We all know that a bachelor’s degree program takes four years to complete — except most undergrads who don’t graduate on time. According to the data collected from National Center for Education Statistics, only 45 percent of students who started university in 2013 graduated four years later. That means many undergraduates took more than four years to complete their degrees. And only 62 percent of first-year students earned degrees within six years. 

Why should you strive to complete your college education in four years? It’s important because if you take more time earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll end up paying more in tuition fees, interest, and student loan payments. Furthermore, on-time graduates can move to the next stage of their lives sooner, whether that’s starting a new career or attending graduate school.  

Students who think strategically and plan ahead can graduate in a straight four years or less after starting college. Here are the best methods for completing college in four years.

1) Plan Ahead

A bachelor’s degree typically requires 120 credit hours, and most college students earn a minimum of 30 credits per year. The math appears simple: students can complete their studies in four years if they take a standard course load. But on-time graduation requires additional strategies and careful planning.

Before starting your first-semester classes, consider how you best position yourself to graduate college in four years. Whatever program you plan to study, you will almost certainly be able to complete some general education requirements during your first year.  

By planning, you will increase your chances of graduating college within four years, even if you change majors. 

2) Earn Credits before College Education

What if you don’t need to complete all 120 credits in four years? Colleges will award credit for courses taken at other schools, standardized tests, and even life experience.

Students who get passing scores on CLEP or AP exams may be eligible for college credit. Furthermore, many schools give credit for these tests; 2,900 schools award credit for CLEP scores. Likewise, if you’ve taken courses at a local public college or earned college credit in another way, you’ll need to submit transcripts and other records to your current school to get transfer credits. Moreover, earning credits before beginning your college career may even allow you to graduate early or in straight four years. 

3) Increase General Education Requirements

It is crucial to explore general education requirements at your university as quickly as possible. Some schools allow you to increase your credits on required courses by enrolling in a single session that meets different course requirements. 

For example, students at the University of Louisville can enroll in a humanities class to fulfill their writing and humanities requirements. Meeting the general education requirements earlier means that students will not be forced to take courses required for graduation in their fourth year or later. 

4) Increase Your Credit Hours

Students studying in the semester system usually take 15 credits per term. Whereas a maximum load on the quarter system is typically 9-12 credits. Students can earn credits faster by taking additional classes —and often without increasing their tuition bills. That’s because many colleges charge a fixed price for a full course load. 

Taking more classes can be stressful for students, particularly those juggling school with work. It can also lead to burnout. So think carefully about whether it’s valuable to increase your course load.

5) Enroll in Summer Classes

The typical four-year graduation program only includes courses available during the academic year. Nevertheless, most colleges also offer classes in the summer. So by earning credits during summer camps, students can complete a bachelor’s degree in four years, even if they change majors.

Summer classes also have another advantage: they are less expensive and easily accessible. For example, some local community colleges charge flat rates for summer classes irrespective of the student’s residency status.