A classmate of mine, recalling that I graduated early, recently shared with me Michael Shames’ Jan. 19 Daily article, “Graduating early provides a rare path for students.” The article got me thinking back three years ago to when I decided to graduate from Tufts a semester early. It wasn’t an easy decision, if only because the Tufts bureaucracy doesn’t make it easy. Even if you have taken the 34 courses required to graduate from the School of Arts and Sciences by the end of your seventh semester, at least five of those credits must come from pre-matriculation, advanced placement or summer credits. Although many Tufts students come from backgrounds where that would be possible, certainly nowhere near close to everyone reading this op-ed would be able to. However, if you do happen to be in a circumstance where it is possible for you to graduate early, it is absolutely worth it to think about doing so.
Being at a liberal arts college is not the last time in your life that you will have an opportunity to explore a new and interesting topic. While I may never take an economics, physics or American history course again, that doesn’t mean I had to stop learning about new and interesting topics. During the eighth semester I never had, I heard Thomas Piketty and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren discuss capital, growth and the one percent at the Old South Meeting Hall, stayed up late with my friend talking about the philosophy of cosmology and science and read many a biography while taking the T to work.
But let’s be honest: If you are thinking about graduating early, there is more that is going through your mind than whether you will be able to study an interesting subject again. You are probably thinking about the money. And for good reason! Tufts is expensive: Before financial aid, the break-even cost between staying at Tufts for an eighth semester and graduating early is well over $200 per day over a full semester. I loved my time and experiences at Tufts, and the school has provided me with some amazing opportunities that I would never have gotten anywhere else; but those opportunities didn’t occur in the actual classroom — they came from being in an environment where people were excited to learn and grow together.
No longer taking classes doesn’t mean learning needs to stop. In fact, I had more time than ever to do that. Even with working and commuting across the city, just the simple fact that I didn’t have to take work home meant that my evenings and my weekends were entirely my own. One underemphasized point in discussions of early graduation is that every opportunity is still available to you once you graduate. You can sit in on lectures with interesting speakers. You can talk to your friends who are studying interesting things during the evening. If you are planning on going back to school and need letters of recommendation for that, Tufts faculty will be more than happy to have you do research with them – the flexibility of not having to be in classes at odd hours makes you a much more attractive candidate for them.
And outside of that, you can have all the fun that you want. Student groups don’t ask if you’re still taking classes. Neither does tuftstickets.com, so have fun at Winter Ball and Spring Fling. You can show up at Around the World, go to community protests on Tuesday nights and plan a house party. All of the interesting parts of Senior Week mostly take place at night, perfectly timed for you to attend no matter what you have going on during the day. And Commencement Weekend is going to be just as much of a cryfest for the people who haven’t taken a class in five months as it is for the ones who finished five days prior.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you can think about graduating early, take some time to think about it. It doesn’t always make sense for every person’s individual situation, and there are very real financial aid and immigration reasons to stay in school through May. But just remember that there are all sorts of benefits and opportunities that can be easily overlooked by just following the traditional pathway, and you owe it to yourself to check those out.
Bhushan Deshpande graduated in 2014 with a major in quantitative economics and is currently a medical student at Harvard. Bhushan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org