How to Graduate College in 4 Years or Less | College Made Simple

Dear College Made Simple reader,

Remember those t-shirts featuring John Belushi as “Bluto” from Animal House on the front?

On the back they read “College – the best 4, 5, or 6 years of your life.”

I remember this pretty clearly because I had one when I was in high school. I thought it was really funny. My parents… probably not so much.

Today of course now I realize how unbelievably important it was for me to get my degree and graduate within four years.

It’s becoming tougher for that to happen, though. Less than 40% of students earn their bachelors degree in four years according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And what that means to your bank account is pretty scary.

Private four-year colleges now average about $35,000 a year in costs for students. Public schools are close to $10k. And the average college graduate walks off campus with around $24k in student loan debt strapped to their back

So if you’re not keen on sending five-figure checks off for the better part of a decade, then it’s crucial your student take steps to help ensure they’re off campus, degree in hand, within four years.

Here’s How to Graduate From College in 4 Years or Less – Guaranteed

Choose your major early

The old “undeclared” tag can tend to follow indecisive students around for way too long. Encourage your student to go into college with a definite major in mind. If they stick with it and don’t switch around multiple times, there’s usually no reason they won’t be able to complete their course of study within a four-year time frame.

Manage your class schedule

When designing a class schedule, it’s fine to indulge in some outside-of-the-box classes. Just make sure your student is staying on point and completing their general requirements (Math, English, Science etc) while also staying on track with courses in their major. There’s always room to fit in the random “Philosophy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Organic Vegetable Farming 101” class here and there as long as they’re putting requirements first.

Take summer or January classes if offered

Many schools offer January term classes while most students are out on winter break. These classes generally last 3 weeks or so and can help build up quick credits for students needing to catch up. Similarly, summer classes can also be offered that allow students to help fill out those general requirements they may have let fall by the wayside during the school year.

Don’t skimp on credits

There’s always the temptation after a few semesters of heavy lifting, to maybe take it easy and only sign up for 3 classes. You know, take a little breather from the regular courseload. This is a bad idea for several reasons. Your student of course will then be off track for a four-year graduation. Their work habits can suffer due to increased free time. And they’ll eventually end up having to make up those credits anyway by taking more classes than usual in a future semester. This can lead to an overworked student who doesn’t have enough time to devote to all their assignments and eventually a plummeting GPA. Encourage your student to maintain at least 15 credits a semester throughout their college career. Any deviation one way or the other can severely affect their ability to be finished on time.

Register ASAP

When registration time rolls around, it’s important for students to have their desired classes charted out and ready to go. Indecision and procrastination almost always leads to a student missing out on classes they need to fill out their requirements. Students should plot out a course of action early and get online (either on the net or in person, however the school offers it) as soon as they’re allowed to keep themselves on target for a four-year degree.

Look into Four-Year Guarantee

Several schools will actually enter into a guaranteed partnership with a student to ensure they graduate in four years. The University of Nebraska, University of Minnesota, University of Colorado and Randolph Macon College are amongst the schools that offer such a pact.

The terms and conditions can vary, but generally students are required to declare a major in their first semester and then agree not to change that major during their four years.

In exchange, the college then guarantees that they’ll be able to take any classes necessary to graduate, regardless of registration situations and also offers advising and counseling to assist the student.

To get an idea of what one of these programs is like, here’s the brief description of the University of Minnesota’s from their website:

“New freshmen can participate in the University of Minnesota’s four-year graduation guarantee. The guarantee is a partnership between you and the University. If you meet our expectations for eligibility, planning, and performance, we promise you will have access to the classes and advising you need to graduate in four years.

If you are a participant in this program and cannot graduate in four years because a class is unavailable, we will approve a substitute course, waive the requirement, or pay the tuition.”

So if your student can stay committed to one program and follow through with required courses, these four-year guarantees are almost no-brainers. They just don’t leave a lot of wiggle room for academic experimentation.

Whether your student decides to enter a four-year guarantee program or not, they can graduate within that allotted time frame.

As with most things, hard work, focus and dedication (along with some early and alert planning) will get them to the finish line on time and save you thousands of dollars in the process.

To your family’s college success,
Scott Weingold
Co-Founder, College Planning Network, LLC
College Made Simple – The Free Educational Resource of the College Planning Network, LLC

Publisher’s Note: Our customer service team has fielded hundreds of phone calls and emails the past few weeks… most of them in response to this question: “What exactly is this Free College Funding Analysis?” In short, it’s a unique opportunity (one I’ve yet to see offered anywhere else) to 1) find out what you can expect to pay for your child’s college education, and 2) what you may be able to do to dramatically lower the overall cost. There is absolutely nothing to lose. Just follow this link to get started.


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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.