Class of 2013: Fast-Track Grads Comment on What It Means to Finish Their Degrees in Three Years or Less

Emily Riedel headshot

Emily Riedel dancing and cheering at a Cavaliers football game her second year at U.Va.

UPDATED, May 16, 10:28 a.m., to change the number of fast-track graduates.

If you’re looking around the Lawn during the University of Virginia's Final Exercises on May 19 and some of the graduates look a little younger than usual, there’s a reason.

They are.

More and more U.Va. undergraduates are opting to graduate in three years or less and then enter the workforce or use their found years to pursue a master’s degree.

Does graduating early diminish their undergraduate experience? Why do they choose this route? Here’s what nine of the 82 “fast-track” members of the Class of 2013 have to say.

Emily J. Riedel, Loudoun County, speech, pathology and audiology studies, Curry School of Education

Reflecting on graduating early takes me back to a phone conversation with my dad. Before the phone call I had just met with Dr. Filip Loncke, the undergraduate adviser in the communications disorders program the fall of my second year. He looked at my AP credit and the program and simply asked if I wanted to graduate early. I laughed at the idea and brushed it aside. It was too new to make such a drastic decision. I walked home reassured with headlights finally giving some vision for this road ahead.

I picked up the phone to tell my dad about the meeting. I casually mentioned the idea of graduating early and spending a summer abroad to earn credit for the required research for the program. He laughed about the idea of “leaving the party early,” but I could hear in his voice that it was not the worst idea.

After the shock, I took some time to think about it. It seemed crazy to graduate early. I needed my four years of the “best time of your life.” I needed to be a fourth-year, so I could run to be captain of the Virginia Dance Team.

Then I thought, why does it have to be four years? Our experiences should be measured by the quality, and not the quantity. I’ve had some of the best and worst experiences of my life here at U.Va. I’m sure I could have more memorable experiences with one more year, but that’s not a certainty.

Graduating early was never a certainty. It required many scrap pieces of paper with added credits and cost-analysis sheets comparing summer classes and tuition. I owe a huge thanks to my adviser, who I always knew would answer an email in less than two minutes to put my nerves at ease.

When it comes down to the real reason for graduating early, it’s pretty simple. It’s required to go to 2½  years of graduate school to become a certified speech-language pathologist. From the start, my parents made it clear to my three siblings and I that we get most of the money for a bachelor’s degree and then any more education is our own responsibility! Sometimes my older siblings reminded me more of this deal than my mother coping with serious empty nest syndrome. Even with some growing ambiguity in the matter, we made a deal. If I graduated early, we would split the cost of graduate school.

Even with one less year in my undergraduate career, I’ve been able to dance in front of thousands of people in Scott Stadium and John Paul Jones Area. I was able to roam the cobblestone streets of Belgium and ride bikes in the Netherlands. I presented research with a group of nine extremely competent women to win first place at the Speech and Hearing Association of Virginia. I really had the chance to think in religion classes and reflect on ideologies made from 21 years of living under the roof of a minister. I had the chance to appreciate all the stuff my guidance counselor mother puts up with in my education classes. I had the chance to observe and learn from a diverse set of individuals.

These experiences helped me learn about myself. I learned from others’ adversities, stories and relationships. I absorbed these experiences and scrutinized them way too much.

Hindsight will always be 20/20. There are always things you wish you could take back and things you wish you had done. I am happy for my experience here at Mr. Jefferson’s University. I’ve made some of the best relationships that I trust will stand another big storm or race.

This summer I will travel to the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina to work at Talisman Summer Camps. This camp is oriented for kids with unique emotional and social characteristics. I am confident this eight-week experience will gear me up for 2½ years of graduate schoolwork in speech-language pathology at Radford University.

 Wahoowah-Wahoowah- Uni-V Virginia!

Garrett Hynson, Doylestown, Pa., economics, College of Arts & Sciences

Completing my degree in three years means that I have an extra year to do something to differentiate myself from my peers who will be graduating in 2014.

Because of AP credits and having taken several semesters with extra credit hours, it was not that difficult for me to finish my degree in three years. Personally, I feel that if you have enough AP credits, and are not either double-majoring or in a two-year program such as the Comm School, it is a no-brainer to finish your degree in three years. This is especially true if you are an out-of-state student, such as myself. Finishing early will save me approximately $50,000.

