Finishing college a year early usually requires a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck in scheduling classes, and—perhaps most of all—a drive to succeed.

Katelyn Penry, an Actuarial Science junior set to graduate in 2021 after three years of study, says all the work has been worth it.

Before ever starting her first year at Butler, Penry completed more than 30 college credits through high school dual credit classes and community college courses. Those incoming credits were key to Penry’s decision to graduate early, letting her build a three-year schedule that still includes a minor in Risk Management and Insurance, along with a summer internship at State Farm.

While Penry’s three-year plan was built specifically for her needs, several Butler programs will soon offer official, three-year alternatives with clearer routes to an early finish. Six majors in the College of Communication and 26 programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will offer three-year frameworks as an option from the start for incoming students. The structures should make the pathway feel more valid and achievable for students who hadn’t already planned to graduate early.

“By letting people know that this kind of approach exists,” says Provost Kathryn Morris, “it may be helpful to recruit on the front end but it also helps support students with options while they are here.”

Why finish early?

For Penry, graduating early means the opportunity to start her career as soon as possible.

“I’m excited to get out into the workplace,” she says. “It has given me something to look forward to.”

Saving a year’s worth of tuition expenses can also be a major appeal of official three-year pathways to commencement.

“We’re trying to respond to concerns about the cost of higher education in general, and of a Butler education in particular,” says Jay Howard, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “We want to make a Butler education available to everybody. One way to make it more affordable is to help students get through in three years.”

Graduating early doesn’t take away from the Butler experience, Howard says. All plans allow for internships, and three-year plans will have room for study abroad options once travel restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.

“Students who are enterprising, organized, and on top of it have been able to graduate in three years for a long time,” Howard says. “We felt it was important to support those students—provide greater guidance, a little more structure, and better advice along the way to help them achieve this goal.”

English senior Melinda Peterson is set to graduate in the fall after three years.

When English senior Melinda Peterson graduates this fall after three years at Butler, she will have spent two weeks studying in Ireland and Scotland, and she will have completed three internships. Peterson has also found time to work for Tanglewood Publishing in downtown Indianapolis. 

“For the most part, my schedule has been fairly manageable,” says Peterson, who is the editor-in-chief of Butler’s undergraduate literary magazine, Manuscripts. “After just a little bit of planning, I could see where I wanted to go. After that, it was just ‘sit down, work hard, and keep sight of what you want to do.’”

Blueprints for success

Butler’s Spanish program was one of the first to put its three-year option into print. Alex Quintanilla, Chair of the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, has developed similar options for the French and German majors, as well. These programs give incoming students the chance to skip introductory classes by passing placement exams.

“The more you already know about the language, the shorter your college program will be,” Quintanilla says. “We want students to know that if they want to graduate sooner, they can do it.”

Quintanilla’s plan allows plenty of time for study abroad opportunities, and it offers upper-level classes online during the summer.

In the College of Communication, programs for Journalism, Music Industry Studies, Web Design and Development, Critical Communication and Media Studies, Human Communication and Organizational Leadership, and Strategic Communication: Public Relations and Advertising will all have official three-year plans by this fall. Dean Brooke Barnett expects the option of finishing in three years to be very appealing for incoming students.

“Some students are just ready to enter their careers sooner,” Barnett says.

Still a full experience

About halfway to her graduation goal, Penry says she is receiving a full Butler experience, despite her busy schedule. She was able to work in the Gamma Iota Sigma office, attend Bible study, and cheer on Butler’s basketball teams at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Plus, she doesn’t feel any less prepared to succeed in her career.

“Through my major and all of the experiences Butler provides, I’m taking classes that are really preparing me for the industry,” Penry says. “I still feel like I’m getting the best out of my college experience.”

Three-year programs for fall 2020

Starting in fall 2020, the colleges of Communication and Liberal Arts and Sciences will offer official three-year pathways as options for incoming students. Here are the programs that are participating in the three-year option:

  • Communication—Journalism, Music Industry Studies, Web Design and Development, Critical Communication and Media Studies, Human Communication and Organizational Leadership, and Strategic Communication: Public Relations and Advertising
  • Liberal Arts and Sciences—Actuarial Science, Anthropology, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Criminology, Classics, Computer Science, English (Literature track), Environmental Studies, French, German, History, International Studies, Mathematics, Peace and Conflict Studies, Physics, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion, Sociology, Software Engineering, Spanish, Statistics, and Science, Technology, and Society

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Katie Grieze
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