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Should You Graduate a Semester Early?

Forget that new iPod or that gorgeous J. Crew Capella coat under the tree this year—because if you’re graduating early this December, everyone knows that earning your diploma five months ahead of schedule is the best gift of the season! Once final exams are over, you can head home for the holidays knowing that you’ll never have to open a physics book or write another English paper again. Ever.

Graduating a semester early can be a huge relief, but at the same time, it can also leave you with mixed feelings—especially once your friends are back at school hanging out after class and partying it up on the weekends, but you’re in the Real World (or at least still living in your childhood bedroom that is adorned with Backstreet Boys posters and Disney World memorabilia) where staying out ‘til 2 a.m. is no longer an option.

So why graduate a semester early in December? We talked to three different girls who made this decision, found out why they did it, how they weighed the pros and cons and most importantly, how you should go about making this decision yourself.

Making the decision

For some collegiettes, making the decision to grab their diplomas a semester early wasn’t a decision they lost sleep over. 

“Graduating early was something that I’d thought about for a while the first two years of college,” said HC contributing writer and recent Brandeis University graduate Chrissy Callahan. “It was that goal that seemed so great, but that you weren’t sure you could actually achieve. I didn’t want to overdo it and cause myself undue stress, but it was during my junior year that I seriously started to look into what was involved in graduating early. I soon realized that I just had to strategically plan my schedule for the next three semesters and then I’d have enough credits to finish early!”

For Chrissy, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in beauty magazine journalism, and felt that her time was better spent in the workforce rather than continuing to be in the classroom.

Having felt stifled with the liberal arts curriculum at her school, Chrissy said that she was determined to graduate with full force given all her “passion for entering the workforce and frustration with academia.”

But for other students, committing to graduating early can simply come down to those dollar bills.

“As much as I would have loved to have the experience of living in London for a semester, saving money was more important,” said recent Syracuse University graduate Kelina Imumara, who wanted to study abroad like her friends but instead opted to skip out on studying abroad so she could graduate a semester early. “Since I’m paying for college myself, saving myself $30,000 was appealing.”

However, while money was the main factor that pulled her to graduating early in the winter, she also said that “having the ability to take a long break before jumping into the job market is nice, too. The decision to graduate early was an easy one to make.”

While making the decision to graduate a semester early may seem easy for some, for others, the answer isn’t as clear. Check out our list of pros and cons below before you submit your application to graduate early!

The Pros 

You save money. 

We all know that college is not cheap. Like Kelina, recent Syracuse University graduate Christen Brandt is paying for college herself too. “Saving a semester’s worth of tuition was a huge drawing point,” she said.

Chrissy agrees. “I’m saving a whole semester’s worth of studying and academics. For someone who has such a firm grasp on what they’d like to pursue for a career as I do, it is a huge deal!”

Instead of making payments for an unnecessary semester of tuition, you can instead use that money to make payments on major investments like a new apartment or car for your new, adult life—and not on extra loans. 

You can get a head start on the job search.

“Graduating early gives you a bit of an edge as far as the job market is concerned,” said Chrissy. “For something as competitive as magazine journalism, it’s great to have any edge possible—and if that means me being ready to immediately fill my dream position, and it opens up in February or March or whenever, I’m still ahead of the huge bottleneck of graduating seniors finishing up in May.”

For all of you overachievers, putting in the hard work now can definitely pay off later when you have a job lined up in the spring, while your former classmates are still in school.

“I’m ready to take on the real world!” said Christen. “I am sad to be leaving my friends behind, but I’m ready to move on from the college scene.”

Kelina, who will start training for Teach for America next year where she’ll teach in Colorado, said, “If I didn’t already know what I was doing after May, I know that entering the job market months before my peers would be a definite advantage. But knowing exactly what I’m going to be doing after May in November made the last month and a half of school so difficult to get through. It was senioritis all over again. I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I knew in November and was graduating in May.”

You’re DONE! You can relax.

What better feeling could there be? While everyone else still has another semester to go, you can wrap up your final exams knowing that you’re done forever.

“I also think a pro is finishing while you’re still motivated to do work,” said Kelina.  “As tough as it was to stay motivated during the last few weeks of classes, I know it will be a lot more difficult for my friends who are graduating on time.”
Probably one of the best perks of graduating early is that’s once it’s over, you don’t have to necessarily stay motivated if you don’t want to. If you don’t want to get the jumpstart on the job search, you totally don’t have to. You can celebrate the fact that you’ve completed your higher education in less than four years and can throw yourself a party or even just park yourself in front of the TV and catch up on all those Gossip Girl episodes you missed. You can take a nap. Go on vacation. Or just sleep. Ahhhhh.


