Before coming to college two years ago, the thought of not finishing in four years never crossed my mind. I found myself shocked at family members and friends taking their time with university and graduating in five or six years. I was in even more disbelief at those that finished early. How was that even possible? They must be geniuses, I would think to myself.
Well, maybe not geniuses, but overachievers, surely.
It wasn’t until I suddenly found myself in the midst of an internal battle between graduating early or barely being a full-time student for my senior year that I realized my assumptions had been wrong. No, I wasn’t a genius, and I definitely was not an overachiever. So, how had I ended up in this predicament?
It’s actually fairly simple: For those of us that aren’t part of a grueling degree program that doesn’t allow much room for electives, it can be very easy to overload on classes when you have the ability to choose pretty much all of them. “I want to take this class, and this one, and this one…” And very quickly you are at 19 credits for the semester and can’t really figure out how.
Now, at the start of my junior year, I am taking the typical five classes a semester which leaves me at about … nine credits left for my senior year! If I stretch that out between next fall and spring, that’s about one and a half classes per semester. Perfect!
That is clearly not how this is going to go. Not only would I be spending too much money being a part-time student, I would also most likely fall into a slump of unproductiveness. Having a set schedule of classes allows me to stay on track and create a routine between attending classes, studying, homework and free time. Because of this, graduating early seems like the best choice for me to take.
If you also find yourself in this situation, don’t panic. There are so many options available to you if you are also finishing school before the typical four years, ranging from doing nothing to doing everything.
What am I doing with my extra time?
Firstly, it’s going to be important for me to take a breather. With each passing school year, I have begun to feel more and more burned out from hours of homework and studying. Taking a month-long breather will be essential to my mental health. But what about those nine credits I mentioned earlier? To complete my required credits, I will be doing a summer-long study abroad. Not only did I never think that doing a study abroad was an option for someone graduating early, but I also never considered finishing off my last few months of school in a different country.
After I graduate in the summer, I will hit the job market fairly quickly, as my pile of student debt will not likely clear up on its own.
Graduating early simply means that you now have extra time on your hands. What you do with that time is entirely up to you. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
1. Take a gap year.
After 15 or so years of school, who wouldn’t want to take a break? Maybe you want to move back in with your parents for a few months while you sort things out. Catch up on all those books you’ve been putting off or reconnect with old friends. You can also take an entirely different approach and use this time to further your education. Travel, get certified in something relevant to your lifestyle, volunteer. The list is really quite endless.
2. Apply to graduate school.
With all the extra time you now have, why not use it to get ahead on grad school applications? This is obviously not the choice for everyone, as not everyone wants or has to attend grad school, but for those of you that do, this is the perfect time to research your options, take any required entry exams and prepare your applications.
3. Apply to full-time jobs.
If you feel that you are 100% ready to jump into the job pool right after you graduate, then this is the next logical step. Depending on just how early you graduate, you may be hitting the job market at different times. If you’re a spring graduate, you’ll be competing with your fellow classmates and much of the country to secure a job in your preferred field. If you graduate in the summer, you may find that job postings are a little slower, but the pool of applicants will also not be as large as in the spring. If you are finishing in the fall, this is actually proven to be one of the best times for applicants as many companies post job openings in January.
But honestly, who knows? Life can change in a matter of seconds, so it’s important to simply value your time, become best friends with your advisor and live in the moment. Whether graduating early, on time or later, all that matters is that you are taking advantage of every moment and opportunity life presents and that you are happy with your current situation.
Silvia Hoxha is a junior studying Professional and Public Writing and minoring in Public Relations at Michigan State University. She was the Social Media Manager for the nonfiction journal Fourth Genre and is the Communications Assistant for MSU REHS. Silvia is also an Undergraduate Research Assistant. After graduation, she aspires to build a career in public relations and publish her first novel. In her spare time, Silvia can be found reading a Young Adult novel or watching one of her favorite TV shows.