Ways to Accelerate your Online Degree

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Earning a degree has obvious long-term benefits for your career and future goals, but adults often find that the different aspects of college create challenges for them in pursuing their degrees. One of the top challenges that working adults face when going back to school is finding the time to attend classes – especially when you are looking at a two to four-year commitment before graduating! If you are determined, an accelerated degree program is possible.

Luckily, many accredited universities throughout the country are making it easier than ever for adults to work around their busy schedules by offering online classes. These innovative classes allow students to log-on to their courses at a time that is convenient for them – whether it’s after the kids go to bed or on a day off from their full-time job.

But what about the long timeframe involved with earning a degree? Is there any way to accelerate your path to graduation so you can start working on your long-term career goals sooner?

The answer to that is – yes! Although it can take significant commitment in the short-term to move through your degree program at a faster rate, there are several options available that may give you the opportunity to complete your online degree faster than traditional on-campus students.

In the sections below, we will go over the different pros and cons of accelerating your degree program, as well as the various options that you can consider when wanting to get on the fast-track to graduation.

Pros and Cons of an online Accelerated Degree Program

At first glance, accelerating your online degree seems like a great idea – and for many students it is! However, there are many factors to consider before taking the plunge into a fast-tracked course schedule. If you are considering an accelerated degree, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What benefits would I get from graduating sooner?
  • Can I handle the responsibility of additional coursework?
  • Do I have any relevant life experience or previous credits?
  • What programs does my school offer to make this a smooth transition?

On one hand, earning your degree faster can help get you back into the workforce with the skills you need to pursue higher-level employment without waiting years to have your degree in hand. This is ideal for students who have clear long-term goals in mind when it comes to their careers.

On the other hand, accelerating your program often means going to school year-round or taking additional classes each term – which can be challenging with an already busy schedule. Additionally, earning credits by examination to test out of classes does have out of pocket fees attached, which is an important aspect to keep in mind.

When it comes down to it, choosing to accelerate your degree program is a personal decision. With the help of your academic advisor and admissions team, you can explore the various options available and choose a path that best complements your budget, schedule, and goals.

Getting on the Fast Track to Graduation

Once you’ve decided that an accelerated degree program is the ideal route for you, the next step is examining the different options available to make it happen. Not all of the options we discuss below will apply to every student, and colleges all have their own unique policies on transfer credits, course acceleration, and testing out of general classes. It is important to check with your college about their specific regulations before getting started in an accelerated online degree program.

Get a Jump Start on College

If you are still in high school and looking at the options you have to earn a degree quickly after graduation, there are several ways you can get a jump start on your college education. Obviously, this option is not relevant to adults who have already graduated, but the earlier you can start working towards your future goals the better!

You can earn college credits in high school in a couple of different ways. Taking AP classes are a popular choice for upper-level high school students, and some schools allow you to take college credits at your school during your typical school day. If you go this route, it is wise to check into the transfer policy of the credits you are earning to ensure that they will be able to be used towards your future degree!

Another popular option is dual-enrollment – which an increasingly high number of high schools across the country offer. In this situation, the high school student is able to split their time between their regular classes at the high school and taking college credits at a local community college. This is an ideal choice for the mature student, as it can also allow them to save a large amount of money on future tuition.

Taking Accelerated Courses

Many colleges offer accelerated online classes for adult students who have the drive and ambition necessary to complete their coursework in a shorter timeframe and earn fast degrees. Instead of following the typical 16-week schedule, these classes are generally offered in a six to 10-week format. However, you will still be required to complete the same amount of work in the shorter timeframe – so be prepared to dedicate time to studying for these classes!

Another option for accelerated classes is to look into the summer courses offered by your school. Some schools offer two different summer semesters, giving students the chance to get several required classes completed without cutting into their regular school-year schedule.

Finally, ambitious students may also consider taking on a larger course load each semester. While this can be a challenge for those juggling other obligations, it is still a valuable option to consider when you want to accelerate your degree.

Earn Credits by Examination

If you have prior knowledge of the course material taught in your degree program, you may be able to test out of some of your required classes! This option is offered in many different accredited schools, although they all have different policies for the number of credits by examination a student is allowed to apply towards their online degree.

A few of the popular tests used to earn credit for prior knowledge include the following:

  • CLEP Examinations: Accepted by over 2,900 schools across the country, the CLEP exam offers 33 different tests for students to attempt to earn college credit. This is the most widely accepted test, but it does have an $80 fee – which is non-refundable if you fail to pass the test.
  • DSST Program: Although not as widely accepted, there are over 1,900 colleges and universities that accept credits by examination through the DSST. There are over 30 different exams available, and military members are offered free, first-attempt examinations.
  • Excelsior College Examinations: Hundreds of different schools across the country accept this exam, and there are over 50 different tests available. Each test costs $110, and value packages are available that offer a free retake.

Although there are fees associated with all of the examinations listed above, passing these tests will still save you a substantial amount in tuition and textbook costs! Just be sure that you check with your college beforehand to find out which exams are accepted.

Get Credit for Life Experience

For adult students that have a prior career, military, or life experience that directly relates to their online degree, earning credit through a Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a great opportunity to accelerate your degree program! This portfolio-based assessment gives you the chance to showcase your knowledge through various means, including:

  • Relevant honors and awards
  • Professional employment projects
  • Certifications and licenses
  • History of volunteer work
  • Experiential learning essays
  • Resume

Like credits by examination, every school has its own policy for the number of credits that they will allow to be applied through a PLA. Check with your academic advisor to get a full understanding of your school’s requirements.

Consider Competency-Based Learning Platforms

One of the benefits of online schooling is that there are a number of different platforms used that can complement the different learning styles of students. Some students take blended degree programs that include on-campus lectures, while others do all of their coursework through 100% online interaction. One option that is becoming increasingly popular with online degrees is competency-based learning platforms.

With competency-based learning, the student has full flexibility to complete their courses on their own timeframe. This type of platform is designed around mastery of a subject – so the student is able to test out of modules that they understand and spend more time working on those that are challenging. There are also no deadlines for coursework – making it a truly self-paced learning environment.

Due to the nature of competency-based learning, students that are extremely driven and independent learners typically do the best in this type of program. While it can save a great deal of time and money while earning your online degree, this style of education requires the students to be highly motivated.

Online classes are skyrocketing in popularity, and adult students across the country are taking advantage of the flexibility offered through the various types of online degree programs available. By thinking outside the box and putting in some extra effort, it is very possible to finish your online degree in a faster timeframe than traditional degree programs. This allows you to not only save on tuition costs – it can also get you on the fast-track to reaching your long-term goals!

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.