Opinion | Graduate early, rescue yourself from debt

By Chiara Awatramani, Columnist

Thirty thousand dollars is an entry-level salary for one year, enough money to buy three cars or enough to pay a down payment on a house. It’s also how much in-state full-time students pay for one year at the University. Seeing that over 85% of undergraduates at the University graduate within six years, the range of total cost for attendance at the University is $120,000-$180,000. This rate increases with out-of-state and international tuition.

There are various methods of decreasing the cost to attend college, but my most recommended method is graduating early. This method — unlike certain other methods such as FAFSA and scholarships — is completely within students’ control and can save a person up to $30,000.

Graduating early seems daunting at first glance because it condenses an already difficult curriculum, which can be overwhelming. What many people don’t realize is that there are countless ways to make graduating early manageable including summer classes and winter classes at local community colleges and taking a slightly higher course load. 

These options don’t seem fun or manageable at all. Who wants to take summer classes? Those interested in saving thousands of dollars. This is because community college courses cost around $500 whereas courses at the University cost around $1,100: calculated by dividing the average tuition ($12,254) by the average number of classes (5). This means a student saves around $500 per class taken at community college.

Assuming a student takes five classes a semester, they would have to complete five summer classes to graduate one semester early. These summer courses would include the summer before starting at the University and the summer after. One or two classes a summer is not too demanding and leaves time for well-needed breaks as the classes can last from three weeks to eight weeks. 

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I find the three-week classes at Oakton Community College to be the most efficient way to squeeze in some extra summer classes and electives. In total, by doing five classes at a community college such as Oakton Community College, students pay $2,500 as opposed to $6,127 for a semester of college. The savings are even higher for out-of-state students because these classes cost a flat rate that is not dependent on location. Additionally, during these summer courses, a student can live at home and save upwards of $2,000. 

Finally, students can take classes worth up to 18 credits per semester if they feel comfortable. This is a smart strategy because the tuition rate does not change beyond 12 credit hours or above 18 credit hours. This means students pay the same amount of money for taking four or six classes. 

These two ways of expediting the college pathway  — taking community college courses and additional classes throughout the year — help to save a pretty penny and allow students to overcome debt more easily. 

Chiara is a sophomore in LAS.

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