Speeding through college can come with benefits. Although you may need to rely more heavily on student loans while in school, you can jump into the workforce more quickly to start paying off the loans you accrued to finish school.
Plus, you don’t have to eat bland cafeteria meals for as long.
But is it worth finishing college faster if you are left with more debt?
The answer will depend on your unique situation. Here’s how to weigh the costs of speeding through college and how it could affect your financial future.
How to weigh the costs of a speedy degree with your post-graduation salary
You’ll need to weigh a number of factors when making this big decision. Here are some things to keep in mind.
The return on investment
The key number you’ll want to focus on when evaluating whether or not you should speed through your degree is the ROI, AKA your return on investment. In other words, will the monetary investment into your degree be worth the monetary rewards in the future?
To get started, take some time to research how much you are likely to earn in your first year on the job. Once you have that first year’s salary in mind, it’s a good idea to not rack up any more debt than that.
Here’s an example to consider. Let’s say that you want to turn your biology degree into a career as a high school science teacher. According to Salary.com, the average salary range for a high school science teacher is between $47,172 to $62,718.
If you stick to a conservative estimate of your first-year salary, then you may not want to take on more than $47,172 in student loan debt.
So, if you can avoid taking on more than about $47,000 in debt, then graduating early might be the smart move. But if you’ll have to take on more debt, you may want to slow down the pace to tap into income opportunities while in school to avoid taking on too much student loan debt.
The traditional college experience is a standard four years. For some, the time spent at college is an invaluable way to build connections that will carry forward into your future.
Although it can be impossible to put a dollar amount on the network you build in college, it could help you out over the long term. Additionally, the personal relationships you build with your classmates over the course of four years are valuable in a different way.
You should consider the costs of college and the ultimate ROI on your chosen degree. But don’t overlook the importance of building lasting relationships with your peers. You may decide that taking on a little bit more debt is worth it to enjoy the “full college experience.”
Should you speed through college if you have to take on more debt?
So, should you speed through college to jump into the workforce as soon as possible? Or should you play it slow and take advantage of the opportunities available to students?
Here’s when it makes sense
When you know exactly what you want to be when you grow up
If you have determined exactly what you want to do with your college degree, then speeding through can be a smart move.
For example, you may be set on a career path that will require several years of graduate school. At that point, you might decide to sprint through your undergraduate degree to shorten the total amount of time you spend in school.
You’ll save money by working sooner
Another scenario in which it can make sense to finish college faster is if you determine that you’ll save more money in the long run by diving into a lucrative career sooner.
You’ll need to run the numbers of your chosen career path to see if this makes sense for you.
Here’s when it doesn’t make sense
You need a job to help you pay for college
If you are pushing yourself to graduate in less than four years, then you will probably not have time to take on a job of any kind. Without an income, you may be forced to take on more student loan debt in a shorter amount of time.
Make sure that the ROI checks out before you commit to this course of action.
You can’t handle a strenuous course load
Beyond the direct financial costs of sprinting through your education, consider whether or not you are able and willing to commit to a strenuous course load.
Graduating from college is not an easy feat, but graduating early is especially challenging. With that, you shouldn’t commit to an accelerated track if you aren’t able to commit to the long nights at the library.
You have a lot of non-education related obligations
Additionally, an extremely full college course load will leave little time for other obligations. You may have to forgo other opportunities, such as internships or study abroad programs to stick to your rigorous class schedule.
You don’t know what you want to do with your degree
Finally, if you aren’t quite sure exactly what you intend to do with your college education, then speeding through is not a great idea. Instead, you should expect to change your major along the way, which will likely mean you cannot jump to graduation in less than four years.
Advantages and disadvantages of speeding through college
Speeding through college can come with some additional challenges that the average student may not face, but you’ll also have the potential to reap the benefits of efficiently finishing school ahead of schedule.
Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of finishing college early.
Pros of finishing college quickly
Let’s tackle the pros first:
- Access your earning power. The biggest advantage of finishing college ahead of schedule is the potential to tap into your earning power as soon as possible.
- Start your climb up the career ladder more quickly. The logical result of finishing college is that you’ll be able to dive into your career as soon as possible. You can start working towards career goals that may take years to achieve.
- Potential opportunity to avoid extra student loans. Fewer years in school could lead to a lower overall student loan debt burden for some students. Although this will not be true for all students, you may be able to save if you don’t attend the fourth year of college.
- Move to the next chapter of your life. Beyond the financial considerations, you may decide that finishing school quickly is the right choice for your life. You could move onto graduate school opportunities after completing your degree or enjoy the control you have over your lifestyle choices in the “real world.”
Cons of finishing college quickly
Here are some cons to consider as well:
- Less time to work while in college. If you decide to focus on your classes to finish school more quickly, then it is likely that you won’t have the time to work while going to school. That could lead to taking on more debt to cover your costs.
- Missed opportunities. You may miss out on the traditional opportunities available to college students, such as time-consuming internship opportunities or networking and skill-building opportunities that you simply don’t have the time for.
- A focused path leaves little space for your other interests. You might not have the chance to take an elective course that truly interests you or participate in a study abroad program that excites you.
How to avoid student loans
Whether you decide to sprint to the finish line or enjoy the full four-year experience, there are ways to keep your student loan debt burden in check.
You might be surprised to learn that there are billions of dollars available to students in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study opportunities, and employer-sponsored education programs. Through these opportunities, it is possible to avoid or minimize your student loan debt.
As a student looking for ways to make their college education an efficient experience, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of graduating faster for yourself. The good news is that there is not a single solution that will work best for everyone. Instead, you should run the numbers and strike a balance that makes sense for you.