3-Year college degrees can save time and money, but is it worth it?

To save families time and money, there’s a new idea circulating around colleges and offices of college counselors everywhere: shaving a year off undergraduate programs.   In other words, shortening the usual four years of study into three. 

Different schools are looking at different approaches to making this a reality.   Some colleges will require summer work, others will cut course lengths and some might cut the number of credit hours required.

Proponents say a three-year program could, and will, provide the course requirements for a major and some general courses that have long been a standard of American education.


According to an article in The Washington Post, the four-year bachelor’s degree was designed in large part to provide a broad-based education that teaches young people to analyze and think critically, considered vital preparation to participate in the civic life of American democracy.

The three-year degree is the common model at the University of Cambridge and Oxford University in England. Such programs have also existed for several years at a number of schools, including Bates College in Maine and Ball State University in Indiana, which offers three-year degrees in about 30 areas.

A new survey conducted by Junior Achievement and the Allstate Foundation found that 55 percent of teens had changed their college plans because of the economy.

Some of the pros and the cons of the 3-year plan include:


• Three years give a boost for ambitious students who know what they want to study.

• It will be easier for families to afford college

• Students enter the workforce quicker and/or go on sooner for graduate study.


  An undergraduate’s social experience could be compromised.

  College would tilt more toward job training and away from the broad-based education that many U.S. schools offer.

• Employers may then insist on a master’s before they employ anyone and this will increase the cost to students of the future.

• Parents will pressure their students to enter a 3 year program and then students will have a miserable time, taking an overload of courses, and missing the experience of college.

  Students should enjoy these four years of freedom.  They have the rest of their lives to work. 

 From my experience as a college counselor, my thought is, if you’re smart and dedicated enough to graduate in 3 years, you can figure out how to do it on your own.   AP credits, summer courses, and college credits gained during high school can be used to reach this goal.  I work with a few high school freshmen now who are accumulating college credit. Their life goals may change in the next two years but the college credit can work favorable for them no matter what college or major they enter. I know more than a few students, including my sister, who graduated in three years or less without their colleges having to create a special program.

If you have any other college admissions questions for a college counselor, I’d be happy to answer them.  Please write me here or at my personal email which can be found on my International College Counselors college counseling website.

 Mandee Heller Adler, Founder and Principal of International College Counselors


 For the article that served as a basis for these college counselor thoughts, see:


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