RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST
Solutions...with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA)
Episode 179 -
Originally aired 8/29/2014 9:00 AM -
COURTNEY! I AM CURIOUS series -
“How Did You Graduate From College With Your Bachelor’s Degree at 20 Years Old?”
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TALK SHOW EPISODE NOTES
Incredulous. Dubious. These are some of the reactions I have had over the years to my advice when it deviates from the expected norm. If I advise a person to consider something that is “outside the box” or without a box at all they may reject it simply on principle (too outrageous!). The challenge for me is that I often am simply sharing my own life experience and at times am hurt when it is scoffed at by skeptics.
If I am discussing traveling around the world on your own, or starting a new business, or applying for a job that in a new industry; it is because I did so and found it to be a wonderful start of a new adventure in life. Yes, you can! I have received questions over the years that illustrate that there may be a benefit from me sharing my direct experiences that are different from the norm (in some aspect).
Nothing I have done is unique. Going to school, working, buying a home, having fun, etc., are very boring events in most of our lives. Going to school and graduating in three years, working for your own firm, buying a first home at age 27, having fun in South Africa, Mexico City, Rome, Mumbai, Brisbane, Tokyo, Madrid, Hong Kong, Quebec, and many other places around the world is a bit of an unusual slant on life (apparently from the feedback I receive). So, this series is my attempt to address your curiosity! In the COURTNEY! I AM CURIOUS series you ask and I answer! I hope that my journey through life helps you more fully explore what is probable in your life! This episode is, “How Did You Graduate From College with your Bachelors degree at 20 Years Old?”
I graduated from high school when I was 17 years old. I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree three years after I finished high school. I was 20 years old.
1) How did I do it (graduate from college with my bachelor’s degree in three years)?
I completed all of the requirements for the degree by that time. I completed 124 credit hours and 120 were required for graduation. Thus, I graduated because I finished the degree program requirements. From RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST: Solutions…with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA) Episode 082 - Originally aired 4/16/2014 9:00 AM - HELP! SITUATION SPOTLIGHT series - “How do I pick 'the right' college for my first degree?", “in general (from a US perspective), degrees are awarded based on completed credit hours. One credit hour is based on one class hour per week throughout the duration of a semester. So, a class that meets for three hours per week for an entire term will be worth three credit hours upon successful completion. An associate degree is roughly 60 credit hours. A bachelors degree is 120 credit hours. Thus, to earn a bachelors degree would take 40 different three credit classes (which is why it takes several years to graduate).”
2) How did you complete all of the degree requirements in three years?
By planning ahead and setting a goal to do so! The most candid response I can give is that from my earliest memory my goal was to move as quickly as possible through undergraduate school. I knew that I was going to be earning (most likely several) graduate degrees. So, the longest (in terms of credit hours) prerequisite degree was the undergraduate degree. In my mind, as a teenager, undergraduate school was simply a time-consuming requirement for me to enter my next graduate program (initially I was planning to go to medical school and then I switched to law school).
My transcript shows:
55 credit hours transferred:
- 9 AP credit hours from high school,
- 13 hours of credit completed on campus during by freshman year fall semester at Texas A&M University College Station,
- 16 hours of credit completed on campus during by freshman year spring semester at Texas A&M University College Station,
- 14 hours of credit from summer school at Central Texas Community College after my freshman year of college,
- 3 hours of credit from summer school at Austin Community College after my freshman year of college
69 credit hours at University of Texas at Austin:
- Year 2 - Fall semester 14 credit hours, spring semester 15 credit hours,
- Year 3 - Fall semester 16 credit hours, spring 15 credit hours, summer 9 credit hours
= 124 credit hours
* I left off the classes I withdrew from and dropped. As I note below, my original plan was to finish in 2 and 1/2 years but it took me actually three years (with summers)
3) How did you know about undergraduate school (requirements, prerequisite for graduate school, etc.) to understand what your options were?
As we talk about in all of our programs, having a goal, creating a strategy and executing the plan are the keys to accomplishment in life. School is one of the easier tasks as it is simply a matter of crossing off all of the items on the required list (degree plan) to earn the degree. I also had the advantage that everyone born into a family of college graduates had. Both of my parents have multiple college degrees (and both of my grandmothers had college degrees, etc.). On my maternal side I am the fourth generation college graduate and on my paternal side I am the fifth generation college graduate. I knew exactly what my plan was (in terms of how many degrees I was going to earn) and I had my own timetable for undergraduate degree completion made up before I finished high school (probably in middle school).
I found undergraduate school relatively easy so there was no reason not to get it out of the way as efficiently as possible. Full disclosure, I failed to meet and surpass my original degree completion timetable. I had originally planned to finish in 2 and 1/2 years but I got distracted (I started a business and got focused on some of my entrepreneurial goals which took me off my plan).
4) What were the most difficult parts of completing your bachelor’s degree in three years?
