs shown are available for the most creditworthy applicants and include an interest-only repayment discount and Auto Debit Reward. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including undergraduate and graduate loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 1.00% as of April 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to customers with the best credit and other factors. Your APR will be determined after you apply. It will be based on your credit history, which repayment option you choose and other factors, including your cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates.
Get a variable interest rate from 2.99% APR to 6.24% APR (3-Month LIBOR + 1.99% to 3-Month LIBOR + 5.24%) for either a 10-year or 20-year repayment term. Or lock in a fixed interest rate from 3.74% APR to 6.49% APR for a 10-year repayment term or from 3.74% APR to 6.49% APR for a 20-year repayment term. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 1.00% as of April 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both.

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.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

 Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

1.25% – 9.44%*,1 Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.24% – 11.98%2 Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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2.71% – 12.99%3 Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.49% – 11.99%4 Undergraduate and Graduate

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3.52% – 9.50%5 Undergraduate and Graduate

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