Q: “I’ve heard you can save money by taking summer classes to cut out a year of college. The problem is, most scholarships only count for a 'normal' school year. Are there any grants or programs that could help pay for these extra classes?" – Debbie, Indiana
A: Every year more colleges offer accelerated degree programs to help students complete a bachelor’s degree in three years. Even if the college doesn’t have a formal accelerated degree program, you may still be able to finish the degree sooner by taking a heavier load during the semester and by taking classes during the summer session.
However, you may find that the timing and availability of prerequisites may prevent you from finishing the degree as quickly as you would like. Ask about these accelerated degree programs when choosing a college.
Federal student aid is available for summer classes, provided that you take them at the same college you're enrolled in. Some colleges treat the summer session as a “header” of the next year and some treat it as a “trailer” for the current year. Some do both, splitting the summer session at July 1, which is the start date for the next award year for federal student aid purposes. This can affect annual loan limits. (If you take the summer classes at another college, check first whether the classes will be accepted for credit at your primary college. Also, the two colleges will need to coordinate the use of your federal student aid.)
The structure of the college’s academic year may also affect your ability to pursue an accelerated program. A college with a trimester or quarter system may make it easier to finish more quickly, since you can take courses year-round. Colleges with a semester system may not offer as many classes in the summer session.