Guest Column: Bachelor’s degree in three years? How to get your diploma ASAP

By Jade Lun, Contributing Writer

Wesley Enriquez

Editor’s Note: The following tips come at the advice of an alumna of Columbia whose tips have not been officially endorsed by the Career Center. The Chronicle encourages all students to meet with their college adviser before adopting a graduation plan.

In high school, I was fortunate to discover my love for art direction, and when I toured Columbia College Chicago in the summer of 2012, I knew it was the school for me. I entered college with 3 credits from my high school advanced placement photography class, and I knew I wanted to get right into the industry—so I fast-tracked my college education.

Getting your diploma a year early is not all flowers and butterflies—be prepared to take the maximum credit hours per semester. But with these six tips, anyone who is interested in saving money and getting that diploma a year early will be able to so so.

1. Three-in-one deal

This trick helped me fulfill my college requirements while saving time and money: When you go into Columbia’s course catalog, there are filters you can use to find classes that fulfill multiple graduation requirements simultaneously. When I was a student, there was a course called “Ethnographic Films” that covered three graduation requirements at the time. It was intense, but I learned a lot, and it was beneficial because I now know how to write a proposal if I want to film internationally. Use those filters and find those gems hidden in the catalog.

2. CLEP it

No, it’s not an STD. CLEP stands for the College Level Examination Program. Some tests are available to students to take and if you pass with the minimum score, you get credit hours. I spent a whole semester studying because I knew it would be tough. I took one test in the Composition & Literature segment at a local test center, and it took three hours, but I passed—Praise Hands Emoji—and was granted six credit hours from Columbia. Here is the roster of current tests the school accepts and the credit hours awarded. And it gets better: the tests are $85 compared to the approximate $5,500 I would have spent on sixcredit hours.

3. Summer school for the win

I was jealous when I asked my friends what their plans were for summer because I knew that when the hot weather came, summer school started for me. I went back home each break and attended community college. At the start of June, I was enrolled in three college courses. It wasn’t that badand I met a lot of great people at different stages of life.

4. You + academic adviser = BFFs

Know who your academic adviser is and know them well. I had my adviser’s office number on speed dial. I’d visit my adviser at least three times a month during my junior and senior years, and I swear she got tired of seeing me. Communication is important if you are trying to graduate early because if there is a mix- up with requirements, it could delay the process. Triple check that you are approved if you are taking community college classes on the side, or CLEP tests—and get that transferrable credit confirmation in writing.

5. Build your inner circle

Network! Network! Network! Four years out of college and I still keep in touch with my favorite professors. It’s not about who you know these days, it’s about who knows you. I give all the credit to networking for the first internship that got me into an agency because I made both meaningful connections and professional relationships.

6. Set goals

This goes without saying, but if you want something in life, believe in yourself and make it happen. I had many people tell me I was crazy and that I wasn’t going to graduate in three years, but I was able to prove them wrong. So set both small, quarterly goals and long-term goals for yourself, because it works.

Jade Lun is a 2015 advertising art direction alumnus and art director at an advertising agency in Chicago. She is currently Miss Chinese Chicago 2019 Second Princess. Follow her endeavors on Instagram at @jadelun. If you like cats, follow her cat @princetrashpanda. She can be reached at