While the majority of nostalgic graduates may have four or more years to look back upon, a separate group have managed to graduate in less than four years.
Corey Hollis, director of academic advising at UCLA College Academic Counseling, said motivations for graduating early vary from student to student. Regardless of how students choose to spend their extra time upon finishing classes, Hollis said it takes lots of hard work and strategy.
“College is expected to be a four-year experience,” Hollis said. “Students must be fairly self-disciplined and willing to sacrifice other things to get out sooner.”
Students who graduate early save a significant amount of money on their education, especially when factoring in housing and fees on top of tuition, Hollis said. The majority of early graduates major in the humanities because their programs are generally shorter and have fewer sequential courses, she said.
However, trying to graduate early creates tension between finishing quickly and maximizing one’s time, Hollis said. Students may be unable to incorporate study abroad programs or internships into their college experience, she said. It can also limit opportunities to participate in independent academic research with faculty or leadership positions, and the increased workload each quarter may hurt students’ GPAs.
To better accommodate students who are interested in graduating early, Hollis worked with other academic counselors to develop Tassels to the Left, an online guide providing students with three- and four-year plans for many of the majors offered at UCLA. The counselors made the plans manageable for those who are graduating early by balancing core and elective classes, and the students can take four or fewer classes each quarter.
“Planning out what they want to do sooner rather than later is critical,” Hollis said. “Most of the students who graduate early know exactly which major they would like to pursue from the beginning and stick with it, or they switch into their major very early on.”
Riley O’Rourke, a 2018 communication alumnus, took three summer courses, which left him with only three remaining classes to take in his fourth year. He chose to spread them out over fall and winter quarter, and consequently had ample time for an internship in addition to his classes. Since graduating in the winter, O’Rourke has devoted his time to preparing for his upcoming job at a talent agency.
“Having spring quarter off opened up my schedule and gave me the freedom to choose how to use my time,” O’Rourke said. “Being done with classes gives you the time you need to get acclimated to a new environment and a new system, and to really understand what you will be doing postgrad.”
O’Rourke said he did not initially plan on graduating early, but after finishing his courses so quickly, he stumbled upon the opportunity. His early graduation saved a whole quarter of tuition money, and gave him invaluable time to research his industry and become familiar with his future colleagues.
Another student, Danielle Byerley, will be graduating even earlier – after just two years at UCLA. Byerley, a second-year art history student, will graduate after completing some remaining coursework this summer.
After graduating, Byerley will spend another five to seven years in school pursuing her doctorate degree, and chose to work through her undergraduate education quickly to lessen her overall time in school. Byerley said she was inspired to graduate so early by her uncle, who also graduated from UCLA in two years.
Utilizing her summers and additional units from high school courses, as well as consistently taking four classes a quarter has made such an early graduation possible for her, she said.
In addition to moving on to graduate programs more quickly, Hollis also said graduating early can enable students to enter the workforce sooner. Alex Kropp, a 2018 political science alumnus, graduated a quarter early hoping to enter the pharmaceutical industry which begins the recruitment process in the spring. He has used the spring to focus his time and energy into job hunting without the added stress of school.
“I knew that my industry had a late recruiting cycle, unlike other jobs that recruit in the fall,” Kropp said. “I felt if I graduated early it might give me a leg up on the students both on the quarter and semester system by giving me a couple months to do interviews before they graduated.”
Nonetheless, students said leaving school early can create a sense of “FOMO” – or fear of missing out. Those who leave Westwood may find it tough watching their friends enjoy the last moments of college without them, Kropp said. But nonetheless, O’Rourke said the freedom of graduating early will ultimately allow him added free time.
“When you’re taking classes you are completely consumed by school. It dominates your week all the time,” O’Rourke said. “Having no classes forced me to change my routine, but having that freedom gave me the choice to spend my time the way I wanted.”