There’s no denying that college can open up a whole new vista in terms of careers and earning potential. The only problem? Not everyone has the time to devote weeks and weeks to a standard semester on campus. If this describes you, then don’t worry—you’re not alone. As someone who tried to balance both work and school during my time in college, I know what it takes to get a degree on even the tightest of schedules. With this in mind, let’s spend a few minutes talking about accelerated degree programs and how these “fast track” options can help you reach your professional dreams and goals in a hurry.
[Accelerate your degree using free online courses. Learn more.]
What Is an Accelerated Degree Program?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, I’ve broken down the primary types of accelerated degree programs and offerings into four different categories. Each option that we discuss here offers a unique take on getting you in and out of school in a quick and expedient manner.
Programs listed by the university as “Accelerated Programs”
First on the list are degree programs that are overtly advertised or labeled as “accelerated programs” by a university. These selections stand as the “meat and potatoes” of this form of higher learning. Generally, the offering institution will list these programs with clearly defined wording such as Fast Track Bachelors, One Year MBA Program, Accelerated Bachelors, and so on. These types of labels help get the point across that the degree program in question will cover the same information as a standard program, just at a considerably faster pace.
In some cases, instead of having an advertised or labeled series of rapid education programs, colleges and universities will offer accelerated classes that typically last for about eight weeks each. The big difference here is that these courses aren’t bundled into an “official” program, so you’ll need to mix and match these offerings to fit your degree requirement.
It might sound like a little extra work lining these disparate classes up, but I learned during my time on campus that if you take advantage of the flexibility held within this type of situation, you can actually earn more credits during each school year and finish at the same rate as an official accelerated program.
Here’s an example from my years as an undergraduate business major. I attended Columbia College in Missouri and opted for 8-week online classes. Every 8-weeks, I would take a minimum of two classes. However, after maintaining an acceptable GPA, I petitioned the Dean to take on an “academic overload” and started taking three classes per 8-weeks. This type of acceleration can speed up your time to completion considerably, though you will have to devote a significant amount of time to your studies in order to maintain an acceptable GPA.
Life Experience or Work Portfolio Equivalents
Depending on your desired degree, you might be able to use some of your own personal or professional history to shave off an entire semester of your studies. Known as a life experience portfolio, this type of program requires a submission that covers any relevant experiences or events that pertain to a certain course. If the presiding instructor agrees with your claim after a thorough review of your portfolio, then you’ve just been awarded college credit without ever having to step foot in a classroom.
In my case, I was able to earn 18 credit hours through this method due to my extensive background in computing. It took me about a week to assemble all of the necessary documents and write the portfolio, but considering I was able to eliminate an entire semester of time in the classroom, it was worth the effort!
CLEP and Other Testing Programs
The final addition to this list comes in the form of testing out of select courses. By using the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), as well as other testing programs recognized at your university, you can usually test out of five or more classes related to your degree, thus saving a substantial amount of time.
In my case, my university placed an 18-credit hour cap on credit earned via examination. By taking the American Literature CLEP (6 credit hours), the Natural Sciences CLEP (6 credit hours), and the Public Speaking DSST (3 credit hours), I was able to earn 15 credit hours by testing out of classes. Again, this eliminated an entire semester of time required in a classroom setting. Considering the exams were only 90 minutes each, it was time well spent.
Finding Accelerated Degree Programs
Now that we’ve delved into how a prospective student can leverage the power of accelerated degree programs and other similar tools, it’s time to talk about the best ways to find these offerings. Generally, you’ll find these programs under the “programs offered” or “alternative learning” sections of your college’s website. Reaching out via the school’s online guidance team can also help you out on this front.
I also set aside some time to speak in person with an academic counselor at my school. This way, I was able to confirm that my plan for expediting the learning process would work as intended, as well as find any other opportunities that I might have missed during the planning stages.
Choosing the Right School
Aside from finding the program that fits your needs, you also need to put yourself in a position that promotes success and growth in the classroom. This means not just picking a degree program, but choosing the right school as well. For me, this meant finding the right student-to-faculty ratio so that I could connect with my professor and not feel lost in a sea of students.
However, not everyone has the same concerns on this front. Focusing on accreditation, student services, college rankings, and a variety of other variables matter as well. The big key here is that you hone in on the attributes that matter most to you, then find the school and accelerated learning program that fits these needs.
From figuring out what makes the ideal school to picking the right type of program and approach, there are a myriad of choices that go into the accelerated learning process. Thankfully, with this information in hand, there’s no reason why you can’t move forward and achieve your educational goals in record time.
As owner of the higher education site Accelerated-Degree.com, Joy Miller researches and reviews colleges offering accelerated classes and degrees, connecting students with programs that match their educational goals and career interests.