As an out-of-state undergraduate, Suzannah Powell pays over $40,000 in yearly student fees. So when the third-year English student realized it was feasible for her to graduate in only three years, she jumped at the opportunity.
“Financially it just makes sense,” Powell said. “I’m saving so much money.”
But Powell has had to substantially increase her workload to 20 units a quarter, sacrificing football games and other UCLA traditions with friends for academics.
Though the rate of three-year graduates at UCLA in the past nine years has been relatively constant at 3-4 percent, according to Robert Cox, manager of the UCLA Office of Analysis and Information Management, because of the current state of the economy and recent budget cuts, more students are considering graduating early to lighten financial burdens, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
But there can be adverse effects of graduating early, said Kathy Sims, director of the UCLA Career Center.
“When a student graduates in three years, they have to compromise some part of their college experience,” Sims said.
Graduating early often precludes students from participating in internships and other work experience that will make them more competitive when applying for jobs post-graduation, Sims said.
Sims said students need to think of their career goals when deciding whether graduating early is the right decision for them.
“Every industry is looking for different things. People need to do their homework and know their industry in order to make a thoughtful, well-researched decision,” she said.
Though Powell said this year has been much more academically demanding, she has been able to continue working at her part-time job planning programming and advertising for Melnitz Movies, while producing a graduate student film.
“I have been able to do other things besides schoolwork, but it’s been intense and very stressful,” she said.
Kristen Torres, a UCLA alumna, was in a similar situation as Powell last year when wrapping up her final year.
Torres decided to graduate early to lessen the financial burden for her parents, who still had to pay for her three younger siblings’ college tuitions.
To finish in three years, Torres increased her academic load during her last year. She took five classes her last quarter, turning in her last assignment two hours before graduation.
Though Torres was able to participate in internships every summer, she did have to decrease her extracurricular activities during her senior year.
She was forced to quit the UCLA Bruin Marching Band and instead focused on working on the Executive Board of the Alumni Scholars Club. She also stopped working part-time.
Sims said quitting part-time jobs is common for students graduating early.
“When you compress a four-year degree into three years, students have less of an ability to earn money while they study,” Sims said. “Students sometimes forget that though they are saving future tuition money when compressing a four-year degree into three years. They have less ability to earn money while they study.”
But Torres said one of the most detrimental consequences of graduating early was not having time to look for jobs for after graduation.
Although Torres was able to earn a place in a public policy fellowship program, she said she wished she had more time to devote to job searching.
“I just didn’t have time to do everything I wanted to,” Torres said.
Third-year Asian humanities student Cindy Moh, shares Torres’ sentiments. Moh who is graduating early in June, said wrapping up her degree this year has felt rushed.
Like Torres, Moh is also taking five classes this quarter, but because she enjoys her classes, she said the workload is worth it.
“This quarter, school does feel like a job,” Moh said. “I’m in class from 9 to 4 or 5 most days. I don’t have time to go off campus or go for an impromptu trip to Westwood because I constantly have work to do.”
For Moh, graduating early is a source of pride because it is a decision she made for herself to further her career plans of working abroad.
Torres said she is also happy she made the decision to graduate early but warns that her path is not right for everyone.
“I was lucky enough to take some really great classes early on and realize what my career goals are early on,” Torres said. “Some people need more time to figure out what they like doing and get direction.”
For Powell, graduating early is bittersweet.
“I do love it here so it’s sad to be a senior already, but I’m excited to have the extra time to travel and find a job I’m really excited about,” Powell said.