When I tell people I’m graduating college in a few weeks, I get bombarded with questions- “How old are you?” – “Didn’t you just graduate high school?” – or sometimes even just, “How did you manage that?!”
My answers to the first two questions are simple- “I just turned 21” – and – “Yep, I left high school in 2011.” The answer to the last question is a bit more complicated.
My road to graduating college two semesters early began my sophomore year of high school, as that was the year I took my first A.P. class. A.P. is short for Advanced Placement, and it’s the nickname given to college level classes offered in many Minnesota high schools. At the end of these courses, students are given an A.P. test, and if they score high enough on the test then they are given college credit for the course. These courses are more difficult and dole out more homework, but if the test is passed, the student won’t have to take that class in college.
Throughout my high school career, I took six of these classes. While that sounds like I loaded up, I spread them out so I could manage my homework levels. I took one sophomore year, two as a junior, and three as a senior. I received mediocre test scores on the A.P. tests, but that was still enough to earn me college credit for all six of the courses I took.
As well as taking A.P. classes, I opted to take a few classes at the Inver Hills Community College under the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option, or PSEO. This option allows high school students to enroll in classes at a college of their choice for free, earning both high school and college credits for these classes. I spread these courses out as well, taking just two per year my junior and senior years so I could manage them with my A.P. classes. I also decided to only take classes that were offered online. This made it a lot easier to manage my time as I didn’t have to try to rush from around from school to school to make it to my classes. The online option gave me the opportunity to work on my course work when I had time during the week.
Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed this all, considering I was also working two part time jobs. I remember doing homework in my car between school and work, and then getting home at 10:30 and staying up until one in the morning finishing homework. And then getting up the next morning and doing it all over again. While it’s definitely not ideal, all of this hard work made it possible for me to enter college as a sophomore.
The road to graduating early didn’t end there though — each semester at the University of Minnesota I worked tediously with my advisor to find the perfect courses to fit all the requirements I needed. I had no gaps to fill with classes I felt like taking or wanted to take —everything was filled with courses specifically suited to fill major requirements or general education requirements. And this semester I loaded myself up with 21 credits to make sure I was able to graduate on time.
I’m sure in a few years I’ll look back on these moments and wonder how I did it, considering now I’ve got two part time jobs and an internship.
I’d recommend the route I took to anyone. After three years of college, almost everyone I know is ready to be done with school, but most of them still have a full year left. While I think the hard work I put in was worth it and would recommend it to anyone, I definitely think that if you’re going to take the route I took, don’t do it the way I did. Don’t try to work multiple jobs whilst balancing so much school work. I nearly drove myself crazy and burnt myself out. If you can get away with it, don’t work at all. Getting a good education is much more important than maintaining a part time job that you’ll only be at for a few years anyways.
Even without working, getting a four year degree in three years is hard work. But graduating a year early saved me no less than $20,000, and I’d say a few years of hard work are worth that.
Photos via: Leah Putz — Alexius Horatius