Graduating Early

Katie Pohlman's visit to her academic advisor her freshman year was even more valuable than she expected — she learned with some organization and effort, she could graduate in three years.

“I had never even thought about it,” says Katie, 20, a journalism major from Milford. “But it only made sense.”

She took online classes during the summers, from CMU and from Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor. She’ll graduate in May with a bachelor of science degree with a major in journalism and two minors.

“It takes discipline and being organized and motivated,” she says. “A lot of students aren’t willing to give up part of their summers. But I made calendars and got organized, and I still had time to work as a lifeguard, teach swimming lessons and go on dates with my boyfriend.

“Visit your advisor as soon as you can,” Katie suggests. “If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have known I could do this.

“You can’t procrastinate,” she says. “But it’s definitely possible.”

Not common, but possible, says Michelle Howard, CMU’s executive director of Academic Advising and Assistance.

Most students take four years or longer to graduate, Howard says. The university encourages a four-year stay.

“It’s not black and white,” she says. Students earning teaching degrees need longer because student teaching adds to their time, Howard says, and they emerge with not just a bachelor’s degree, but a teaching certificate, too.

Not every student is comfortable taking the average of 14-16 credits per semester to earn the required 124 credits in four years, she says.

“Some students have to work, and managing that work plus their grades can be a heavy load,” she says.

But for students who work hard, focus and graduate in four years or less, the advantages are clear, Howard says.

“The financial benefit is obvious,” she says. “And for students focused on getting advanced degrees, it moves them on to that more quickly.”

Chloe Gleichman will graduate in August after three years at CMU — even though she switched majors from biology to political science midway through her sophomore year.

The Saline senior’s strategy: She took five Advanced Placement classes in high school, “which pretty much knocked out my first freshman semester,” she says, and she loads up on classes — 21 credits this semester, 18 last semester.

“I’m a very future-oriented person,” she says. “I’m ready to be done. Plus, this saves a lot of money.”

Chloe took some online classes through CMU during her summers and occasionally added one on to her traditional classes during the school year.

“Graduating early fits my personality,” she says. “I’m not a procrastinator.” She also fits in a social life and is president of the Student Environmental Alliance on campus.

Her tips: “Always look ahead,” she says. “Plan things out. Get an audit to make sure you’re on track.”

Katy Chesley says most everyone she knows will take longer than four years to graduate, especially peers in the health and fitness program, who are required to do a semesterlong internship.

Katy, a Comstock Park senior, will graduate in May after four years at CMU. She took several classes over two different summers to stay on a four-year track. She also was accepted into graduate school at Grand Valley State University, which means her internship requirement was waived.

Her advice for parents? “Talk to your kids while they’re still in high school, and help them do some career exploration. It really helps if you start college knowing what you want to go into.”

Melissa Beauchamp took AP classes and dual enrollment college courses in high school to start her freshman year with 12 credits in the bag. She’ll graduate in December, a semester early.

“The key is I knew what I wanted to do right away,” she says. “Every class I’ve taken has counted toward my degree.”

Melissa, a Davison journalism major, has steadily taken 15 credits a semester to stay on track.

Her mom teaches at Delta College in Saginaw, and Melissa has taken advantage of free tuition there to take online courses during the summer.

“You have to be on top of things,” she says. “It’s not like I’m constantly in the library, but you have to work hard.

“Graduating early is something I can talk about in a job interview,” she says. “It shows employers I have my head on, and I know what I want.”

What does she want?

“The sooner I graduate,” Melissa says, “the sooner I’ll be out there making money.”