New Three-Year Degree Programs Trim College Costs

Any student may be able to wrangle similar savings with focus and planning.


"Technically, we did end up paying for four years of college," Griffith notes. But "if you think of it just as undergrad, I saved a good bit of money that way." 

[Find out how some colleges help students go directly to graduate school.] 

For some students, however, the cost savings might not be a worthy trade-off for the potential pitfalls of an accelerated degree. 

"The downside is that it gives students less opportunity to explore different academic options, which could be a challenge for those students who go into college not quite sure of the direction they want to head," NAICU's Pals says.

Knowing that a degree in economics was the path he really wanted to pursue helped Griffith finish early at Vanderbilt, he says. And having a firm grasp on your future goals is a crucial point for admittance to the American University plan, too. 

"It's a three-year program, which means that [students] should really have an idea of what they want their major to be right away," American's Stallings says. "They are going to be taking their major courses very quickly." 

[Get 10 tips to pick the right major.]

Students might also want to consider whether they'll feel like they're missing out on senior year of college—though for AU student Rodas, what seemed a scary situation hasn't turned out to be an issue. 

"You think, 'three years,' and when I was asking [for] advice, everyone was like, 'That's so much pressure; how are you going to enjoy your youth and enjoy college?'" Rodas recounts. "I know that I'm getting the exact same experience. You definitely still do get the college feel." 

And for Rodas, at least, the perceived benefits outweigh any initial speculation. 

"It's incredible, because then you can go to graduate school faster, and you can be more competitive in today's job market," she says. "It was definitely the best decision I ever made, doing the three year program." 

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Corrected on : Corrected 3/5/12: A previous version of the story misstated information regarding Ted Griffith's master's degree and company.