My challenges were that I was not applying myself to each individual class (I was simply focused on getting them out of my way). I prioritized speed over substance. It was too easy for me to take 15 -18 credit hours a semester and not really invest much time and earn A and B grades most of the time. That led to me thinking I could do more credit hours so in some instances I enrolled in 21 credit hours a semester and ended up having to drop classes (the full-time load at that time was 12 credit hours). Also, some classes were an anomaly (they were more challenging than the average ‘easy’ class) so I wound up miscalculating how much effort to expend and found myself with a low grade. In some instances I had to work to pull up low grades or I ended up having to withdraw from classes. The show where we addressed some of these issues is here: RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST: Solutions…with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA) Episode 087 - Originally aired 4/23/2014 9:00 AM - FAILURE FLASHBACK!™ series - "I am failing a class.”
I also had to work (I was not provided any outside financial help beyond my scholarships). I discuss my challenges being broke (for the first time in my life) here: RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST: Solutions…with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA) Episode 066 - Originally aired 3/25/2014 9:00 AM - FAILURE FLASHBACK!™ series - "I am broke. (Part 1 of 2)” and RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST: Solutions...with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA) Episode 067 - Originally aired 3/26/2014 9:00 AM - FAILURE FLASHBACK!™ series - "I am broke. (Part 2 of 2)”
In addition, I love to have fun! So, I spent a considerable amount of time dancing (still one of my favorite things to do), going to parties, going to concerts, falling in and out of love, falling in and out of friendships, dealing with being a teenager and young adult (hormones, insecurities, etc.). Life.
5) How did the administration of your school react to your three year degree completion plan? Were they supportive?
Not well and no. The most difficult aspect of undergraduate school was the administrative bureaucracy that was not open to my timetable for my 2 1/2 to 3 year graduation plan. I am not alone in my three year planning (or in my frustration with administration staff who were not amenable to diversity of degree planing).
From the Chronicle of Higher Education in article where the author describes their three year college degree completion program, “Proud of my plan, I took it to my freshman adviser, a crusty history professor, who scoffed at me. "It won't work," he said. "Trust me, you just need to relax and enjoy your classes. Don't be in such a hurry. You'll never have this opportunity again."
Undeterred, I stuck to my guns. When I switched to a new adviser in my major, I can still remember arguing with him about whether my plan would work. On several occasions I pulled out that sheet of notebook paper and showed him that it would, but he would just roll his eyes. I probably was a little on the snarky side, being a mere teenager and all, so I'm sure I drove him crazy, but in the end he signed my registration and let me take my courses. [..] Institutions should have to improve academic advising. As much as I loved my undergraduate experiences, my advisers were more likely to have held me back from advancing rather than facilitating my plan. (http://chronicle.com/article/Confessions-of-a-3-Year-Degree/49001/)
6) What are your biggest lessons in hindsight?
That administration staff should be more innovative and less focused on rigid hierarchy. As students, we must be in charge of our own lives (and plans). We should not rely exclusively on what any other entity or individual tells us but we should instead be guided by our own goals and dreams. If I had listened to other people who knows how much time would have been spent in undergraduate school? Instead, I appealed the limits (on credit hours, etc.) so that I was able to move forward at my own pace and meet my own needs.
Schools should not put brakes on individuals based on what they believe about ‘group’ data. They must recognize that every single person is a unique person. I pushed forward with my plans to meet my goals but not every student has that confidence and assertiveness. That is part of the reason why I do these programs (to instill it in more people). It is your life. Take charge of it.
As per Benjamin Franklin, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” So, have a plan. I strongly recommend taking advantage of free college credit in high school (AP exams). “Research shows that students who succeed in rigorous course work such as Advanced Placement are developing college-level knowledge and skills while still in high school. These students are more likely than their peers to earn college degrees on time, providing an opportunity to save significant amounts of money.” (https://www.collegeboard.org/releases/2014/class-2013-advanced-placement-results-announced)
I took the AP exams at a time when apparently (according to the data) very few people like me did so. “In 1990 Blacks made up 2 percent of All students in the Advanced Placement Program.” (http://www.jbhe.com/features/59_apscoringgap.html) I actually had resistance, in one of the high schools I attended, to enrolling in AP classes. Perhaps due to the rarity (as per the data)? I don’t know. I do know that my parents ended up having to take time off of work to go to the school to meet in person and ensure that I was enrolled in the AP classes I desired. As I had already been enrolled in AP classes at my prior high school (that I was transferring from) this was illogical. I also had a high school counselor tell me not to even apply to college and instead to join the military or be a secretary. This was also illogical as I was an honor’s student, AP student, gifted and talented program student, etc.. I knew when to ignore inaccurate information but I worry that everyone else may not have that confidence.
7) What would you have done differently, if anything?
I would have been more assertive earlier about ensuring that I was challenged by my academic work instead of staying in ‘easy’ programs. The longer I stayed in ‘easy’ programs, the more ingrained my very poor (or non-existent) study habits were. I also wasted time when I could have been learning, researching and expanding my knowledge base. If I was able to not attend class (at all), read some of the material the night before an exam and ‘earn’ and A, B or even C; I was cheating myself.
