When searching for the best online degree program or school, one thing most students notice is that many online college schedules differ slightly from the traditional academic year at an offline institution. This is actually a pretty big benefit to today’s online students, since it allows them to complete their degree program more quickly by using an accelerated format. The biggest question most prospective students have as they pursue an online degree is pretty simple: How different is this schedule, and what does it mean for degree completion time and graduation dates? There are a few basic ways to answer this question that will likely clarify exactly how most online schools’ schedules typically work.

The Trimester Format: Say Goodbye to Summer Break

Most of the best online schools have done away with the two-semester format associated with on-campus programs, opting instead for a trimester format that fits three semesters into every year. This is different from brick-and-mortar schools, which fill their summer months with two summer sessions. These condensed classes often run for only a month, and they can be hard for even the best students to complete with a good grade. Online schools handle this a bit differently. All three semesters, or trimester, are divided equally. Most schools feature a 15-week format, with a one-week break between each seven-week accelerated session. These sessions are detailed below.

Accelerated Courses and the Half-Semester Schedule

Another common feature of online schools is the accelerated, seven-week course format. Depending on the school, this accelerated period may last just five weeks, while other schools may extend it to eight weeks. In either case, students should keep in mind that a full semester’s worth of material is being condensed into just half the time that most on-campus programs would allow. This means that students will get more done in less time, and allows them to take up to 18 credits per semester with an equal workload from start to finish. It also means that even the worst classes only last about two months, instead of four, which might work for those students who are dreading certain degree requirements.

Take Only the Courses, or Semesters, That Fit Into an Existing Routine

While online schools are focused on making it easier to accelerate a degree and earn it in less time than an on-campus program would require, that’s certainly not something that every student prefers to do. Online schools are inherently flexible, and that means students can choose the number of credits, or semesters, that work best for their overall academic ability and available amount of study time. Work at a fast, but manageable pace, and most online schools’ schedules will seem quite generous and even preferable to the alternatives offered by traditional, on-campus degree programs.

Resource: Computers or Campuses? (Infographic)

Remember, Schedules and Academic Calendars Vary By Institution

One thing to keep in mind is that there is no “universal” way to pursue a degree online. Every school operates on a slightly different schedule, so it’s important to investigate how each school handles its online, accelerated, and trimester offerings before enrolling and beginning the program. With so many online options available to today’s students, it actually is quite easy to find the right blend of academics, degree programs, and suitable online college schedules to work with virtually any student’s unique needs.

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