My best experience outside of class was my involvement in the McIntire Investment Institute, a student-run fund that manages well over $500,000 for the University. This provided me with great experience and education in investment management, and helped me to decide that I would like to pursue this as a career.

From an academic perspective, my best experience was easily a January Term class I took, “Market Insights in Southeast Asia.” Our class spent a week in Indonesia and a week in Vietnam learning about culture, economics, politics and business in the region. This was an incredibly eye-opening experience, and had a great influence on my decision to go abroad after graduation.

Next year, I will be pursuing a Master in Finance at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. I decided to try to get a one-year master’s degree so that I could finish my formal education in four years …

My apartment caught fire in January. This had a tremendous, unforeseen strain on my time, particularly as it occurred right as I was applying to internships and graduate schools, although it will not impact my ability to graduate early. However, while it was a terrible thing, it brought me much closer to all of my roommates and gave me a newfound perspective on life, making me much more appreciative of everything I have.

• Ian Rappaport, Vienna, statistics and economics, College of Arts & Sciences

It means a lot to be able to accomplish something not many students are able to, because I put a lot of time, energy and prior planning into reaching this point. Graduating early validates the rigorous course load I’ve taken during my time at U.Va., often taking classes with peers that were a couple of years ahead of me in school. It also makes the AP-heavy course load I took in high school especially worthwhile. All the work I’ve put in throughout high school and college has had a greater purpose, as it has put me on this accelerated track.

My best experiences involved my time at the Cavalier Daily and on the Virginia Triathlon Team. The friendships I’ve built through those organizations have made my college experience memorable, and I have also learned a lot from each. As sports editor at the Cav Daily and as president of the triathlon club, I’ve developed my leadership skills in the process. 

Next year, I will be staying at U.Va. for the one-year M.S. in Commerce program at the McIntire School of Commerce. I am looking forward to still spending a fourth year at U.Va., but earning a graduate degree in that span of time. Graduating early is particularly valuable in that it saves a year of paying for tuition, which has enabled my parents to help me pay for graduate school next year. 

• Amber Osinga, Lynchburg, environmental sciences, College of Arts & Sciences

High school definitely freed my schedule, allowing me to get straight into my major (environmental sciences), and to start making connections early. With the help and advice of different professors, I was able to explore both my passions – environmental sciences and biology – and was able to obtain the Specialization in Environmental and Biological Conservation.

I always stayed focused and was able to study what I was passionate about immediately. Even though some of my semesters were fast-paced, I was never bored or over-stressed.

Though I only spent three years here, I feel as though I have lived most of my life here. It was the quality of my experiences here at U.Va. as opposed to the quantity that I will always cherish dearly.

I have loved getting to know the professors on a personal level. The support and advice they have given me in my time here are unparalleled. I feel as though they have prepared me very well for my next journey.

One of my favorite experiences was the U.Va. in the Bahamas study-abroad program. It really did change my life and ways of thinking. [It] not only fueled my interest and passion in marine sciences, but it forced me to change my way of thinking and observing as not only a scientist, but also just as a person. It took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to adapt to changes. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. I made some of my best friends on that trip that I know I will always keep in touch with, even as we graduate and go our separate ways.

My fondest memory at U.Va. was the opening football game this season against the University of Richmond. My boyfriend plays football at UR, so I had gotten to the game early to watch warm-ups and ended up in the front row. I had jokingly told him that I wouldn’t cheer for U.Va. and only Richmond the whole game. However, halfway through the game, I got caught in the moment and started singing “The Good Ol’ Song” ... and was placed on the Jumbotron and in hot water! We still joke about it.

• Kalika Nowlakha, Centreville, Spanish, College of Arts & Sciences; Master’s in Commerce, McIntire School of Commerce

Completing my required undergraduate coursework in three years has been fantastic. Not only was my father ecstatic, I was also able to pursue a one-year master’s program (the M.S. in Commerce program at McIntire) during what would’ve been my fourth year at U.Va. I studied Spanish for my undergraduate degree and was unsure what I wanted to do with it in the future. I just knew that I did not want to be a teacher or translator.