I love the process of pushing myself to be my best and to pursue excellence. I got by with nominal effort for all of middle school, high school and undergraduate school and was ‘rewarded’ with academic awards. That cheated me out of the quality of rigor that could have helped enrich my entire life.
My biggest problem was immaturity coupled with how easy it was to exert nominal effort and ‘succeed.’ Law school rectified this problem as I learned later during my 20th year (after I started law school) that my bare minimum effort in undergraduate that earned A and B grades would not work as well in law school. I had never been challenged academically until law school so it was a wake-up call. I was in honors and gifted classes all the way through school (elementary, middle and high school) and found them pretty easy. In 10th grade one of my honors/ gifted class peers was in a program where he left for college. I do think looking back that it might have been beneficial for me to skip ahead to college earlier than waiting around bored in high school.
A relative of mine graduated high school and went to college at 14 and my understanding is that it was difficult socially. I know that the social issues were part of the decision for me to stay in school but I think I might have been happier to have gone to college and then on the graduate classes earlier. I would not have spent so much time bored and I would have learned actual study habits earlier than law school (I got by on last minute cramming for my entire life up to that point). I test well (SAT, LSAT, AP, etc.) so I also got by with no preparation and ‘good enough’ scores with nominal effort.
I look back and I wish that I had been encouraged to really challenge myself instead of being ‘rewarded’ for nominal effort (National Achievement Finalist , Full Academic Scholarships to undergraduate and law school, etc.). I look back now and I did not take any of the academic accolades seriously as I was giving so little effort. I do wish that I had been in an environment where I had been forced to stretch myself academically. Today, as an educator, I strive to ensure that my students are not able to ‘get by’ with no effort in my classes. I want them to learn earlier than I did that we cheat ourselves when we don’t do our best. I suspect that my career decisions provide me the opportunity to learn an exciting variety of information and to challenge myself with complex business and scholarship projects. I think it would have been a benefit to learn how to pursue excellence earlier in life and to not have had very poor work habits have to be unlearned.
I hope that universities are more aware of the needs of students who are not challenged and that they customize programs to provide high level difficult challenges for their accelerated students. I was in several honors classes in undergraduate school and found them interesting (smaller class size, more critical thinking required, etc.). More of these programs should be available to ensure that the accelerated student is not bored (and creates poor work habits as they grow accustomed to everything being easy).
8) Do you think it is a ‘good thing’ for students to finish undergraduate school early?
Yes. It is a good idea to earn an undergraduate degree. So, finishing it as soon as possible is a good idea. “According to the Department of Education, fewer than 40% of students who enter college each year graduate within four years, while almost 60% of students graduate in six years.” (http://business.time.com/2013/01/10/the-myth-of-the-4-year-college-degree/)
There is understandably an immense amount of discussion of the numbers of students who enroll in college and don’t graduate. There is a show on the importance of going back to school and completing the degree at RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST: Solutions...with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA) Episode 129 - Originally aired 6/20/2014 9:00 AM - HELP! SITUATION SPOTLIGHT series - "I went to school, but never finished! How can I use the education I have?”
One of the issues impacting graduation rates is that if a person does not have an individual goal before they enroll in college, they are not motivated to complete it. Simply ‘going to college’ because they are told to do so is not sufficient. Why are they going to college? I went because I viewed undergraduate as a 13th grade to finish prior to being admitted to the graduate school program of my choice. I never viewed it as an option to drop out of 6th grade or undergraduate school. To me they are basic educational experiences to complete as a bare minimum to enter into the graduate degree program(s) that will provide really meaty content and challenging information. I also did not know anyone personally who had not completed several college degrees so it was not anything that I ever considered as a reality.
Completing higher levels of quality education simply puts the odds in your favor of financial and professional success. It is not a guarantee. It just makes life easier. You can be the stupidest graduate in medical school and have a much higher likelihood of financial and success opportunity than the most brilliant person with a 10th grade education. Are there people without high school diplomas who are wealthy? Yes. Is it much more difficult than if you earn your medical degree? Yes. Why not do everything in your power to make your life easier? The show on this topic is: RADIO SHOW/AUDIO PODCAST: Solutions...with Courtney Anderson! (SwCA) Episode 118 - Originally aired 6/5/2014 9:00 AM - FINANCIAL FIERCENESS! series - "What 'Rich' families know about college that 'Poor' families don't."
In this program we discuss how students must take responsibility for their own education (and by extension their own lives). If a student has no personal motive to reach an important individual goal via college, then they are at the mercy of everyone else (advisor, registrar, etc.). It is too easy to give up on something that you don’t care about (and you were just doing to appease other people). It seems obvious that the limited professional opportunities of not completing college are significant yet I do understand that it may seem foreign to someone who doesn’t know anyone who graduated from college.
Please join me in this show as we talk about college graduation!
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