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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

It’s not a rat race, it’s a financial race

It may be obvious to some that the longer time you spend finishing your degree, the more money you spend.  And while it may be obvious to some, it may not be obvious to all, and the weight of the financial burden on long or extended degree or diploma may not be fully understood, some students (and their parents) do not realize it until the money has been spent.  So I thought I would discuss the topic of how to shorten the time taken for your degrees in this post.
While you are working on your diploma or degree, going to school full-time, you are most likely either creating debt or barely breaking even; it is very unlikely that you are making money and saving it.  Therefore, this is a situation you want to get out of as fast as possible.  For every extra semester that you spend in school, this is a semester where you cannot earn full-time wages.  Even if your job prospects are not great after school (meaning you are unlikely going to find a job in your field), working full-time at a fast food restaurant will earn you more money than doing the same part-time.  As well, each semester at school means you are paying tuition fees.  Finally, if you are living away from home during your studies and are planning to live at your parents’ home for a few months after graduating, each semester away from home means paying extra rent.  And yes, although you can find part-time jobs during your degree, and even full-time ones during the summer, they typically pay lower wages than what you can find as a college or university graduate.

This definitely means two things: you do not want to spend any more time than the minimum required to complete the diploma or degree, and if possible, you want to spend less time in school.  Which brings me to something I have posted before: do not attend post-secondary school until you know what you want to major in (posted August 2nd 2013: Going to college or university – when is a good time ?) because if you do, chances you will switch fields if you do and that involves at least an extra semester in school.
Find out if it is possible to graduate early: can you take more courses per semester to graduate early, or at least have your last semester with a very light load so you can work almost full-time? this only works if you know you can handle more courses per semester (if you are strong academically). This may be easier done with degrees such as general arts and sciences where the variety of courses is so large that it is easier to choose classes that do not have others as prerequisite.  

Can you attend summer school? Whether at living at home or renting year-round, the only extra cost for a summer course is the course fee itself and if you take one or two each summer, in total they can free up an entire semester. If you cannot attend summer school physically, can you take online classes that will carry valid credits for your degree? It could even be your elective courses done over the summer. 
If you are still in high school while reading this, look into Advanced Placement (AP) courses: by taking the AP exam at the end of an AP course, you earn potential credit recognition for university (the recognition varies from one university to the next, going from avoiding a pre-requisite for another course to a full credit) and more chances at a scholarship (however, make sure you are well-prepared for the exam: they cost up to $100 each).

If you are deferring going to university by one or two years, look into taking courses in your general field of interest during your gap year(s); make sure you can earn full credits for your degree later, while potentially shortening your full-time period at university by a semester.
If you have to move away from home to go to university anyway, compare the length of the degree you are choosing to study: the length of the degrees may vary between universities and economically, it does not make sense to choose a longer one compared to a shorter one.  Good examples of degrees that may vary are engineering, physical therapy, and education (teacher’s college).  It’s not worth moving away to attend a school with a shorter degree (since it won’t be shorter by more than a year and a year away is worth at least two at home financially), but if you are moving away anyway, it’s worth checking out.

A note about co-op programs: while programs during which you work for some semester in order to gain experience are very valuable in industries where experience is key to finding employment within your field of study, these programs also increase the time spent doing the degree and often send you out-of-town (where you have to find and pay for new accommodation, while often still paying for your university-city one), making the whole idea very expensive.  It is something you need to calculate carefully before choosing.  And if you know you will go to graduate school after your Bachelor the advantage of the co-op program is almost null – you will not be searching for employment after your undergraduate degree.
So before you start your degree, work out – it’s a race!

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