In an move to cut the cost of their education and begin their careers earlier, an increasing number of GW students are opting to earn their undergraduate degrees in less than the traditional four years.
Most early graduates cite the high cost of attending GW as the main reason they decided to leave the University ahead of schedule. Leah Probst graduated last month with a degree in biology – a semester early. She said she wanted to save her parents the extra tuition.
She’s not alone – information from the University’s institutional research department shows that of the 1,539 freshmen who entered GW in 1994, 47 graduated within three years, up from 25 of the 1,490 freshmen who enrolled the year before. Forty-two of the 1,367 students who entered GW in 1995 graduated in three years or less, University data show.
Probst said she graduated early because she entered GW with some credits from the Advanced Placement classes she took in high school. GW accepts credit for AP courses if students received grades of four or five on the national exams administered at the end of those courses.
As a biology major, Probst said she had several classes with labs, which forced her to take 17 credit hours per semester during most of her years at GW.
But Kim Moreland, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences, said she hopes students who do not have financial incentives to graduate early will think carefully about their decision to leave school early.
“My feeling is that a university is almost a holy space – it’s four years you have to decide to explore intellectual interests, for trying things you may never pursue again, or you may discover you have a passion for,” Moreland said. “If you try to rush all that you may lose something you never can regain. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people with good, solid reasons (for graduating early), but it seems sad to rush it.”
Moreland said an increasing number of freshmen are entering GW with college credits from high school AP classes or from courses they took at local colleges during the summer.
She said the number of students who graduate with more than the 120-credit minimum also has been increasing. She said that may mean students who have the option to graduate early are choosing to remain on campus to take advantage of elective courses and the college atmosphere.
Several students attend summer school, use AP credits and register for more than 15 credit hours to receive their bachelor’s degree in three years. Tara Kelly, who said she plans to graduate with an English degree in May, took 18 credit hours for two semesters and used AP credits to graduate a year early. Kelly said she thinks it may be difficult to find a job after graduation because she has less internship and job experience than some of her peers.
“I’m concerned about the fact that I don’t have the extra year academically and for an internship, but I’m hoping in the end (employers) will take into consideration that I was able to do everything I needed to in three years,” Kelly said.
Angel Rewers, who graduated from the Elliott School of International Affairs last semester, said she used AP classes and summer school credits to graduate early. Rewers said she was initially concerned she might miss out on some extracurricular college experiences by graduating early, but she said she was motivated by the prospect of saving money and a chance to get into the job market earlier.
“My philosophy was that since it wasn’t hard for me to finish in three and a half years, I should go ahead and do it,” Rewers said. “This semester (seniors) are all paying GW. Meanwhile, I’m getting paid at my job and I’m getting real job experience.”
While Moreland said her office will help students who want to graduate early, she said she also is interested in working with the financial aid office to ensure that students who want to remain at the University for four years can take full advantage of the college experience.