If you are fortunate enough to gain admission to Stanford, or any of the Ivy League schools, even if your family income is slightly over $100,000 a year, you'll receive substantial grants. (See "Looking for a Well-Endowed College?" in this blog.) Should you not be among the chosen elite, but have participated in an IB Diploma Programme, or took a slew of AP courses, you just might be able to skip a year, and get your Bachelors degree in 3 instead of (especially in the public schools) 5-6 years. If your transcript is not brimming over with AP and IB courses, there are now schools offering degrees in three years. If none of the above applies, you might elect to get a "no-frill" degree, something already common in Europe. Even in this era of high tuition and a bad economy, there are a lot of ways to save on a college education.
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB for short--details can be found at
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Along the same lines, scoring a “4” or “5” on the AP exam can also accelerate your college degree. A list of the schools granting AP credits can be found at http://collegesearch.collegeboard.com/apcreditpolicy/index.jsp. For example, last year, one of our Yale applicants had accumulated more than a year’s worth of AP credits, a total of 11 (you need 36 to graduate with a bachelors from Yale). She did it by obtaining “4”s and “5”s on her AP exams in Physics C, Calculus BC, Spanish, Economics, Chemistry, Biology, and History of Art. Note, Yale does have distribution requirements, and a lot of her credits fell into Group IV, Math and Sciences, but, in effect, she was positioned to skip a year.
Even without the advanced IB or AP classes, there are schools offering a bachelor’s degree in three years. Many are private, liberal arts campuses. A sampling includes Hartwick College, in up-state New York, Seattle University, and Bates College (Maine), which is ranked 25th among liberal arts schools in US News and World Report. The difficulty with the 3-year degree is that students need to be focused on exactly what it is they want to get out of a program from the start; few usually are. Most students prefer four years to explore a range of disciplines, build social networks, and participate in sports. When faced with the option to finish college in three years, a lot of students opt for four-few want to miss out on the full experience of college, regardless of cost.
Another alternative is finishing in four, but getting rid of the “frills.” “No Frills” college plans are being offered in Pennsylvania, which is the 6th most expensive state in which to get a college education, and New Hampshire: Southern New Hampshire University offers students a 50% cut in tuition, approximately $12,500, to take courses at satellite campuses, and pass on fancy gyms, endless electives, and expensive research. Vance Fried, a professor at Oklahoma State University, added weight to this approach when he released a report detailing how a university could offer an “Ivy” education for less than $7,500 a year. That’s about a sixth of the cost.
Alternatives abound in these times of rapidly rising postsecondary education costs (costs that have increased, on average, over 3% above inflation for the last several decades, according to the Center of College Affordability and Productivity in DC). Some might be more palatable, such as gaining grants at a highly selective college, or accelerating credit by using IB or AP courses, than others: jamming four years into three, or taking a “no-frills” degree at some satellite campus. The paths and options for getting a higher education are many, and they keep changing to accommodate the times.