A reader writes:

I go to a small, expensive liberal arts college in the Midwest. It was really interesting seeing the series about recruiting from Ivy schools and noting the significant differences between East Coast Ivies and the school I go to, which is one of the top schools in the Midwest.

When I started attending this school, my parents had saved up enough money in a 529 to last me four years, approximately. Due to the market crash, those four years became three years, which itself was only possible by combining the 529 with federal loans. As a current senior, I was faced with a decision my parents never expected me to face. If I did my senior year with a full schedule, I would basically be more than tripling my loans. If I took only one semester and graduated a semester early, I would double my loans. So instead, I decided to finish up by taking only the couple classes I needed, which at the part-time tuition rate, I only added a little bit to my loans.

Graduating in just over three years was not something I planned on back in high school. Yet it's only possible because of the AP classes I took (I took ten of them) plus a couple transfer credits from a J-term class (when you take only one class during the entire month of January). I'm sure there are some students in high school who stock up on AP credits in order to graduate early, though I believe that's becoming more likely as the cost of tuition continues to increase at around 7% (depending on the school) while jobs and income are deflated. In my view, the recession is the catalyst for a growing number of students, including myself, to graduate early to save money.

I don't have the specific numbers, so I can only speak about the people I've talked to. My closest friend from high school is graduating early. One housemate is graduating early. I know personally at least five more graduating early. According to the administration at my school, typically around 20 students graduate early, but this year they are expecting around 30. A 50% increase during a recession says something to me.

For the school, this creates problems. At the full rate, those 30 students are going to cost the school over half a million dollars in potential revenue (not counting any financial aid they may be receiving). A school faces three options: let the students go (current option), reduce tuition in order to keep more students around (possible, though I believe unlikely), or it can change the graduation requirements so that fewer students are able to graduate early. I don't know what I would have done if the last option were made reality.

Back to my story: I'm currently unemployed. Being a part-time student, and only in the last week securing a part-time job, qualifies me as unemployed. The part of the healthcare law that allows children to stay on their parents' health care plan doesn't go in effect until January 1, according to my parent's insurance company. Therefore, I don't have health insurance. Just as I thought was saving money by taking fewer classes, I'm now on my own for insurance.

One other thought I've had: although I don't qualify for unemployment benefits - as far as I can tell, graduating college to become unemployed doesn't qualify one for unemployment benefits - I've come to think of unemployment benefits as a salary for those doing the job of job searching. I work as hard to find a job as I did in college, though emotionally the job search is much more draining.

As I prepare to graduate in December, I'm somewhat hopeful. After all, I have a five-month head start on the job search over my peers.

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