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The Three-Year Plan: Getting More Bang For Your College Buck

Between a downturned economy and the rising costs of college, everyone's looking for a way to cut their spending and minimize debt. For some students, that means putting college dreams on hold for a while while they work to save money; for other students, it's the other way around. The average student takes a whopping six years to complete a "four year" bachelor degree at a public university, yet according to Associated Press, an emerging trend is to cut that time in half.

Nina Xue, one student interviewed, managed in three years' time to earn a double-bachelor degree in French and History, while still finding time for extracurricular activities like cheerleading. She states that, for her, a three-year degree wasn't the original plan but saving on finances was a great deciding factor once she discovered that previous AP course credits had made it an option. "I didn't think it was worth it to pay another $40,000 to play with my friends for another year, cheer for a year, and write a thesis," she says. "Making my parents pay for another year of school would not have been fair." Now, instead of struggling through senior year in undergrad, she is already looking ahead to law school. Meanwhile Charles Jacobson, another student interviewed, relied not on AP courses from high school but on careful planning. "Halfway through my freshman year, I had all my courses planned out," he says.

When it comes to professors' and professionals' opinions on an accelerated college experience, the jury is still out. According to the article, Senator Lamar Alexander, a former education secretary and college president, praised three-year degree programs as "the higher-education equivalent of a fuel efficient car" at the annual American Council of Education meeting this past February. Some critics, however, warn that if done too hastily, "shaving the fourth year off college could limit a student's social experience and provide a narrower education."

After all, it isn't an easy endeavor completing a bachelor degree in three years: it takes a clear vision and a single-minded dedication. Many online colleges are starting to offer special accelerated programs promising degrees in less time, but with traditional schools, this kind of success often lies in planning that dates back to high school, racking up extra credits with AP courses and summer school sessions at community college. That said, it can be done and many students are aiming to save thousands of dollars on tuition costs by making it a reality.

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