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Should You Graduate Early from College?

Your Undergraduate Years are Important – Should You Cut them short?

Throughout my years of high school, people have told me that there is nothing like college – you are going to be independent, have your own house, and study like an adult. You’re not going to have someone watching over your back the entire time and you are responsible for your own actions. Furthermore, there is a lot of time to spend with friends and find who you are. Unfortunately, this is only true for some college-going students. Due to the cost of medical school, students instead choose to stay in-state, commute, or don’t spend a lot of time at college. Many try and graduate early, even taking on more pre-med classes than necessary to finish medical school requirements early. Then, they spend the time that they saved by graduating early to find a job to help pay for medical school.

Graduating early has pros and cons however, and you may want to keep these in mind as you are going through the processes of being a medical school applicant.

Pros

Think about the reason that you are graduating early – is it only to say that you are graduating early from your institution? Is it to further some part of your life that you can’t do without a college degree? What exactly do you think that you could do in the “real world” that you can’t do in college? Asking yourself these questions may help you realize some of the pros that come with this decision.

  1. Financially – Save Money

The major reason that people decide to graduate early is because of the financial incentives that come along with it. Saving a whole year’s worth of tuition is very tantalizing, especially when college costs are rising every year. Making sure that you have that money when it comes time for medical school can save you an excess of tens of thousands of dollars that you can apply towards medical school costs. Furthermore, making sure that you have time to make more money during the “gap year” (explained later in the article) is a boon that you could use to pay off undergraduate loans that you may have taken during your undergraduate years.  

  1. Socially– Freedom to pursue passion

Personally, I used the time when I graduated early to begin a passion project, a podcast which interviews cool people that I reached out to in medicine (it’s called Common Sense Medicine), and I was able to find that I really loved media creation and narrative medicine. It’s a process which takes time, and having the extra time not worrying about exams or about other commitments is a good way to release stress and work on things that you are passionate about outside of just medicine.

  1. Academically – Can act as a gap year

Academically, it can serve as a gap year. In the time that most people are continuing their bachelor’s degrees, you have time to read books and other content and expand your perspectives on things that you may not have explored during your time in your undergraduate years. For example, I did not study philosophy during my college years but I was able to develop and appreciation for bioethics as I moved into my “gap year.” Furthermore, with the newfound time, you can travel or get another degree. One of my peers was able to pursue a special 1-year master’s in public health because he was able to graduate early with his degree. These options are not available to you if you are still in college and need to study for another exam or another assignment.

Cons

  1. Being young isn’t that good for med school

When applying to medical school, it may seem as if being younger is a good thing – you’ve been able to complete the requirements without a sweat in the time other people may be halfway to completing them. Nevertheless, medical schools do take age as a marker of maturity. They may be impressed with your ability to complete medical school quickly, but they just as easily may be turned off by your inexperience in college. When you’re young, a year is a long time to mature and medical school admissions committees are definitely cognizant of this fact.

  1. Socially – Miss college experience

Graduating early may be a good way to expand your personal horizons, but college is a good way to meet and keep lifetime friends. Working in the “real world” is much different than college – you cannot decide to wake up early and decide not to go into work (as opposed to class), and you have to accept responsibility for many more tasks and do them well in order to keep your job. However, if you are working, you may have to miss late night impromptu hangouts or other spontaneous gatherings with friends. If keeping strong friendships in and after college is your priority, you may want to rethink graduating early.  

  1. Academically – cannot change GPA

Finally, on an academic note, having a year to improve your science or undergraduate GPA for medical school admissions may be a good idea. Another year offers you another chance to raise the GPA by taking a lighter schedule (as you already applied to medical school) and also show schools that you are able to keep up the extracurricular activities which you have been working for your whole undergraduate career. In fact, senior year may be the time where you put more effort into those activities as this is the last time that you are going to be taking part in them (this also links to the social experience of college).

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a time and place for graduating early (especially if you are financially incentivized to do so). Nevertheless, it also comes with cons which you may want to consider as you are applying to medical school, both academic and social. Hopefully you are able to find a choice which you are comfortable with and use it to the full advantage when you apply to medical school!

Shree Nadkarni

Shree Nadkarni is a BS/MD student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School majoring in biology. He blogs about health policy, medical education, and the future of healthcare at his blog, http://www.commonsensemedic.com.

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