September 21, 2011 — The University of Virginia each year attracts thousands of applicants who began their college careers in high school.
This fall, more than two-thirds of first-year students arrived with an average of 15 Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credits. With the help of summer and January Term credits, many would be able to complete their bachelor's degrees in three years, and a few do.
Early in her tenure, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan proposed a more formal "3+1" program to allow students to complete bachelor's and master's degrees in four years. This fall, the University is offering more guidance and options for students who want to follow that path.
"This new emphasis builds on existing options," Sullivan said. "The University has been a leader in creating accelerated programs to help students take advantage of a strong liberal arts education and pursue their professional goals."
The accelerated option provides exceptionally well-prepared students the ability to reduce the time it would normally take to graduate with both degrees, said J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs.
"Every year we have hundreds of students who enter U.Va. with 15 or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credits," he said. "Depending on their field of study, these are the ones who could benefit from the 3+1 program."
The program's expansion responds to one of the objectives of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed earlier this year, which calls for 100,000 more degrees to be awarded over the next 15 years.
"Our proposal was met with enthusiasm from the governor and the General Assembly," Sullivan said.
However, the program isn't simply about churning out more U.Va. degrees, Adams said. "The 3+1 option isn't for everyone," he said. "We don't want students to feel that they're sacrificing their U.Va. experience."
Several existing one-year master's programs lend themselves to the 3+1 option. For example, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy offers an accelerated bachelor's/master's in public policy degree that allows students to begin their graduate studies in the final year of their undergraduate program and earn a master's in just one additional year. The McIntire School of Commerce has a one-year master's in commerce, and in the Curry School of Education, students can complete both a bachelor's degree and a master of teaching degree in five years.
Catherine Winslow and Arthur Pelham-Webb are among current students who are completing bachelor's and master's degrees in four years.
Winslow, 20, graduated from her Connecticut high school with enough Advanced Placement credits – 23 – to send her college career into overdrive. In May 2013, she will graduate with a history degree from the College of Arts & Sciences and a master's in secondary school teaching from Curry.
Her advice to students considering this option: Plan early. "I would even say if you know you have AP credit coming in, tell your adviser at the very first meeting so you can have that in mind and make decisions based on that hope," she said. For example, Winslow learned she'd need summer classes to achieve her goal.
Adams agreed that planning is important. "We encourage students to plan their course of study early and meet with an undergraduate adviser right away," he said.
Pelham-Webb of Reston had accumulated "a semester's worth" of credits before he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria. Between his first and second years, he earned 12 credits in the Summer Language Institute and realized that, if he earned six more between his second and third years, he could complete a double major in economics and religious studies in three years.
He was accepted into McIntire's master's program, and will graduate in May 2012 with both degrees.
He cautions fellow students that pursuing a master's degree is not a typical fourth-year experience. "A lot of my friends are 'in fourth-year mode' and I'm in 'getting a master's mode,'" he said. "Compared to my workload last year, this is definitely a step up."
Winslow and Pelham-Webb said they thought about finishing their bachelor's degrees and graduating, but they wanted to walk the Lawn with their friends at Finals. "I have a lot of really great friends in the Class of 2013 who are going through normal progression," Winslow said. "I want to finish with the friends I started with."
A new 3+1 website lists program descriptions, faculty contact information and other accelerated options in Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies and statistics. "We may see some additional degree programs step forward," Adams said. "Students should also feel free to inquire about options in their fields of study."