It’s college-application season, which means students and parents around the country are having sometimes difficult conversations about college costs and student loans.
As a result, many educators and students are wondering: Does college need to be four years long? A recent report from the New Jersey legislature strongly suggests making three-year degrees an option in order to allow students to save tuition dollars while they pursue their dream careers. A handful of schools across the country have already begun offering shorter programs for a variety of majors.
“It’s very much a niche program. A lot of students and parents perk up when they hear it’s an option,” says Bruce Logan, associate dean of Lesley University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “It really is an opportunity for students to save time and money.” The university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began offering a three-year bachelor’s degree in 2011.
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Logan cautions prospective students that an accelerated degree wouldn’t work for everyone. Here’s what students weighing a three year program should think about before taking the plunge.
Do you have a post-graduation plan already?
“Students who are drawn to our program already have their eye on a grad program they’d like to enter or already have an idea of the field they want to enter,” says Logan. If you are planning to experiment with different courses and career paths while in school, a three-year program will not work for you. Students considering an accelerated path need to weigh their time and family commitments carefully.
Remember, the course load is the same
At programs like Lesley’s, students take a full semester of classes for two summers in addition to spending two academic years on campus. “The vast majority of our students have to work in the summer to earn money,” Logan notes. “Going to school full-time in the summer really isn’t an option for them.” While weighing three-year programs, students and families should discuss whether they can give up the potential earnings of a summer job. It’s also important to seriously think about what it would mean to be in school all summer while your peers are at the beach, traveling, or doing summer internships.
You’ll be something of a pioneer
Because three-year degree programs are still so new, students who choose one won’t have a lot of peers in the same boat. “We graduate three to four three-year students every year,” says Logan, who notes that all students take classes together. “It’s a small number, but it’s a valuable experience for students who choose it.”