The Cons

Saying Goodbye 

Unfortunately, graduating early also means having to say your “good-byes” early as well.

“The hardest part of graduating early has been saying goodbye to all of my friends,” said Christen. “But in the end, it’s worth it for the money I’ll save and the leg up I’ll (hopefully) get in applying for jobs over May graduates.”

Likewise, “When graduating early, you have to move on a lot more quickly than friends do,” said Chrissy. “I’m saying my goodbyes this week and last, and it’s really starting to hit me that what I’ve worked so hard for and waited three and a half years for is really here. And while that’s incredibly rewarding and exciting, it’s also terrifying because it all happens so much faster this way!”

You may feel left out.

Saying goodbye to college also means saying goodbye to the college social scene.

“Everything happens so much quicker if you graduate early,” said Chrissy. “While all your friends are still reveling in the fun parts of senior year and haven’t really started to stress about looking for jobs, you have to be extremely organized and work a lot more to find that job so soon.”

It’s true. While you’re working during the 9 to 5 hours, your friends are still cramming for exams at night, going to basketball games together and bar hopping on the weekends—the only way you’ll see your old roommate dancing on the speakers at the bar is by looking at her Facebook photos the next morning.

“I am worried that it will be weird when my friends go back to school and I won’t. I think it’ll weird for them, too,” said Kelina. “Syracuse doesn’t offer a ceremony or anything for December grads, so as soon as my last paper was turned in, I was done. Just like that. I’m going back to Syracuse in May to walk with the rest of my class—but after a few months living in the ‘real world,’ the idea of going back to college, even if it is just to go through all the pomp and circumstance of graduation, it’s an odd thing to think about. My classmates will have had those last few months to bond and celebrate the upcoming end of college when I have been living outside of the college bubble for the same amount of time.”

Going through loopholes.

Be forewarned: graduating early involves more than simply handing in a sheet of paper with your intent.

Instead, “Graduating early means you have to work hard to fit in extra credits you need to graduate and a lot of times, that means jumping through hoops to get the registrar at your school to cooperate,” said Chrissy. “I can’t tell you how many times I had to defend myself to my registrar’s office and how many times they tried to tell me I was short credits. It’s super stressful because you’re your own best cheerleader when you graduate early and you’re the only one making sure that you can really do this.”

Starting the process of winter graduation may be more complicated at some schools than others, so preparation is key. Be sure to seek out and contact your school’s resources as soon as possible if graduating early is something you really want to do.

Ultimately, making the decision to graduate a semester early is a personal one and can only be decided by you.

Kelina is confident is her decision and feels that it will pay off in the long-run.

“Graduating early was the best option for me,” she said. “As a student paying for college on my own, saving money was the top priority. So what if I miss the last few celebrations or nights at the bar? I’m better off leaving early and saving thousands of dollars in the process. I left college knowing that I had the ‘college experience’ that everyone talks about for the rest of their lives.”

In terms of offering prospective students advice who are considering graduating early in December, “I’d recommend graduating early to anyone who feels as if they really are ready to move on from college,” said Chrissy. “I’ve always been super driven and I’m more of a doer than an academic…I knew that graduating early would allow me to apply my skills in a way that sitting in a classroom for one more semester never could.”

Regardless of your decision, be sure to weigh the pros and cons equally before you reach for that diploma.

“There are definitely advantages to graduating early, but it means making some sacrifices, too,” advised Christen. “When it comes down to it, you have to decide whether you’re excited and ready for the ‘real world,’ or if you need that last semester to figure out what you want from life. You know what works best for you; trust that instinct.”

Chrissy Callahan, HC contributing writer, Brandeis University ‘10
Christen Brandt, Syracuse University ’10
Kelina Imumara, Syracuse University ’10

Taylor Trudon (University of Connecticut ’11) is a journalism major originally from East Lyme, Connecticut. She is commentary editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Campus, a blogger for The Huffington Post and is a proud two-time 2009 and 2010 New York Women in Communications scholarship recipient. She has interned at Seventeen and O, The Oprah Magazine. After college, Taylor aspires to pursue a career in magazine journalism while living in New York City. When she's not in her media bubble, she enjoys making homemade guacamole, quoting John Hughes movies and shamelessly reading the Weddings/Celebrations section of The New York Times on Sundays (with coffee, of course).