In the spring of my second year, I took a Business Spanish course that showed me a practical way to use Spanish. I was fascinated by examples of American companies’ marketing in Latin America and decided that I wanted to use my Spanish degree in a business context. But at this point, I had absolutely no business experience.

By taking summer classes and declaring my major early (I declared my Spanish major as a first-year when I came in with numerous credits), I was able to apply to the graduate program and upon acceptance, graduate early.

Graduating in three years has dramatically affected my career path, as I went from being a confused Spanish major to a more marketable graduate student in the same four years. 

Although I’m in a graduate program, all my friends and roommates are still here as fourth-years, which has been great. Still having all my friends from undergrad around while meeting new people in my graduate program was a lot of fun, and those two friend groups have now meshed into one. At times, it’s challenging having master’s-level coursework while all my roommates are living up the last few weeks, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

Some of my best experiences in class during undergrad include learning not to hate poetry through my Spanish contemporary poetry class, learning about cultural customs and marketing examples gone wrong in my Business Spanish class and field trips for geology.

Outside of class, hiking and going to Carter’s Mountain Orchard, ski team trips to Snowshoe and Sunday River, and volunteering at a local stable teaching 6- to 8-year-olds from unstable homes how to ride have been some of the highlights of my U.Va. experience.

Right now, I’m uncertain what’s next. Ideally, I will be working in Charlottesville at a marketing company called the Rimm-Kaufman Group as a paid research analyst. … At the end of May, I’ll be traveling to Latin America to finish up the last credits of the M.S. in Commerce program through company visits and classes in Panama City, Lima, Cusco, Santiago and Buenos Aires. Eventually I would like to live and work in Latin America.

• Kimberleigh Dyess, Fredericksburg, psychology and philosophy, College of Arts & Sciences

I’ve always seen my education as being little more than a steppingstone on the way to my actually doing something productive and making a difference with my life, so I see completing my degrees in less than three years primarily as an efficient use of my time – as it’s just that much sooner that I can begin my career – and also as a fiscally responsible decision.  

Though my time here has been shorter than most … I’ve found my time at U.Va. to be very fulfilling as a whole, and I consider the friends I’ve made to be some of my most valued assets.

Some of my best experiences have been in the student CIOs I’ve joined, and in particular I’ve found myself extremely influenced and impressed by the amazing LGBTQ community on Grounds (QuAA, QSU, the LGBT Resource Center, and now the Serpentine Society as a soon-to-be alumna), both socially and in terms of the activism and awareness they promote.  

I’ve worked hard academically as much as socially and in the community, and many of my favorite classes have been ones with legal focus … and particularly those that sought to combine psychological study with the law.

I have also been remarkably impressed by and, possibly more importantly, truly enjoyed nearly every psychology course I’ve taken here at U.Va., in large part due to what has been, in my experience, an excellent group of professors and graduate students leading the courses.

As far as what comes next, I decided when I was 8 years old that I wanted to be a lawyer. Of course, back then it was based on juvenile logic like, “I’m good at arguing,” but it’s been 12 years since, and now I’m currently in the process of deciding to which top-tier law school I will be accepting admission as a member of their class of 2016.  

I majored in psychology because I believe that improving the relationship between the social sciences and the law is extremely important. … I am intending to focus my legal career on either family and juvenile law …  or civil rights law with an emphasis on LGBTQ rights, due to my involvement in U.Va.’s own LGBTQ community.

• Nina Greene, London, English, College of Arts & Sciences

Graduating this year is quite bittersweet. … I have so many fond memories of U.Va., both inside and outside the classroom.

Today, I will attend my last class as an undergraduate, and it seems fitting that it is my favorite English literature class I have taken here. Professor Chakravorty’s class, “London Now,” has surprised me in more ways than one; I never expected to move to Charlottesville and gain a totally new perception of my home city, London. After growing up in London, it was so eye-opening to learn about the history of the city through the literature of immigration. 

Outside of the classroom, it is hard to pick a specific experience, as I feel everything I have gotten involved in here has helped shape me as a student and person, as well as make this school so much more unified in my eyes. In particular, I have loved the time I have spent as a member of the University Guide Service, learning about the history of the school in a fun and relaxed environment, and being given the opportunity to give tours of such a beautiful and highly revered historical site and to prospective students with the challenge of opening their eyes to the amazing qualities of U.Va. that can be found at no other school.

