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Students find that graduating in three years can lead to more opportunities for graduate school and career exploration

Credit: Courtesy of Alexia Tragakes , Gabrielle Jackson and Cheewin Kittikunapong

College is often referred to as the best four years of your life. But some students choose to graduate after just three.

College junior Gabrielle Jackson will be graduating this spring, even though she entered Penn as a member of the Class of 2018.

Jackson decided to graduate early after the completion of her sophomore year.

“I originally went into the advising office by the end of my sophomore year to look into graduating in three and a half years or maybe submatriculating into Penn Law School,” she said. “But when I went, I was told that I was too far along to submatriculate into Penn Law and also that instead of graduating in three and a half years, I could just graduate in three.”

Instead of completing her senior year of college, Jackson plans on working full-time.

“Right now my main focus is finding a job,” she said. “I’m planning on working for a few years and then going to grad school.”

“The cost of going to Penn for another year as opposed to making money was a major factor,” she added.

While Penn does not encourage students to graduate early, Jackson says the University was generally accommodating.

“One of the things that I wanted to deal with graduating early was that I wanted to walk with my class — with the Class of 2018 as opposed to the Class of 2017,” she said. “And they were really helpful in making that possible.”

“I’m definitely going to miss out on some of the senior traditions and on another year with my friends who are mostly juniors,” she acknowledged. “But at the same time, I think I’m ready to leave and move on and go to the next step.”

Wharton junior Alexia Tragakes also plans to graduate early in order to attend law school. But unlike Jackson, she hopes to enroll in the fall instead of taking time off to work.

“Before Penn, I knew that I might want to go to law school, and I came into Penn with a lot of credits,” she said.

Most of these credits came from her International Baccalaureate program in high school, with others transferring from summer courses she took.

“I think it was towards the end of my freshman year that I realized that with all the credits that I managed to get approved, it was attainable to graduate in three years, and I knew that I wanted to go to law school and that would be the next step,” she said.

College junior Cheewin Kittikunapong is graduating early for a different reason: He wants to study internationally next year.

Kittikunapong wants to travel outside of the United States and determined that doing so would be difficult as an undergraduate.

“Say I went abroad during my junior year. I’d probably have to squeeze in a lot of course units by my fourth year, or else I would need to take an extra semester here,” he said.

After squeezing all of his credits into three years, Kittikunapong will pursue his master’s degree in Europe, ideally in the United Kingdom, he said.

Another motivating factor for Kittikunapong was his disappointment in Penn’s biotechnology resources.

“I’m studying biology right now, but then I hoped to go into biotechnology, and I felt that the biotechnology scene here isn’t as great as I hoped it would be,” he said.

He hopes to pursue his master’s somewhere that offers more opportunities in the field.

Kittikunapong felt that graduating in three years was a smooth process, but it depends on the organization of the individual.

“I planned it out really carefully,” he said, noting that he made the decision in the middle of his sophomore year.

“I was doing a second major – biology and biochemistry – but then my current major advisor in biochemistry was not having it. He wanted me to stay for the fourth year and do a senior thesis or something, so I just figured that if I dropped biochemistry and just did biology, I’d be able to do just three years, so I did that instead.”