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For a small number of seniors, last December marked not only the end of 2011 but also the end of their college careers.

Penn students are increasingly considering the option of graduating a semester early, as the typical four-year degree gives way to a variety of alternatives.

According to Director of Career Services Patricia Rose, December graduation is an opportunity many take primarily to save money.

“There have always been some students who graduate early … but that might have increased slightly in the last few years because of families feeling the pinch from the recession,” she said. “For them, it’s an opportunity to save a semester’s tuition.”

Christina Zimca, a Wharton senior who graduated last December, agreed. “A lot of people I know was considering it for financial reasons … it’s a growing trend with the economy. In my case, I couldn’t justify spending another semester at Penn when I didn’t need to, money-wise, since I also want to go to law school.”

Other students find that from careful scheduling they can graduate early.

For Rae Tao, a Wharton senior who will graduate this May, which is a year earlier than she originally anticipated, early graduation was a coincidental outcome from a meeting with her academic adviser.

“It’s a year of tuition, and it was good for my family circumstances, so I thought I might as well,” she said.

She added that many of her friends have reached their second semester of senior year with only a few requirements left to graduate. “Many of them are taking one or two classes, so they’re part-time students.”

Going part-time can be a convenient way to save money and to stay involved with student life. Zimca, who studied part-time last semester and now has a research position in the Wharton Risk Center, chose to remain on campus to take part in senior activities.

“Most people want to remain involved with school and friends … it was one reason I didn’t start my job early,” she said.

Career Services Information Resources manager Michael DeAngelis agreed, saying that graduated students “might get a job on campus to be with their classmates and have the ultimate last semester.”

For some, however, graduating early is an opportunity to enter the workforce. Arthur Kuan, a College senior who is graduating early, is using his extra year to start his career. “I’m probably going to go right to work in China,” he said, adding that “the opportunities in China are time-sensitive in the next 10 to 15 years, so the earlier I graduate, the better.”

But early graduation is not necessarily without its disadvantages. “If given the opportunity, I’d liked to have taken more science classes,” Kuan added, a regret that Zimca shares.

“I didn’t want to graduate early … if you’re in the group amd taking classes you love, why would you?” she said.

Graduating early without securing a job can also be dangerous, Tao said. “I thought, if I can get a job, I’ll graduate early, but if I didn’t, I’d stay in school. I considered doing OCR another time.”

Ultimately, the decision to graduate early is up to the individual.

“I’d recommend it if you’re sure of what you’re going to do,” Kuan said. “You have to think about the opportunity costs.”

“At Penn, I still did a lot of extracurricular activities and had the college experience, so I’m ready to move on,” he said.

But for others, it might be too early to go just yet.

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