Early Graduation Is a Thing of the Past

Though UChicago defines itself by untraditional qualities, its credit policy inhibits students from taking untraditional paths to graduation.

By Brinda Rao

College is traditionally a four-year academic journey through a strange limbo state between childhood and adulthood. For UChicago students, however, that’s not always the case: When students sign up for the “UChicago experience,” they are choosing to forgo that traditional college undertaking. By attending this university, students take the road less traveled, one that combines the resources of a university with a liberal arts education. Historically, this road has allowed for detours and unique endings at different places and times, as UChicago students were easily able to graduate early or take time off. Due to factors like exorbitant tuition rates and student ambitions to get a head start on their career, some UChicago students chose to graduate early, which the University’s acceptance of credit from AP and other recognized exams had enabled, allowing students more flexibility. However, recent changes to the University’s credit policy have created a slew of barriers to graduating early. Given the many financial incentives for graduating early, students should not have to meticulously plan ahead to meet the trivial checkpoints that the University demands.

Starting with the Class of 2021, UChicago changed its policy on examination credit, lowering the maximum number of credits students can receive in this way, and, as a result, making it harder to graduate early. In classes preceding that of 2021, students were able to fulfill more of their general education and elective requirements through examination credit. This gave them a head start in finishing the required 4200 credits to graduate. Now, students can only fulfill, at most, four of their course credits in this way.

David Berman, a fourth-year economics major, explained, “I had five AP credits coming into the College. In my third year, I realized that this boost to my general elective requirement would allow me to graduate two quarters early.”

Berman’s late realization is not a luxury afforded to the majority of students following the Class of 2020. Students who want to follow Berman’s path to early graduation will now have to plan their classes out years in advance, a difficult task for a first-year still figuring out what it is they want to study in college, let alone do with their life. While the University has some legitimate reasons for this policy change, specifically related to the merits of AP testing (following a 2017 Dartmouth study which found that the majority of students who received fives on the AP Psychology exam could not pass an Intro to Psychology final), the policy change has had the negative consequence of making it harder for students to graduate early.

Graduating early is the path less taken. College is meant to serve as a space where people can experiment and discover who they are before taking on the world of adulthood. Some people cite the four years they spend in college as the most formative ones of their lives. Furthermore, our society has the expectation that people spend four years in college. However, this does not mean that the University should create barriers to taking alternative academic routes.

In order to graduate, students need to fulfill the 4200 credits necessary for graduation. Without examination credit, this takes a minimum of three years and one-and-a-half quarters while taking four classes a quarter. With examination credit now capped at 400—which can count toward Core or general elective credits—students are still required to complete a minimum of 38 classes at UChicago to graduate. This would equate three years and one additional quarter of mostly four-class quarters. Students are unable to graduate in three years without additional summer classes or two five-class quarters on top of already challenging coursework: Many, if not most, students have to take some three-class quarters in order to balance demanding schedules. For classes beyond the Class of 2021, students have to extensively plan out an academic schedule to even consider graduating early.

Berman noted, “It’s hard to control a policy to exactly make people stay for exactly four years…. I would not suggest that the University put in place more barriers to graduate early because the people who are hurt the most are not those who intend to graduate early, but the people who would have to stay for a fifth year.”

In addition to saving students a great deal of tuition money, graduating early gives students the opportunity to explore potential career options before fully committing to a field for life. Following the toiling demands of a UChicago undergraduate education, many students do not immediately go to graduate school. First-year Inali Hathaway intends to graduate early and has spent many meetings with her academic adviser to plan out a possible academic schedule that will allow her to graduate early. She explained, “I am planning on going to a professionally-oriented graduate school that requires me to have work experience in the field, so graduating early will allow me more time to get this work experience so that I can go to graduate school sooner.”

Graduating early offers a solution to the issue of UChicago’s ridiculously high price tag, nearly $78,000 for the cost of attendance (COA) this year. In the past 20 years UChicago’s COA has increased by 121.72 percent. As a result, many students are beginning to question whether the degree they receive is worth the cost. As the last of three children attending private universities in my family, I myself have considered the financial benefits of graduating early to my family’s financial situation. Hathaway also explained, “I want to graduate early so that I can save a year’s tuition. My adviser told me that adding a second major or a minor will likely not significantly help me get into the graduate programs I am considering, so it makes sense for me to get my single major done as soon as possible and get to work.”

Many argue that one reason not to graduate early is to pursue extra electives or maybe even pick up a double major or minor. If your financial situation permits, that’s fine. But for a lot of us, picking up a double major or even a minor can come at a hefty price tag, and it usually doesn’t add much substance to our résumés or careers. Minors can complement our academic experiences and offer postgraduate skill sets that employers value. However, sometimes minors are simply just small talk during job interviews.

Students who graduate early can often finish the rigorous graduation demands and walk away with extensive knowledge of a variety of subjects. Berman concurred: “I feel like I have not given anything up by graduating early. I have had the opportunity to pursue independent projects and research through this experience. [These experiences have allowed me to]  decompress from college and focus on what I want to do.”

UChicago directly contradicts its supposed philosophy of taking the road less traveled by making it harder for students to graduate early. Having a flexible schedule is critical not only for financial reasons, but also because it allows students to get a head start on thinking about life beyond college. Despite this, the University is limiting student flexibility by forcing students to stay for a fourth year. Many cannot afford such an expense, and it’s high time the University realizes that.