With the plethora of classes, extracurriculars and opportunities offered in a college setting, it is difficult to imagine speeding through the college process in any fewer than four years. But some students have chosen to do just that by arranging their academic schedules to facilitate graduating early.
One such student is David Plotkin '11, a mathematics and physics major and economics minor who has elected to graduate at the end of this year's first semester. Plotkin's academic interests and future plans influenced his decision to graduate early.
"I'm pretty sure I'll be going to graduate school for mathematics, which is an additional five years of schooling, so I figured it would be nice to take some time to do something else before then," he said.
Plotkin is certainly not in need of ideas for how he will fill his extra time before graduate school. "I've been thinking about trying to get a job in Europe through academic connections that I have here," he said. "The other option would be to stick around in Brunswick, get a job, and audit a couple of classes. That way I can stay busy without experiencing the full intensity of college right before grad school."
Plotkin stressed the benefits of being free from the restrictions of coursework while still staying close to the Bowdoin campus.
"If I stay here, I'll hopefully be able to help math professors with some research. I could also continue to teach kids chess, which I spend a lot of time doing now," he said. "I'm not completely sure what my schedule will look like, but I will be doing a mix of things."
Plotkin and past students who have graduated early needed to pay special attention to planning their academic schedule so as to have enough credits to graduate. "I've taken five or more classes almost every semester," said Plotkin, "I also had some AP credits from high school."
And it seems Plotkin's hard work has paid off. Careful scheduling has allowed him to stay on the ambitious track he mapped out for himself early on in his Bowdoin career.
"Since my first year here I had been thinking about graduating in three or three and a half years," he said. "I have always been looking forward to that freedom that comes after school. I figured if I had enough credits to go through with it, why not?"
But the average college student might have a multitude of answers to this question of "why not?" After all, it is hard to conceive of exhausting all that Bowdoin has to offer in fewer than four years.
"The most common reaction I got from friends the first time I told them I would be graduating early was something along the lines of 'Why on earth would you do that?'" said Jillian Eddy '12, a member of the junior class who will be graduating after only three years. "But once I explained to them my reasons, they understood. When my family and teachers realized how serious I was, they, too, were very supportive and helpful."
Eddy is currently working on her honors project and will have enough credits to graduate with the senior class this spring with a self-designed major in "Stage and Screen Studies."
She described her major as connecting her interests in film, theater and writing.
"When the applications for self-designed majors came out, I thought to myself 'I should be doing that,'" she said. "It seemed like a natural choice for me at that point, so I talked to a couple of my professors and they helped me put everything together."
Eddy's unique, interdisciplinary major is reflective of her profound interest in disparate subject matters. She explained that it was this aspect of her character that shaped her decision to graduate early.
"I'm the type of person that can't imagine having one job for the rest of my life," she said. "I'm interested in too many things. I have to get out in the real world and try things out for myself."
Eddy's choice to graduate early was a decision that evolved gradually as she discovered, over the course of her freshman and sophomore years, both her academic interests and her learning style.
"I started thinking about graduating early at the start of my freshman year. The biggest factor for me at the time was that my father would be retiring soon and as the last of my siblings to still be in college, I wanted to be able to spend more time with him."
But as time went on, Eddy was able to add more reasons to her list. She found that a shortened college experience would not be a hindrance; rather, it would correspond well to the type of student that she is.
"I chose to take more classes because I found that I'm much happier when I have a fuller plate," she explained. "I came in with three AP credits and only took four classes my first semester, but I found myself a bit bored. I took five classes the next semester and enjoyed that kind of schedule. My sophomore year I took five classes plus additional half-credit courses."
She explained how graduating one year early would give her extra time for "real world experience," and for applying to graduate school.
"I plan to apply to seven or so grad schools for theater and creative writing, and I'm also looking into applying for some jobs in radio and telecasting. If none of that works out I'm thinking of moving to a city and working as a musician," she said. "It's not that there is something specific that I'm set on doing, it's that there are so many things I'd like to do and I want to have time to try them all out."
Both Plotkin and Eddy emphasized the importance of considering learning habits and personality in deciding whether or not to graduate early.
"It depends on how self-motivated you are and how much time you need as a student to benefit from all the resources and people here," said Plotkin. "If you are self-sufficient and have a game plan that involves doing something outside of Bowdoin, it might be worth it to graduate early. Some students might have a hard time getting past the sentimental factors, but if you feel that it is the right decision for you, there are definitely benefits."
Eddy thought hard about her decision, but in the end came to the same conclusion as Plotkin.
"There were definitely moments along the way when I wasn't sure if I'd go through with it because of social relationships and other factors. But in the end I knew that this was really something I wanted to do. I realized, in spite of all my doubts, that this was the right choice for me."