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Early graduates face life hurdles

The end of any typical fall semester at Concordia is filled with many things, from the Christmas Concerts to the stress of final examinations. December can feel like a race to the finish, as students scramble to put final touches on papers and cram in last-minute study sessions.

However, for Rachel Brady, this year things were different.

Sure, she had projects and exams to complete. But unlike her friends who were busy making plans for break and the coming semester, this December’s finals week was more stressful than others, as Brady found herself trying to savor the present as she took in her last days as a student on campus.

“I remember feeling isolated,” Brady said. “Being a December graduate was a lonely endeavor. I remember the last day of finals being really sad.”

While at the time she may have felt incredibly alone, Brady’s story is not unique. She is one of many students who choose to end their time at Concordia early. According to Interim Registrar Ericka Haug, eight percent of Concordia’s students graduate in less than four years. From financial reasons to an enticing graduate program, the motivations behind each student’s decision to graduate early are unique.

Graduating early was not originally in Brady’s plan, she said. Instead the decision presented itself at the end of her sophomore year.

“When I was registering for classes I realized that I didn’t have any more classes to take,” Brady said. “I could have graduated a whole year early, but I decided instead to spread my credits [around] more and explore other areas. I really wanted that senior year experience so I added [an] extra semester.”

As a sociology and theatre double major, Brady’s coursework could have taken her four years to complete. However, thanks to collegiate level credits gained while in high school, Brady got a significant head start on her collegiate academic career.

“I was an IB [International Baccalaureate] Diploma student,” Brady said. “Meaning I got about a year’s worth of credit from IB. The process was pretty seamless to get the credit recognized.”

Advanced credit from high schools is one of the driving forces that makes early graduation a possibility, Haug said.

“IB, Advanced Placement and Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) credit is very common,” Haug said. “I’ve seen students take as many as seven AP exams.”

Often it’s the students who are looking towards options past their undergraduate careers who make the most of AP and IB opportunities.

“They’re driven, bringing in extra credits to get in and get out so they move onto the next level, which is often graduate school,” Haug said.

In Brady’s case, her motivation was much more financially grounded. While there were other avenues left available for her to pursue, Brady found that she simply didn’t have the financial resources to explore. Graduating early was worth it to save money, she said.

“It was very much a financial decision,” Brady said. “I thought of adding a minor, but I felt like my two majors were my passions and that I had spent enough time exploring them.”

Faced with the current economic situation, a lack of financial resources is often the driving factor of early commencement. Anna Rohlfing, an art history and religion double major, found that by graduating an entire year early she was able to finance other experiences, things that would have been out of her reach if she had stayed all four years.

“By graduating early, I was able to go to Greece last summer,” Rohlfing said. “I really wanted to go abroad when I was in college and since I wasn’t able to afford an entire semester abroad, I started looking for alternatives.”

Like Brady, Rohlfing brought in college level coursework before she stepped onto Concordia’s campus. Thanks to AP credit, Rohlfing was technically a sophomore when she began her first year at Concordia. While she had to overload a couple of semesters, the savings from leaving a full year early were well worth the work, she said.

However, both Rohlfing and Brady found that despite the financial benefits of early commencement, the choice can still be a daunting one.

“Graduating early is a very scary decision,” Brady said. “Concordia is such a family and the hardest part was to leave the community.”

Rohlfing also cites Concordia’s strong sense of community as a deal breaker when it comes to early graduation.

“The social aspects of college are a huge blessing,” Rohlfing said. “You really have to weigh it and see if the financial benefits outweigh the social and academic benefits.”

External factors also make it easier to want to stay in the “Concordia bubble.”

“Why make the inevitable come faster?” Brady said. “The economy sucks, and looking for a job is really hard.”

During her last semester at Concordia, Brady found herself devoting increasing amounts of time to exploring job opportunities. From networking extensively in both the Fargo-Moorhead and Twin Cities areas, Brady was able to locate employment before graduation.

“I lucked out,” Brady said. “I found a full-time, salaried position with benefits that matched my passions. It was really fortuitous [since] the job started on January 1.”

Working as a development associate for Books for Africa, Brady is able to combine her interests in social justice and improving the lives of those living in one of Africa’s developing countries.

Books for Africa is a nonprofit organization that collects, sorts and ships books to war-torn areas, helping to share libraries and knowledge, Brady said.

Typical in most large non-governmental organizations, Brady finds herself working at an intimate office, supporting the organization by coordinating sponsors and projects to help their initiatives.

“It’s a really busy job,” Brady said. “I’m constantly meeting people from all over the country and the world.”

Moving on from Concordia can also present unique hurdles. Following graduation, Rohlfing headed home to Colorado Springs and has found post-college life both exciting and challenging. Balancing two part-time jobs as an elementary school paraprofessional and an administrative assistant in her father’s office has provided Rohlfing with new freedoms and experiences. But it can be frustrating, she said.

“I really miss the academic stimulation,” Rohlfing said. “My job now doesn’t require me to think about things the same way that I had to in college. I’ve even found myself missing writing papers.”

Looking back, Rohlfing doesn’t regret her choice of leaving Concordia early. Since graduation last May, she has found time to explore possible career choices, helping her to decide to apply to seminary.

“I think it was right for me and I made the right choice,” Rohlfing said. “But it hasn’t been without its difficulties.”

Brady has enjoyed her new freedoms and is excited by the challenges of her job. But she is looking forward to returning to campus in May for graduation, she said. As a December graduate there was no winter ceremony as in years past for her to participate in. Despite the closure the ceremony could have offered, Brady was glad that she has the option of coming back to campus in May.

“Spring graduation lets me have the connection of this important event with all of my friends,” she said. “Although I graduated in 2011 I’ve always been a 2012 graduate. My ring says ‘12.”

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