8 Ways to Graduate on Time (and with Less Debt)

By 
Sandra Musella and Kevin Figueiredo
January 31, 2020

Make a plan for each semester, only borrow what you need, and don't be afraid to ask for help. 

Image by Dave Green

Navigating the world of college can be overwhelming—especially when you're trying to graduate on time and pay for it all. But there are ways to put together a plan that works for you academically and financially. Here are a few tips from Berklee's Center for Student Advising and Success and Office of Student Financial Services to help you graduate on time, with your finances in good shape. 

1. Create a Semester-by-Semester Financial Plan

There’s no getting around it: college is expensive. It can be overwhelming to think about paying for your entire degree at once. Try breaking up your financial plan into semester-sized chunks. Map out your funding for your entire academic journey, and always have a backup plan.

2. Explore Outside Scholarships

While you’re making that plan for each semester, you can search for and apply for literally thousands of third-party scholarships. Some search engines allow you to narrow the options to scholarships specific to you and your situation. It takes some work, but since you don’t have to pay these funds back, the research and application process is totally worth it.

3. Only Borrow What You Need

Every dollar you borrow will eventually need to be paid back, with interest. So, each semester (sticking to the plan you made above), only borrow what you need for tuition, fees, instrument maintenance, housing, and other expenses. Use a loan repayment calculator so you know what you’ll be able to pay back when the bills come due.

4. Work It

You can get an on-campus job with Federal Work-Study or through Berklee’s Student Employment program. It’s a great way to make money, gain practical real-world experience, and get to know the Berklee community at the same time. You can also check out the Berklee Career Manager for paid gigs and other opportunities. Getting yourself out there and meeting other musicians will build your network and lead to more jobs in the future.

5. Get to Know Your Support Team

You’ll meet your assigned academic advisor early in your first semester. They will be your guide to academic resources, such as planning your major and choosing classes. You’ll also meet your Student Academic Mentor (SAM). They can help you navigate your first semester on campus: your SAM is basically an older, wiser version of you. You can also follow the Berklee Center for Student Advising and Success (CSAS) on Facebook for events, tips, and reminders. 

6. Explore Your Major and Career Possibilities

A great way to explore your major, or decide on one, is to attend the Majors and Minors Fair. Have you already declared your major? Visit the Career Center to explore potential career paths and join one or more Career Communities in your areas of interest. You can also attend the Internship Expo, held each fall, to learn about potential internships with employers who hire Berklee students and grads. 

7. Make an Academic Plan

You can use your major grid and degree audit to create your personalized academic plan. The major grid lists what classes you need to take every semester, and the degree audit will help you track your individual progress. Once you’ve got the basics down, you may be able to include off-campus options to complete requirements, such as transfer credit for liberal arts courses and/or Berklee Online. Your academic advisor can help you with this process. 

8. Declare Your Major on Time

Declaring your major in your second semester at Berklee allows you to start your major classes on time, during your third semester. Starting on time means you may finish in eight semesters, which matches your financial plan (see tip no. 1). If you need advice on choosing a major, consult your academic advisor or drop in and see us at the Academic Advising center. 

Bonus Tip: Don’t Go It Alone

Remember, don’t stress. You've got this! And if you need help, our staff is here to support you. Don’t be afraid to ask: everyone needs guidance along the way. Together, we’ll get you across that stage at commencement!


Sandra Musella is director of academic advising in Berklee's Center for Student Advising and Success, and Kevin Figueiredo is director of student aid services in the Office of Student Financial Services.

You can find additional resources for academic and financial support on the Resources for Student Success page and the Student Financial Services website. 

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