Three Years as an Undergraduate: The Pros and Cons
June 27, 2013
Ah, it's the season of graduations and as I look around my facebook feed I see pictures of friends in cap and gown, smiling merrily. In fact I see more of my friends this year than I did last year. This is because I chose to graduate from my undergraduate institution in three years instead of four. This was a fairly personal decision for me, but as college gets more and more expensive, more people are considering the "finish as fast as humanly possible" route. As someone who's done it, here are some of the possible pros and cons of leaving a little bit early.
1. Saving money. This can be huge. Particularly if you're going to a small, private institution, you may be saving your family tens of thousands of dollars by finishing a year early. This can be a great nest egg for the future, you can use it towards your graduate education, or simply revel in the delights of not having debt.
2. Leaving an unpleasant situation. If you're not very happy with your undergrad experience, or even if you're just ambivalent, four years is a long time to spend. Most people would not remain at a job that they were dissatisfied with for that long. Why should you feel obligated to stay at school that long? If you aren't enjoying yourself and can make it out early, it can be a great way to escape a negative situation without the stress of transferring.
3. If you know what you want to do, it can feel awesome to just do it. If you're aiming for grad school and you know where you want to go and do, or if you have a particular career in mind that you really want to get to, it can be nice to cut down on the sheer number of years you have to prep. If you can finish in 3 years while finishing all your requirements, why not?
4. On the negative side, leaving early can take away some of your opportunities. I never got to travel abroad because I couldn't fit it into three years. I was never an organizer of a club or activity because most people move into these roles as seniors and I was leaving just as I would have been stepping up to take on more responsibility. If I had been in a research based field, I likely would not have had as many opportunities to do research, and I know that I missed out on taking some classes I would have really enjoyed, and meeting professors I was interested in getting to know because I lost that final year.
5. It can distance you from your peers. You're suddenly out of sequence in many of your major classes, and nobody can quite figure out what year you are, and you feel like you don't entirely fit anywhere. You graduate with people you didn't start with and it feels awkward.
6. There can also be some personal loss. While graduating early is often something you do if you have something you're aiming for or if you're dissatisfied with your current situation and there is no reason to stay somewhere you don't like, college is useful in many ways. It's an incredibly good time for self-exploration, and gives you some time and space that's a little bit separated from many of the stresses of "the real world", particularly if you live on campus or go to a small liberal arts college. This is by no means true for everyone, but the communal experience of college can be important in understanding yourself and your place in relation to others.
About the Author: Olivia James
Olivia James is a recent graduate from St. Olaf College who is now navigating the post-college pre-grad school waters. She was a philosophy and religion major and was a member of St. Olaf's SSA. She is also an avid swing dancer, voracious reader, and all around nutjob.
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