Aubrey Chapman, a junior double majoring in psychology and religious studies, is looking forward to graduating in May of 2016, a year earlier than her peers. After graduation, Chapman will immediately move on in her studies and get her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at seminary.
Even though Chapman has heard many say that college is the best four years of your life, she has no qualms about missing out on her senior year. She said she has enjoyed her time at SMU.
“Personally, graduating early is allowing me to step into seminary sooner to receive the education that is in complete alignment with what I want to do in the future,” said Chapman. “I’m excited to be in an atmosphere that will strengthen and encourage me in my specific dreams and goals.”
Chapman is one of many students graduating early. Michael Tumeo, the director of institutional research at SMU, said that of the students who started at SMU in 2009, 67 percent graduated in four years or less. That statistic includes students who graduated “on time,” a semester early, or an entire year early. More specific data on those who have graduated in three years or three and a half years was not available.
Completing college a semester early is much more common across the nation and has even become a growing trend at some universities. According to a 2014 study at Duke University, there was a 30 percent increase in students graduating a semester early since 2010.
Carly Shuttlesworth, a junior student-athlete majoring in markets and culture and minoring in advertising, will be finished with her undergraduate class requirements in December of 2017, a semester before her classmates. Shuttlesworth plans to walk at the May 2017 graduation ceremony, but will use her free semester to jumpstart her future job prospects with a possible internship with the Dallas Mavericks Basketball Club or the Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
“I have completed all of my requirements and hours so I do not feel the need to take more classes just to finish out one more semester with my peers,” Shuttlesworth said. “And now I get the opportunity to complete an extra internship that will hopefully aid in my future job searches.”
The top reasons behind early graduation are financial restraints, plans to attend graduate school, job offers, job-hunting, or just freedom from demanding class schedules in order to accelerate the job search, said Janet Stephens, an undergraduate degree counselor for SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts.
Stephens also said that more SMU students are able to graduate in less than four years due to the system’s requirements. According to Stephens, students who take a January term course and complete at least one summer term every year will be on track to graduate a semester early.
“It seems to be due to the UC, which allows double and triple counting of a single course,” said Stephens. “The other common factor is AP credit brought in from high school. If a student then takes advantage of the newer inter-terms, May and January, they can really move ahead.”
For many SMU students, saving tuition money is a main motivator. SMU’s 2015-2016 estimated tuition cost and fees to $64,840 for the academic year, according to SMU’s Undergraduate Admissions office. According to the College Board, the cost of tuition and fees for a four-year, private institution averaged $43,921 for the 2015-2016 school year, while in-state tuition for a four-year, public institution averaged $19,548.
Senior Hannah Dudley majored in political science and psychology, but completed her undergraduate class requirements a semester early in December of 2015. Dudley will walk at the May 2016 graduation ceremony, but has been using her free semester wisely.
Dudley is currently interning at two different political offices in Salt Lake City, one with congressman Jason Chaffetz and another with the Romney family at Charity Vision. She is also using her time to prepare for law school, which she will be attending in the fall of 2016. Dudley thought hard about the decision to leave the comforting SMU environment and friends, but understood that gaining some real world experience earlier than her classmates would benefit her in law school.
“Personally, this down time gave me a much needed break from school, especially before I embark on three more years of law school,” Dudley said.
Nikki Chavanelle, a junior majoring in journalism and minoring in communication studies, is looking forward to graduating a year earlier than her peers in May of 2016. She is graduating with a solid career plan, starting with a summer job as a youth ball park announcer for the Texas Rangers and a part-time writing position for the Dallas Cowboys’ website. Chavanelle says that part of the reason she wanted to be on the fast track in college was because she wanted to perfect her sports news reporting skills in the real world.
“I’m ready to join the workforce,” said Chavanelle. “I think if you’re in a profession like journalism, once you have the skills it’s just about honing in on them and continuing to get experience.”