By Brittany Pierce
While it seems that students in general are taking longer than four years to graduate, some students here at Alma have started a trend of graduating in only seven semesters rather than eight.
Depending on the student, graduating early requires different levels of advanced planning.
“Graduating early just kind of happened for me. I initially majored in business administration and psychology but then decided to only minor in psych,” said Olivia Connors, who graduated last semester. “Once I laid out my schedule, I saw that if I took full semesters plus one summer class, I could graduate early. I didn’t figure all of this out until last April.”
“I made sure that I packed my schedule each semester and kept in contact with my adviser to make sure I was keeping on track,” said Penny Nelson (’18). “When you go to them with a plan already made, it makes it easier for them to help you.”
It is possible to graduate from college a semester early without taking more than 18 credits per semester. One strategy that Connors used was taking an extra spring term course.
“I mostly took 16 or 18 credit semesters. I took one 19 credit semester, but that is the highest I have ever been. I also took three spring term courses,” said Connors.
However, starting out college with some credits is also helpful.
“I came in with eight credits total. I had four credits from an AP class I took in high school and four credits from a dual enrollment class, so not that many credits going into college,” said Connors.
“I had to lay out my schedule of my last two semesters and contact my community college from back home to see what class I could take over the summer.”
“I came in with four credits from an AP class,” said Nelson.
Generally, the best way to accumulate credits before college is through dual enrollment at a community college.
“I strongly believe that dual enrollment will take you further than AP classes if your high school is willing to pay for you to take classes at a local college,” said Connors. “I took many AP classes but did not score a 4 or 5 in order to receive credit for college, except one class.”
“I basically took AP classes to weigh my GPA on the 5.0 scale instead of 4.0. If I could do it all over again, I would not enroll in AP classes and focus on dual enrollment classes.”
Nelson also agreed that dual enrollment is a better option compared to Advanced Placement classes.
While graduating early is doable, it is not always easy.
“I think my biggest challenge trying to graduate early was making sure I had everything in order,” said Connors. “It can get tricky when you are trying to figure out what classes will transfer over with how many credits and if it counts for a distributive requirement or not. The registrar office at Alma helped me out greatly when I ran into some road blocks.”
“The least amount of credits that I had a semester was 17, and I have taken up to 20 in order to get the amount of credits that I needed,” said Nelson. “At times my classes wouldn’t line up or things would get switched.
I also had to make sure I was not only fulfilling the total credits, but also the amount of upper level credits that were needed.”
It’s not too late to start planning to graduate early.
“I definitely recommend graduating early, “ said Connors. “In order to do this, most people need to plan ahead, start when you are a freshman or a sophomore and know exactly what you need to take each semester.”
“Things will not always work out exactly how you want it to every semester but if you plan ahead you can make adjustments to your schedule,” she added.
However, Connors believes that getting out early might not be the best decision.
“I don’t think graduating early is for everyone, but if you are contemplating it, it doesn’t hurt to look into your options further,” said Connors.
“Go to the registrar’s office and see where you stand credit wise and how far you are from completing your major. Also, consider taking summer classes to help your workload here at Alma.
If you are taking classes from somewhere else and planning on transferring, make sure you know how many credits they transfer over to and if it counts for any of your classes that you are required to take.”
Overall, both Connors and Nelson are content with their decision to graduate early.
“Part of me is sad to leave early, but I absolutely think that it is worth it,” said Nelson.
“I am very happy that I made the decision to graduate early, “said Connors. “I have had so many amazing and worthwhile experiences at Alma that I will cherish forever, so I don’t really feel like I am missing out at all.”
“Of course, I miss seeing my friends every day, but I just hang on to my favorite memories instead of focusing on the ‘what if I would have stayed’ mindset.”
Currently, Connors is working for the college as a hall director.
After Nelson graduates, she plans to move abroad.
“If things go as planned I will be traveling on a frequent basis, or permanently to Haiti in order to help small businesses grow and do research on the communities there to better understand how they operate,” said Nelson.