Graduating Early

As an eager and over-zealous freshman, I plopped down in front of my academic advisor the second week of school with three spreadsheets detailing the next three years. Poor Gary, bless his heart, stayed patient and listened as I rambled about what I would be doing the next three years of college. Now while he did recommend I scrap the spreadsheets (turns out planning can end up being too much of a good thing), he did appreciate that I was looking ahead.

The biggest consistency among the three spreadsheets I had was that I could (and would) graduate early. It’s a concept that can almost sound foreign after having it drilled into your head that college is 4 years. I’m going to try to break down what it means to graduate early and what that process looks like for any over-eager students out there already working on their next 5-year plan. 

Who can graduate early?

Almost any major can graduate early. Some majors are on very specific tracks with classes you’re required to take each semester, whereas others are much more flexible. My major, communication, is known for its flexibility. However, there are other majors that if you’re proactive, you can work with to graduate early. My roommate majored in political science and had two minors (one in psychology and one in criminology, law, & society), and she graduated a year early to start law school. Another one of my good friends graduated a year early with a degree in speech and hearing science. I’ve even heard of engineers or people with much more structured schedules graduating early. It all depends on how many credits you come in with and how many you take each semester.

How can you graduate early?

This can get a little technical, so bear with me. A lot of graduating early depends on how many credit hours you come into college with. Between AP credit and dual-enrollment classes at my local community college, I came in with 20 hours of college credit. There’s a great website called Transferology that can help show you what classes will transfer as credit to the university, but this is far along down the road. You’ll be given all the info you need if you end up attending Illinois! 

It also depends on how many credits you take each semester. Credit hours are typically representative of how many hours you spend in class each week. For example, both the communication classes I’m in this semester are worth 3 credit hours each. There are a few exceptions to this, but this is generally a pretty good rule. The range for being considered a full-time student is anywhere from 12 to 18 credit hours (4 to 6 classes). However, you can apply for an “overload” and an additional class if need be. Some students also help take the weight off of semester by taking summer or winter term courses.

How early is early?

Graduating early typically means a semester or a year. If you’re graduating a year early, you’d participate in all the normal May ceremonies, but with people from the class above you. If you’re graduating a semester early, you’ll participate in a December ceremony with all the other December graduates; however, you can still take part in the May ceremony the following May! 

Why graduate early?

There’s a lot of reasons people graduate early! The biggest reason is usually money. If you can save money and still get the same degree, why not? I decided to graduate early because I received a four-year scholarship that also covers graduate-level work. That means this spring I will be starting my masters here! Some people choose to graduate early simply because they’re ready for the next chapter of their lives. Everyone has a different reason, and they are all valid!

Overall, graduating early can be an awesome money-saver for anyone who feels like they’re ready. But if you’re not – don’t stress! Just realize that (in most cases) you have this option. You have so much time to figure everything out.


Class of 2020
After switching majors four times, I've finally fallen in love with what I'm studying: communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I hope hearing about my experiences can put all your worries at ease, because college really isn't as scary as you might think!

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