Graduating from university faster than normal is not only practical but very profitable. Savings on tuition fees and living expenses combined with the opportunity to start working sooner will make a huge difference in the student's financial life. There are a number of effective strategies to graduate from university ahead of a normal four year schedule, with academic overload being one of the most effective. Links to other strategies for accelerated graduation are at the bottom of the article.
One of the more challenging strategies for accelerating your graduation date is known as academic overload. If you approach academic overload correctly, it can be very effective, but be careful with this strategy. Taking too many courses at once can be very hard on your grades, hard on your social life, and even hard on your health.
If you are a disciplined person however, and create the right mix of courses, academic overload can be a very effective way to graduate from university early. Academic overload can also save money directly on cost of credits because some schools charge a flat fee for full time study. If this is the case at your school you might as well get maximum credits for your money.
How to Arrange Academic Overload
Establish a good GPA track record and be prepared to demonstrate your track record to the University administration to get permission for academic overload. Track record is best established with a copy of your University transcript in hand showing straight A's. Students with low GPA's are not likely to get academic overload approved.
If you are just starting University as a freshman, consider taking a summer course or two before the regular fall classes start to give you an internal transcript demonstrating success in University. It will also give you some extra confidence as you have already tackled a University course successfully and therefore have a head start on the other freshman who are just starting their first classes.
===Figure out the Academic Overload Policy===
Determine from the school calendar or website exactly what the course load policy is for your school. There will likely be:
-a minimum course load to be considered full time (maybe 12 semester credits).
-a normal course load (maybe 16 semester credits)
-a maximum course load (maybe 18 semester credits)
There should also be a process for gaining exceptions to the policy that allow a student to take more than the normal maximum course load. These exceptions are called academic overload or something similar. Unless you understand the policy very well, you will not be able to work within the policy. Remember that very few students apply for academic overload so the school staff may not even be very familiar with the academic overload policy. Be knowledgable and be prepared with a copy of the school policy in hand because the school staff may not understand what you want to accomplish or how to get the approval.
===Plan Your Course Load Carefully===
Plan out your class load for each semester carefully. Consider the expected difficulty of various courses and the workload involved. Some classes have a lot of papers or projects while others just require studying for a couple exams. If you can structure a manageable course load that gets more credit then normal, you are ready to go for your special permission for academic overload.
When planning academic overload the mix of courses is really important. Taking on a lot of tough courses all at once is foolhardy, but taking the regular suggested courses for your program plus some easier courses that will not require lots of study makes sense. If you like to sing, choir would be a good overload course, displacing some of your free time but filling it with a fun course. If you are into Physical Education taking some electives in PE can help you stay in shape (you should exercise anyway) while also getting credits toward graduation. If you are already proficient in a second language you might decide to pick up some easy credits through academic overload for your preexisting knowledge.
===Get your Exemption to the Maximum Course Load Policy===
Take your high GPA transcript, your coursework plan, and either a letter outlining the reasons you feel you deserve an exemption allowing academic overload. If applicable, fill out the appropriate University form with your reasons for requesting academic overload and proof that you deserve the privilege. If you are taking short courses or travel courses that can be done outside the normal semester long courses, make sure you point this out in your reasons.
===Establish Relationships and be Confident===
Take your forms to the Register's Office and try to find out who approves academic overload exemptions. If possible talk to the approving person (or at least someone on the committee if it is a committee approval process). Try to ask an easy policy question to justify your visit. Mention your goal of graduating early and show them a detailed plan if you can. Treat everyone you meet there with genuine friendship and respect. Your goal is to be known as a real, organized, articulate person, rather then just a name and student id on a sheet of paper asking for something crazy outside policy.
If you make the right presentation you are almost assured of success in getting permission for academic overload.
Final Thoughts on Academic Overload
Don't just rack up university credit for the sake of credit. Make sure you effectively plan your courses to exactly meet the graduation requirements without wasted credits.
Remember not to take on more courses then you can reasonably handle. Abusing the privilege of academic overload will kill your GPA and wreck the opportunity to get permission for academic overload in future semesters. Once you establish your reputation with the ability to successfully take more than the normal number of courses, approvals for academic overload in future semesters will be easier.
Here is an example of a school policy on academic overload.
Here are some additional strategies that will help you plan your early graduation from University.
= Learn how to use CLEP to rack up college credits fast and eliminate the requirement to take entry level courses on subjects you already understand or can study up on independently
= Learn how to use short courses and summer school to reduce the total years you must study to earn your university degree.
= Learn how to use portfolios to graduate university faster
= Learn how to plan your graduation to reduce the time it takes to graduate.