With the semester coming to an end, the class of 2018 is mentally preparing for the big day: graduation. Among these students, there are some who have finished their required credits in less than the usual number of years or semesters. Around 3% of the freshman class of Fall 2018 graduated early, and there will be several this weekend, too.
The term “early graduation” is ambiguous. Some students have “gap” semesters in which they are not enrolled, and graduating during summer and winter terms can be considered as well.
Philip Graff, data management analyst in the Division of Management Information, stated, “We don’t currently have any statistics — or even definitions — dealing with early graduation figures.”
Graff provided data from the University Office for Planning and Budget on the freshmen of Fall 2011, defining early graduates as those who graduated in less than eight semesters.
One of the early graduates is Peter Tatkowski, third-year student in Engineering, who had never intended to graduate early. He happened to be able to graduate in three years because he came into the University with around 20 credits in physics and math and had been taking a lot of classes every term.
He thought it would be impractical to stay on campus for another year when his requirements were finished, and graduating early also meant saving money.
Tatkowski took an average of 18 credit hours each semester, which is the maximum number of hours a student can take at the University without special permission during the fall and spring terms. Aside from a semester when he studied abroad and took 15 credit hours, he consistently took more classes than the average student.
“It was honestly not that bad of an experience. It was a little tiring second semester of my second year, but I made it,” Tatkowski said.
During summer breaks, Tatkowski worked, did research and also took classes. He will be going to ETH Zurich, a STEM university in Switzerland, after he completes his internship this summer.
Tatkowski shared that the reality that he is graduating has not hit him yet. He is sad he isn’t graduating alongside his friends, but he knows that wherever he goes they will still keep in touch. He added that he wants to visit them later on if he can.
“I’m not processing graduation yet… it will happen when it happens,” Tatkowski said.
But not all students are open to the idea of graduating early.
Hannah Chung, freshman in ACES, is currently eligible to graduate a semester early if she continues to take around 17 hours a semester and enrolls in several classes during the summer. Regardless, Chung isn’t sure if she wants to do it.
Chung was familiar with the University campus before she even attended the school because she is from Champaign. Despite this, her freshman year has been new and exciting, and she wants to get the full college experience by staying all four years.
“I don’t mind taking more classes, but I don’t know if I’m going to be ready to leave college just yet,” Chung said. “I also want to graduate with all my friends, not with a different, random class.”
Some students are taking full advantage of the benefits that the University has to offer. Krishna Dusad and Shivansh Chandnani, both third-year undergraduate students in Engineering, are part of the 5-year BS-MS program, which allows students to achieve both bachelor’s and master’s degrees within five years.
Before he even came to the University, Dusad had been considering graduating early if possible. As an international student from India, he had not been familiar with the AP system. When he found out about how AP credits could be transferred into college credits, he immediately took AP exams and came into the University with around 25 credit hours, which is more than a semester’s worth.
Dusad explained that he never had to take an overload of classes. He took around 16-18 credit hours every semester and took two classes one summer, but other than that, he didn’t do anything special in order to graduate early.
“Fall of my sophomore year was terrible. It was very taxing and really hard, but I learned to plan better and it gradually got better,” Dusad said.
Dusad added that especially as an international student paying the international tuition, graduating early helps save a lot of money. On top of receiving his bachelor’s degree in three years, he could get his master’s in a short amount of time as well.
In the information Graff provided, Non-Resident Aliens (NRA) make up 7% of the students who graduated in less than three years and 14% of those who graduated at least one semester early. This is the largest demographic.
“I was actually deciding between studying here and Imperial College London,” Dusad said. “One of the biggest reasons for deciding to come here was because I realized I could graduate early and the program was pretty flexible.”
Dusad will be interning at Uber this summer before he comes back to campus for his master’s program.
Like Dusad, Chandnani had also planned on graduating a semester early. He also came into the University with credits from AP exams. But unlike Dusad, Chandnani took overloads of courses for many semesters. He explained that although it was tiring at times, being busy kept him engaged and helped him stay focused on his academics.
Because he had been taking more than the maximum number of hours for each semester, he didn’t have to take any summer classes like Dusad in order to graduate early. He spent his two summers doing internships.
Chandnani shared that one of the biggest reasons why he chose to do the BS-MS program is because he can see his friends again when he comes back to school in the fall.
He also explained that applying for a master’s degree in the program is very different from the normal application process for graduate school. In his opinion, applying through the program is much easier.
“Usually, you start applying around a semester or so before — so if you started in August you would be applying in December — but since I am part of the program, I had to apply more than a year before,” Chandnani said.
Chandnani provided some tips for people who are considering early graduation.
“Don’t burn yourself out by taking more than you can handle, but it is doable. Course overloads are manageable as long as you have good time management skills,” Chandnani said. “There are also other options like taking summer classes. It’s good to graduate early — it saves you time and money.”