Sara Merken: GW should make it easier to graduate early

We’ve all heard that college should be the best four years of our lives. But for many students, four years isn’t all fun – it’s just extra debt.

And while it’s good that most GW students graduate within four years, the University should offer programs that allow students to graduate early or accomplish more things in the time that they are students. It’s hard enough to get through four years of college and complete requirements if students didn’t come to GW with college credits or if they want to study abroad or double major. And usually if they want to graduate early, studying abroad or double-majoring is downright impossible.

Media Credit: Cartoon by Lauren Roll

So, GW should create a specific path for students who want to graduate a semester or two early, so students can save money, start their careers earlier or get a head start on graduate school.

Students at American University, one of GW’s peer institutions, can graduate early through a three-year degree program. Incoming freshmen can apply directly into undergraduate programs that allow students to take classes during two summers in D.C. and take normal course loads during the school year.

If a student’s three-year program cost includes getting to live in D.C. for two summers, then students would be able to have internships. GW’s marketing is already so heavily geared towards internships, so if undergraduate programs required students to stay over the summer for classes, more students would be able to gain professional experience at the same time.

Each of American University’s three-year programs include majors similar to ones at GW, such as public policy and pre-law. But American University students finish their degrees in a shorter amount of time and can start their careers sooner. For some, an extra year of job experience could also make them more attractive to graduate schools.

While some students graduate early just because they have enough credits before their four years are up, a lot of students – like myself – would have been interested in planning to graduate early from the start. While you can take summer classes on top of GW’s normal four-year degree programs to get ahead on credits, those credits aren’t factored into the tuition. By the time you take all the summer classes you’d need, you’re lessening the likelihood of lowering your post-graduation debt.

And while students can enroll in several combined degree programs in which they can graduate with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years, many students – like myself – are not interested in earning graduate degrees right away.

Officials should also work to smooth the process for transferring credits from study abroad and from other U.S. universities. When I went abroad last fall, only two of the courses from my abroad university counted toward my major and minor at GW. If all five of my classes were approved, I would have been able to graduate a semester early, saving my parents money and allowing me to jump right into my future plans.

One of my best friends from high school graduated this spring from the program at American University. We both graduated from high school in 2013 and began college the following fall, but he is beginning a full-time job this July, while I’m still in school for another year. Although I’m happy that I’m able to have a little more time enjoying college, attending his graduation made me think about what my life would have been like if I had the option to graduate earlier.

GW is a step behind its neighboring universities when it should be two steps ahead to show potential students that the University has the best opportunities in the area. Officials often boast about how prepared students are for life after college, but they make it harder for students to get there sooner.

Although students at GW could still make the decision to take the same courses and graduate in four years, the option to graduate early is valuable to students worried about debt and might attract future students who foresee financing a GW education as a challenge. A full year less of paying tuition can make a significant difference in plans after college, whether it’s paying for an apartment in D.C. or saving money for graduate school.

Sara Merken, a junior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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