AP credits affect early graduation

Alissa Ricci

Between 35 and 45 seniors are expected to graduate a semester early in December.

Graduating a semester or a year early is not a new phenomenon, but it is undoubtedly impacted by the expansion of Advanced Placement programs in high schools across the country.

The percentage of first-time entering freshmen with AP credits has steadily increased over the past five years, according to the Office of the Registrar.

In fall 2005, 39 percent of freshmen earned AP credits in high school. By fall 2009, this number increased to 52 percent of freshmen, just over half the entering class.

In addition, freshmen who do participate in AP programs earn more credits than ever before. In fall 2005, freshmen with AP credit earned an average of 10.57 credits. In fall 2009, this number increased to 13.02 credits.

Due to previously earned AP credits, along with other factors, the Office of Enrollment Management reports that 30 students graduated in three to three-and-a-half years last year. Every December, seniors are asked to indicate if they plan to graduate early.

If so, they report their plans to their respective deans and the Office of the Registrar.

The actual number of students who go through with these plans is not known until early January, according to Cathy Conner, associate dean of Enrollment Management.

This December, senior Emily Fero is one of those students. She is a mathematics major who will leave Villanova in a mere week.

“This past summer, I made the choice to graduate early and stopped worrying about what it means,” she said. “I have fulfilled my learning here.”

Students such as Fero graduate early for a variety of reasons, financial and otherwise.

“There has always been a small group of students who graduate early,” Conner said.

The number of students who graduate in three years has been an average of eight to 12 students, and we have not seen any significant change to this number in the last few years.”

These students tend to come from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences or the School of Business, according to Conner.

In addition, many juniors already anticipate the possibility of early graduation because of current economic problems.

Junior Susanna Seibert is a communication major who plans to graduate a semester early in December 2010 to enter the work force with fewer loans.

“I have the credits to do it,” Seibert said. “I don’t want to take classes just to stay at school longer. Graduating early does mean facing the ‘real world’ that much sooner; but again, I’ll face it with a little less debt. It also feels like I’m taking control of my own life instead of letting tradition dictate where I go next.”

Junior Alex Pugliese will graduate a year early in May 2010 in order to pursue a dual-degree program in law school.

“My plans lengthen an already long academic process, and graduating early provides me with an opportunity to enter the professional world at roughly the same time as my regularly-graduating classmates,” Pugliese said. “The financial benefits are also an incentive to move on from Villanova sooner, given that law school tuition is roughly the same.”

Pugliese earned AP credits in high school, took summer classes and took course overloads to make it possible to graduate early.

Stephen Merritt, dean of Enrollment Management, notes that these strategies are commonly utilized by students who plan to graduate early, but also by those with more than one major.

“An increasing number of students pursue double majors or multiple minors,” Merritt said.

He explains that rather than graduating early, students diversify and complement their studies with additional majors and minors.

In addition, Merritt points to other undergraduate educational experiences that adds to a traditional four year degree.

“Instead of graduating early, students are enriching their studies in other ways,” said Merritt. For example, students take advantage of study abroad programs, independent studies, more advanced courses in their major or minor, and even graduate-level courses. In addition, Merritt reports more students are taking advantage of new five year B.S./M.A. and B.A./M.A. programs in addition to co-ops and internships during the academic year.

Overall, there are no significant changes in the number of students graduating early this year, according to Merritt.

“Retention rates are excellent at Villanova and that is one of the reasons for the University’s high rankings from U.S. News and World Report,” Merritt said.