Less than 20% of students at public universities finish college within four years.  Some struggle with difficult courses, many spend more time partying than they do studying, and others change their majors multiple times.  There was a time when taking six years to finish a bachelor’s degree may not have been too big of a deal, but that time has long passed.

These days, spending an extra year or two in college could cost you (or your parents) an extra $20,000-$40,000 or more.

I paid $40,000 for my bachelor’s degree at a public university (it was about $10k per year for tuition).  I personally think that is more than enough.  I am so grateful that I finished my degree in four years.  My step dad took five years to finish his, and he told me before I started college that I had to finish in four years.  Period.

I was fortunate that my school offered a “four year guarantee” program.  What this means is that as long as I held up my end of the bargain (by registering for required classes, passing my classes, and showing up for meetings with my adviser every semester), they would “guarantee” that I would graduate in four years.

I couldn’t be held back from graduating if any of my required classes were full (the school would either get me into the class or waive the requirement).  I graduated on time and I’m glad that I did.  If I hadn’t, I would be faced with even more massive debt than the $75k I ended up with ($40k from my bachelor’s and $35k from my master’s).

Finishing college in four years (or even less) is extremely important financially.  Here are three tips for graduating on time.

Get Started Early

It’s never too early to start planning for your financial future.  If you have the ability and the option to take college classes in high school, do it!  My high school offered both AP classes and PSEO classes.

AP classes are advanced placement courses – these are college-level classes that are taught in high schools.  At the end of the course, you will take an exam.  If (and only if) you pass the test, you can earn college credits.

The PSEO (post-secondary enrollment options) program involves taking FREE classes at an actual college.  I recommend this option (if it’s available to you) over the AP classes because PSEO credits are more likely to transfer.  I took AP Statistics in high school and passed the exam, but my major program (psychology) would not accept the AP Stats test and I still had to take a statistics class in college.

If you participate in a PSEO (or something similar) program, you could possibly complete two years of college while you’re still in high school.  Let’s say you attend a university that costs $10k each year.  If you already have two years of college completed by the time you finish high school, you could pay $20,000 for your bachelor’s degree instead of $40,000!

Get an Associate’s Degree

If you’re interested in finishing college in less than four years, one method is to purse an associate’s degree and skip the bachelor’s degree altogether.  Many people argue that a BA gives you more options, but there are high-paying jobs available for those with an AA degree.  Here are the top 25 highest paying jobs that only require a two year degree.

If your field does require a bachelor’s degree for advancement, you could get your AA degree first, work for a couple of years to gain some experience, and then go back for your bachelor’s degree when you have enough money to pay cash for it.

I work in HR, and this is something I could have done.  I could’ve received my AA degree in HR, worked as an HR Assistant for a couple of years, went back for my BA in HR, and landed a job as an HR Generalist.

Instead, I pursued a master’s degree in HR, which landed me with $75,000 of student loan debt.  It was difficult to find a job because I had too much education and too little work experience.

Pick a Realistic Major (ASAP)!

One of the main reasons why college students don’t graduate on time is because they change their major.  I finished college in four years but spent an additional two years getting my master’s because I decided to pursue a different subject (my undergrad degree is in psychology and my master’s is in HR).

My hubby took six years to finish college because he changed his major from computer networking to computer science, and then to art, and finally to graphic design.

While college is a good time to pursue different interests and find out what’s a good fit for you (and what isn’t), time is money.  This is especially concerning if you’re using student loans to pay for college.  I encourage you to start exploring your options early and to pick a realistic major as soon as possible.

By realistic, I mean a major that is a) going to help you land a decent-paying job and b) reasonable given your skills and abilities.


College has become insanely expensive, so it’s important to keep the costs as low as you can.  Finishing college in four years (or less) will save you tens of thousands of dollars.  To make sure you finish in four years, consider:

1. Taking college classes during high school.
2. Getting a two year degree instead of a four year.
3. Choosing a realistic major ASAP.


Other stuff you might like:

My Personal Finance “Aha” Moment
How to Start a Blog in 5 Easy Steps
5 Dumb Things We Did With Our Student Loans
How to Ditch Your Student Loans with the Debt Snowball
Which Debt Payoff Method is Better – The Snowball or The Avalanche?

Personal Finance Resources:

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
YOLO: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life by Jason Vitug
Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach
It’s Only Money and It Does Grow on Trees by Cara MacMillan