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Yes, you read that correctly. I did graduate with my undergraduate degree in two years. While I always thought of it as an accomplishment, its real significance was lost on me – until I started talking about it. Not everyone can get a big scholarship, but everyone can do what I did and save a lot of time and money. Parents of students are usually more than a little surprised, and often confused. And then it dawns on them: you mean you paid half the amount of tuition of a normal student, without including scholarships or aid? Yes. For me, at an in-state public university (usually considered a bargain) that’s over $20,000 in tuition fees and books – and much more than $30,000 if you are including room and board, or $70,000 at a private university. So, how did I do it?

Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment Courses

In high school I took 13 Advanced Placement (AP) tests and 1 Dual Enrollment (DE) course. When I entered my university, I already had 55 college credits and was almost a junior. My college required 120 credits to graduate and I was already half-way there, without paying a cent in tuition. AP classes are free (offered by most public high schools), but the tests are $89 each (or $53 for low-income students). My DE course was around $200 (all community college prices are different, so check yours locally). If you aren’t familiar with these courses or tests, see my guide here. So that’s two years of university for under $350 per year of high school – sounds a lot better than the $13,000 to $60,000+ that it would have cost for two years of school normally. (Also keep in mind that the $1,400 total was unsubsidized – I didn’t qualify for a reduced rate from the College Board.) Want that broken down? We will use Washington, D.C. as the example (but you can see your state’s tuition averages here):

University Type Tuition (2013-2014) Total Tuition Cost Amount “I” Saved
Private $38,407 $153,628 $76,814
Public $7,255 $29,020 $14,510

Every parent and student I’ve ever spoken to has called that a bargain – and now in hindsight, I do too. I had no idea at the time that my desire to graduate early would mean so much money saved – and so much time gained. This meant that not only did I not have the extra $30,000+ in student loans, but also had my college diploma at twenty. People often forget that time is worth a lot – and it was. I was able to take multiple internships and jobs (and even go to grad school) because of the extra time that my decision afforded me. And as a resume boost?  Hiring managers were not only astonished that I had graduated early, but impressed that I had thought smarter about the college process.

So, how do you save time and money by doing the same? Start planning now. Being educated about your options matters.

Middle schoolers (and parents): start researching your options for high school. Do local schools offer Advanced Placement courses? Are there magnet schools that you should be considering? If not, does your state offer free virtual AP courses? What are your options with the local community college? Do they offer on-site or virtual courses for college credit? Have you spoken to the guidance department about future options? What about the gifted and talented coordinator? (They may know about resources that you can use and investigate even if you aren’t “identified” as gifted.)

High school students (and parents): evaluate what you are taking now and what your options are in the future. Are there courses you could be taking next year that are AP or DE that build on your current course load (i.e. taking honors biology this year and taking AP biology next year)? Does your school offer any AP or IB programs and/or DE courses? What does your local community college offer? Can you take summer courses? Does the university you are considering offer summer programs for credit? Have you spoken to the guidance department about your options? Have you reached out to the gifted and talented coordinator about any resources they might know?

High school juniors and seniors (and parents): investigate your college options and what they mean for your money and your timeline. In addition to the questions above, what are the AP and DE policies of the colleges and universities you are considering? (Yes, each school is different.) You can usually find out the school’s policies on APs under “Advanced Placement Credit” in their admissions websites or by checking here. If DE information isn’t included there, check under their “Transfer Student” sections. Some school take no credit whatsoever, others only allow them as general education credits, while some offer full credit for scores of a 3 and above on AP tests. Make sure to consider this in your decision making process. Remember, that credit isn’t just time – it’s the equivalent of a scholarship and it’s money back in your pocket.

Current college students: Believe it or not, it’s not too late to save tuition money! Check and see if your university accepts credits from the local community college. If they do, take some courses there to save money – people often forget the community college credits are a bargain compared to the average tuition of most universities. Maybe there is a language requirement you can complete or math course that you have to take (you get the idea). Credits taken at the community college transfer in to your university, completing graduation requirements at a fraction of the cost – and they may end up saving you time too. If you take two courses over the summer at the community college, that’s two fewer courses you have to take over the next year, leaving you the option for a lighter semester (maybe 4 courses instead of 5), have more time to work part-time, or even give you the option to take an internship you wouldn’t have had time for.


I know a lot about the college application process and the tips and tricks to get you through high school, college, and beyond. Want to learn more? Go to my blog.  Have AP and DE stories of your own? Please share them below!