On the Fast Track

Russell Sage College valedictorian Brianna Reed ’14 and salutatorian Alexandra Scoville ’14 both completed their undergraduate degrees in three years. Now law students — Reed at Syracuse University College of Law and Scoville at Albany Law School — they are typical of the ambitious, talented students who are increasingly drawn to the opportunities a Sage education affords.

This includes an increasing number of programs that can lead to two degrees in less time, and for less money, than pursuing the degrees separately.

The options available for Sage students span subject areas – from liberal arts to law, business, health sciences and STEM subjects – and include pathways within The Sage Colleges as well as partnerships with Albany and Suffolk law schools, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Albany Medical College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Salutatorian Alexandra Scoville RSC '14

2014 salutatorian Alexandra Scoville earned a bachelor’s degree in three years and is now a law student.

“Time is precious,” said Scoville, an Environmental Studies major who had her sights on law school as a first-year student at Sage and enrolled in the 3+3 program with Albany Law School. The program, and a similar one with Suffolk Law School in Boston, allows qualified students to complete their first year of law school after their junior year at Sage, ultimately earning a bachelor’s and law degree in six years instead of seven.

Even with only three years of college behind her, Scoville said she was as prepared as the rest of her law school classmates. “1L year is difficult, and my experience at RSC gave me the tools I needed to participate in class and take on the work load. Among fellow law students with multiple degrees and years of work experience, I felt prepared because my three years at RSC were academically and intellectually challenging,” she said, citing writing-intensive courses and Russell Sage’s honors program. “Legal problem solving is ultimately about advocating for one answer where other answers exist. The format of the honors courses — smaller class size, team-teaching, discussion-based — and the combination of subject areas, like the course Literature of Mathematics, prepared me for that type of problem solving.”

Now a second-year law student, Scoville said the 3+3 program has helped her stand out for leadership opportunities, including an internship at the New York State Liquor Authority Office of Counsel where she drafted respondent appellate briefs and argued a brief at the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department. “The 3+3 program is often the first talking point brought up by an interviewer,” she said. “Many people don’t know how the program works, so in describing the logistics, there is an opportunity to explain the personal attributes required to complete it. A question that comes up frequently is ‘Why law school?’ Participating in the 3+3 program demonstrates that law school was a carefully selected choice.”

Focused Students

A traditional four-year degree and subsequent graduate study is still the preferred path for most students. But accelerated programs offer an alternative that is very appealing to students like Scoville and Allison Belknap SCA ’14, who had high GPAs and career goals in mind before they enrolled in college.

Belknap first learned about cytotechnology — the study of cells to detect abnormalities — as a high school student, when she accompanied her father to his chemotherapy appointments. “I’m happy to say that my dad is now in remission,” she said of the experience that inspired her to pursue a career focused on cancer research and treatment.

She came to Sage College of Albany for its science programs, small classes and supportive faculty — and during her first year, met regularly with professors from Sage and Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to plan her program of study for an accelerated bachelor’s in clinical biology and master’s in cytotechnology and molecular cytology.

She spent three years taking classes at SCA and a fourth year at ACPHS. After graduating from Sage in May, she began two semesters of clinical rotations at Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, and expects to receive her master’s degree from ACPHS in December, less than five years since she entered college. “Not only am I the first person in my immediate family to graduate with a college degree, but soon a master’s as well,” she said. She feels ready for the certification exam she will take after graduation and Baystate has encouraged her to apply for a permanent position. “I can’t wait to do this for the rest of my life.”

Professor of Biology Mary Rea, Ph.D., is founding coordinator of Sage’s program with ACPHS and of the accelerated Physician Assistant program that Russell Sage offers in conjunction with Albany Medical College. “Intense,” she said of the curriculums, and “Focused,” of the students in these competitive programs. For example, students accepted in the accelerated PA program — which allows them to begin PA studies in the spring of their senior year in college — must successfully interview at both Sage and Albany Medical College as high school students.

Accelerated programs demand a lot from students and Sage responds by providing accelerated degrees with integrity. “I love it when a colleague at Albany Medical College or Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences remarks on how well-prepared Sage students are,” said Rea. “It’s a contract. Students do their job, we do ours. We are a small school and we do a very good job.”

Degrees with Integrity

Discovery Degree Students at a Dredging Site at Fort Edward

Discovery Degree students visit a PCB dredging site at Fort Edward, New York.

An accelerated degree with integrity is the guiding principle behind the Discovery Degree, which allows Russell Sage College students to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years (and, with an extra year or two, a graduate degree, if the student pursues a major that links with Sage’s graduate programs in education, health sciences or management).

While critics express concerns that accelerated programs compel students to spread themselves thin as they pack credits into fall and spring semesters, the Discovery Degree utilizes two summers. The centerpiece is Sage Summer on the Hudson, a 15-credit out-of-the-classroom course that takes students from Troy to New York City, using the Hudson River as a lens to study history, the arts, and social, political, economic and environmental issues. “This is a completely different learning experience; this integrated all-in-one class delivers the requirements in a way you couldn’t get in a traditional class,” said Toby Michelena, Ph.D., who coordinates the Discovery Degree and teaches Biology at Russell Sage. The second summer is tailored to each individual student’s interest and major, and may include credit bearing internships, study abroad or traditional classes.

Michelena works with Sage’s admissions office to promote the Discovery Degree and said that parents are often the first to express interest in the associated tuition savings, but they want to be assured that “a degree in three” is realistic. The Discovery Degree began accepting students in 2010, and the first students graduated in 2013. Since then, 13 students have graduated within three years including Education major Jessica Caputo RSC ’13, Health Sciences major Amber Fetzer RSC ’14 and Biology/Pre-Med major Elizabeth Kissam RSC ’14. They all said they were not specifically looking for accelerated programs during their college searches, but enrolled in the Discovery Degree when they learned they could save money and time on their roads to graduate school.

