Many colleges and universities permit students to start amassing credit toward a graduate degree before they've even received their undergraduate diploma. At schools such as Brandeis University, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University, Harvard University, Northwestern University, and Stanford University, it's possible to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree within four years, though doing so can mean an unusually heavy course load.
Often, it doesn't cost extra because many schools charge tuition by the semester rather than per course. Undergraduates can also use their financial aid for graduate-level courses while completing their bachelor's work.
[Learn other ways to cut college costs.]
Mohammad Ali, a 2010 graduate of Stanford, earned a B.A. in international relations and an M.A. in sociology within four years of enrolling. "I wanted to make the most of my time in school," the 24-year-old explains.
So, after sophomore year, Ali applied to Stanford's co-terminal degree program, which was founded in the early 1970s. Participants are allowed to earn a master's from any of the university's three undergraduate schools: the School of Humanities & Sciences (where Ali pursued his), the School of Engineering, or the School of Earth Sciences.
Ali was able to earn his two degrees for the price of one by taking an extra class most semesters, as well as Arabic in the summer after his freshman year. (Stanford students can also earn up to 45 quarter units, or a year's worth, of credit for classes completed elsewhere, including Advanced Placement in math, science, or foreign languages and International Baccalaureate courses.)
[Consider studying abroad to save money on college.]
At Harvard, undergraduates can earn a master's degree in 17 fields, from linguistics to statistics, in their fourth year of study. Brandeis, in Waltham, Mass., offers four-year B.A.-M.A. programs in nine subjects, including anthropology, biology, history, and politics. Last year, Claremont McKenna in Southern California introduced a four-year B.A.-M.A. program in finance; as part of it, students are required to complete an internship in finance during the summer between their junior and senior years.
Ali was so satisfied with his double degree that he decided to return to Stanford to pursue another one—this time in a combined J.D.-M.B.A. program—that will enable him to pursue a career in law, business, or both. "For me," he says, "it's really important to learn about as many different things as possible." He is to graduate in 2014.
Justin Snider is an advising dean at Columbia University, where he also teaches undergraduate writing. This article was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news outlet affiliated with the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, based at Columbia's Teachers College.