After graduation, I'm moving to West Palm Beach, Fla., to work for a fast-growing retail company, Island Company. I can’t wait for the worldwide travelling, the new and completely unknown experiences, and the people I will meet along the way.

These past three years have been the best of my life, and I have no one but the faculty and students that constitute U.Va. to thank for that.

• Jonathan Lim, Singapore, Political Philosophy, Policy and Law Program, College of Arts & Sciences

To get the most out of my student experience on Grounds, but also enjoy the process of living life in different worlds, I took an average of six classes on Grounds during the fall and spring semesters, and studied abroad over two summers: one in Russia on the U.Va. in Russia program, and the other on Semester at Sea.

To have completed my coursework in three years primarily means that I have more time and financial resources to spend the fourth year pursuing further education and further experiences as an international student. I enjoyed the fast and rigorous pace of my life here because I turned up the pressure a little bit, and because of that I feel that my experience here at the University has become quite rich.

I am part of the Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law Program, and I believe that it was the best academic program I could get into here at this University that allowed me both an interdisciplinary study of the intersections between ethics, policy studies and legal theory, and also the flexibility and breadth of academic knowledge that is the hallmark of an American liberal arts system. Coming from an international student’s perspective, I made the conscious choice of choosing to study in the United States and this liberal arts system was hence particularly important to me.

My best academic experiences are notably my PPL seminars, where I get the opportunity to pit my ideas and arguments against those of my equally, if not more, qualified classmates. I also thoroughly enjoyed the experience of learning Russian as a new language in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department, and got the opportunity to act in three Russian plays over the course of my time here.

Outside of class, I made it a priority to make sure that I get to interact and develop friendships with people who have led entirely different lives from mine. I enjoyed my time serving and leading in the Global Student Council, a CIO that aims to build a more global university community, as well as serving as a judge on the University Judiciary Committee.

My American experience would not have been complete without my close friends in the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. I may be leaving earlier than most students here, but I definitely have not left this place a solitary island. There are many friends I will remember and keep in contact with for a very long time.

I will be heading to the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, to pursue a master’s degree in criminology. I will then be heading back to my home country, Singapore, to work in the civil service.

• Kasey Blevins, Marion, speech pathology and audiology studies, Curry School of Education

I made the decision to complete my undergraduate degree at U.Va. in three years based on a suggestion from my program adviser, Filip Loncke.

During high school I attended the Southwest Virginia Governor’s School for Science, Math and Technology, although that required me to get up at 5 a.m. each day and arrive at my high school for the two-hour round trip-bus ride from Marion, Virginia. While this choice resulted in a much more demanding curriculum – and a longer school day – than a typical high school schedule might, I completed much of the college coursework that I would otherwise have taken during my first and second years at U.Va. That meant that I could apply for admission to my major early and begin taking classes in the field I was interested in – speech pathology and audiology.

A part of me was concerned about the potential consequences this decision could bring. One fear in particular was that I would not have the opportunity to study abroad – something that I had always dreamed of doing. Fortunately, the program offered a six-week summer research program in Belgium and the Netherlands, so I was able to realize that particular goal.

Coincidently, that has been the most rewarding experience I have had at U.Va. I had the privilege to work with some of the best researchers in the field, present a research project at several conferences, and learn the intricacies of designing and conducting a research study. Along the way, I also met some really great people.

I truly have enjoyed getting involved with other activities, such as volunteering for the English Speakers of Other Languages program through Madison House, participating in Deafness Education and Awareness for Students Club and greeting prospective students at Days On The Lawn.

During the past three years, I have grown to understand just what a great community Charlottesville is. The downside to graduating in less than four years is that I will soon be leaving U.Va. I have studied under wonderful mentors and professors and made many lifelong friends.

This fall I will attend Radford University’s Waldron College of Health Sciences to pursue my graduate degree in speech-language pathology. I have accepted a graduate teaching assistantship at RU, and I plan to use the knowledge and skills I have acquired at U.Va. as I teach the next generation of SLPs.

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