Caputo has started a master’s in Special Education and works with children in Seattle. “The Discovery Degree showed me that there are many ways to learn,” she said, and will help her as a teacher. “I know that it is just as important to learn outside of the classroom as it is to learn inside of the classroom.”  Fetzer works in Sage’s admissions office and will start the Applied Nutrition program at Sage’s School of Health Sciences next fall and Kissam said the Discovery Degree helped her prepare for the verbal reasoning portion of the MCAT and get hired in the emergency room at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, N.Y. “Most employers have been impressed with my ability to complete my undergrad in three years and it makes me stand out.” She is now taking EMT classes and applying to medical school.

New! 4+1 Bachelor’s from Sage College of Albany Linked with MBA from School of Management

“A bachelor’s in Accounting and an MBA in Finance is the most powerful combination a practicing financial professional can have,” said Gerald Silberstein, Ph.D., CPA, assistant professor of accounting. Silberstein worked with Kimberly Fredericks, Ph.D., MPH, RD, associate dean of the School of Management, to develop the new 4+1 bachelor’s in Accounting from Sage College of Albany/MBA in Finance from Sage’s School of Management: That is two formidable degrees in five years instead of the six it would otherwise take and the curriculum provides the extra credits required to apply to take the CPA exam.

Engineering Opportunity

“In high school I was a good student and was told I could do anything I wanted. The problem was that I had no idea what that was. I liked math but couldn’t see what career path that would lead me to. I just thought engineers were people who built bridges,” said Barbara Dorfschmidt RSC ’89 who started Russell Sage as a Physical Therapy major. “Looking back I do wish my high school had done a better job at promoting women in science and math fields.”

Once at Russell Sage, her chemistry professor and proximity to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute helped her see opportunities in math and engineering beyond bridge building. She loved Russell Sage, but reluctantly considered transferring. “I don’t remember how I found the 3+2 program, but when I did, I knew that was the right path for me. I could stay at Sage a little longer and it would allow me to earn two degrees,” said Dorfschmidt who switched her major in order to participate in the Mathematics/Engineering program offered jointly by Russell Sage and RPI, which was new at the time. The program allows qualified students to complete a B.A. in Mathematics at Sage in about three years and a B.S. in engineering at RPI in the remaining two years.

Dorfschmidt has gone on to have a successful and satisfying career as an environmental, health and safety engineer with private companies including Texas Instruments, and at New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services, where she administers the state’s air permitting program and verifies that companies’ emissions meet federal and state regulations. “I’ve been with the state now for 13 years and really love the job,” she said.

Dorfschmidt was one of the first students to participate in the joint program with RPI; Lauren Brady-Haskell is the latest and recently received Rensselaer’s Award for Excellence, for “exemplary achievement in the study of mathematics and science.” She completed her requirements for a bachelor’s in mathematics from Russell Sage in 2014 and anticipates receiving her B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2016.

“When I first started looking at Russell Sage I was planning to major in Chemistry, however, my experiences as a high school student on a FIRST Robotics team made me begin thinking about mathematics and engineering. When I saw that this program was available, I knew it was an option I had to explore,” said Brady-Haskell. “The best part for me is having the opportunity to study two subjects that I love at two institutions that I love! I am lucky to gain a diverse view of the world through my experiences at a small women’s college as well as a larger polytechnic institute.”

Program Support

The big takeaway of these accelerated programs, say most students and professors, is the tuition savings; on top of the savings, students enter the workforce earlier and with higher qualifications than they otherwise would have, which often means higher earnings. There are more subtle advantages, too.

“You’re on the radar,” said Professor of Legal Studies Pamela Katz, J.D. She was speaking specifically about Albany Law School, which begins inviting its 3+3 students to campus events while they are still at Sage. Being “on the radar” was also important to Allison Belknap’s success in Clinical Biology at Sage College of Albany and Cytotechnology at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “One thing that helped me out was a mandatory meeting with ACPHS. Once a year we would walk over to ACPHS with our advisor or a science professor and meet with the teachers at ACPHS. We would sit through a lecture and get an overview of what we were going to learn when we switched over.”

Once enrolled at Sage, students must maintain a certain GPA and achieve certain scores on required exams, like the LSAT or GRE, but they generally are not required to write personal statements or provide references like traditional applicants — or endure the grueling wait for an acceptance letter. There is a certain amount of security in knowing, “you’re in,” said Katz.

Students and alumni almost always mention supportive faculty when they talk about what attracted them to Sage. In the context of shorter time frames and coordination among two schools that may have slightly different academic calendars, this support is even more important. “I needed to do my senior independent research in Biology in one semester. Professor Matthews and Professor Jenks worked with me one-on-one to complete an experiment that would have taken a full year,” said law student Alexandra Scoville. “My lab instructor for one of my classes at Sage ended up being my advisor and teacher over at ACPHS. It really helped me out because I had someone that I could go to with any issues who understood the program,” said Belknap.

While it is possible — and some students choose — to independently complete a degree on an accelerated schedule, the variety of linked and accelerated options at Sage means there is something for almost everyone who desires the benefits of a formal program.

For More Information

Information about linked and accelerated programs at the Esteves School of Education, including a 4+1 bachelor’s in Physical Education/master’s in School Health Education

Information about linked and accelerated programs at the School of Health Sciences, including a 3+2 M.S. in Occupational Therapy, and a 3+3 doctorate in Physical Therapy.

Information about linked and accelerated programs at the School of Management

Information about linked and accelerated programs at Russell Sage College

Information about linked and accelerated programs at Sage College of Albany