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Graduate College in Three Years? Yes!

Updated on June 10, 2019
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Kimberly has worked in offices, retail, and teaching--all requiring long hours. She knows how to survive!

Graduation Day Could be Closer Than You Think!


My Three-Year College Plan

Are you impatient to complete your education and start your career? Do the four years of college between you and your goal seem like a century? If you have the desire and the academic ability, you can graduate from college in just three years. As one who completed a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering three years, I offer my explanation of how I did it.

Keep a Laser Focus on the Goal

My goal was to graduate in three years in order to save money and to get on with my real life. After twelve years of an excruciatingly slow public school pace, I was finally free to set my own schedule and fly! Any time the going got tough, I would remember my goal and remind myself of the rewards that awaited me: a paycheck, adult opportunities, adult responsibilities, and no tuition.

You must keep your focus in order to handle a heavy academic load successfully. When other things compete for your attention, you must remember your primary goal and be sure other things do not interfere with progress toward that goal. This does not mean you never stop studying; it only means that you prioritize activities and do not waste time. I still had friends, sang with a choral group, and held a work-study job most semesters. I did not, however, waste time drinking or watching television.

Your goal must also be specific with regard to your major. The three-year plan is for those who already know what they want to do. There is not time to change majors or to explore several unrelated fields while accelerating. Exploration is fine; it is, however, incompatible with an accelerated college education.

Avoid Duplication of Effort

Placement tests are essential to any three-year graduation plan. Try to test out of as many freshman general education courses as possible. Some large universities have their own placement tests, while most use CLEP or AP tests as a basis for granting credit by examination. You may be able to avoid Freshman Composition on the basis of your ACT or SAT scores at some universities. Before taking any test, check with your academic advisor to be sure your department will accept such credits. Taking the wrong test is a waste of effort.

My own accelerated program was made possible by many university placement tests. I tested out of English, one semester of calculus, and three semesters of German. These tests alone saved me the equivalent of one semester's time and expense. Several of my own children have shortened or eased their time at college with tests or with community college courses taken while still in high school.

Trust Yourself

You need self-confidence in order to graduate early. Although some universities are finally formalizing "degree in three" programs, the concept is not yet widely accepted. My own academic advisor was terribly concerned about the heavy academic loads I took in my third and final year. Rather than let him talk me out of my goal, however, I assured him I took full responsibility for my own health, safety, and academic achievement. Trust yourself to know how much you can handle. Modify your goal only if there is concrete evidence that modification is wise, e.g. bad grades or family emergency. Find some people who believe you can do it and let them support you in moments of doubt.

Achieve Your Goal

In his book Overachievement (2006), Dr. John Eliot points out that Isaac Newton was only twenty-four years old when he wrote Principia Mathematica. Although not specifically addressing accelerated education, Eliot's book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to be more than ordinary. Once you are free of the K-12 system, with its rigid rules about grouping all human beings by chronological age, you can create your own educational plan to meet the requirements of your academic discipline. At your graduation you will have proven your capacity to set a goal, focus your efforts, and achieve a desired result--qualities essential for success in any worthwhile endeavor.


Eliot, J. (2006). Overachievement: The new science of working less to accomplish more. New York: Penguin Group.

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My Shameless Plug for Purdue University

West Lafayette, Indiana, home to Purdue University, is the best town for college living. The university itself has first class student housing and an amazing variety of food options. The surrounding community is rich with history and with affordable dining and entertainment options. Purdue is a big place, but it is also a friendly place with something for everyone.

For those who enjoy music and theater, know that Purdue's lack of a music school does not mean there is no music. The Elliot Hall of Music in the center of campus is home to many quality cultural events. Student tickets are very affordable, and you can enjoy opera, drama, jazz, and much more. Be sure to get tickets as early as possible for the Purdue Musical Organizations Christmas Show, a holiday tradition for Purdue families all over the country. The shows always sell out long before showtime. The Purdue Glee Club and other PMO organizations give concerts throughout the year, both on campus and at area churches and civic events. Purdue Bands also offer a variety of music for your pleasure, in addition to the famous Purdue "All-American" Marching Band.

Students also have access to top-quality fitness facilities on campus, including racquetball and swimming. The campus itself is a beautiful place to run or bike and has been designed to be pedestrian friendly.


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