The value of a college degree remains strong, but the investment of four years of one’s life often has prospective college students wondering, “What is the fastest way to get a bachelor’s degree online?” The answer isn’t the same for every student, and it’s essential to examine all possible avenues for quick degree completion, whether those options take a student into a brick & mortar institution or to online classes.
Finishing a college degree program usually takes four years, but because there are now a number of options available as alternatives to a traditional four years at a brick and mortar school, many students ask, “What is the fastest way to get a bachelor’s degree online?” These students want to spend less time taking classes and get their degrees faster than their peers. While there is no one right answer to this question, there are a few ways you can get a degree fast in an online school.
Related resource: Top 10 Online Colleges for a Bachelor’s Degree
Test Out of Required Classes
Before you enroll in an online program, ask if the school offers the chance for students to test out of some required classes. Many schools have required classes that you must take like English, math, and foreign language classes. These schools often offer tests that you can take, which determine whether you must take lower-level courses or if you can jump ahead to more advanced classes. If you score high enough on those exams, you can test out, which means you have proficiency in those subjects and do not need to take any classes. This cuts down on the time you’ll spend in college.
One unique option for highly motivated students is to enroll in free online college classes to gain the knowledge required to test out of required classes for your bachelor’s degree. Major universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) publish virtually every class they offer at their university through an online portal that is free to access. You may be able to take free online courses during the summer and test out of those classes with your university in the fall.
Further, it’s not necessary to wait until you graduate from high school or enter college begins to test out of classes or reduce the number of required credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school may help satisfy some of the standard curriculum requirements of a bachelor’s degree program, which may make it easier to graduate in fewer than four years. This method is most easily accomplished when you know what you want to major in when you get to college.
Majoring in biology generally means taking AP courses in biology is a good idea. However, you may also be able to satisfy general curriculum requirements by taking AP classes in areas like English, even if you intend to enroll in a STEM degree program because virtually all college students take at least a semester or two of English. A call to your preferred university may help you figure out what AP classes will best satisfy your bachelor’s degree curriculum requirements.
Take More Classes
Full-time students take at least 12 credit hours each semester, and as most colleges require that bachelor’s students take 120 credits to graduate, you’ll spend 10 semesters in college to earn your degree. Taking 15 credits each semesters lets you graduate in eight semesters. You can take 18 credits every semester to graduate even faster, and taking classes in the summer can help you finish the program in around three years of full-time study.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the concept of “fast” when it comes to college degrees might actually mean that you’re able to complete your college degree in the standard four years rather than the five or six years that many students take. The NCES measures the median number of months it takes to earn a college degree at 52, which is a few months longer than the number of months it would take for a student to graduate in just four years.
Some universities and colleges restrict the total number of classes students can take each semester, so if you’re very interested in completing a degree quickly, you might want to ask if the college places a cap on the maximum number of classes a student may take. Some universities only place this restriction on first-year students, but other institutions have a cap that applies to all students enrolled in undergraduate programs.
Get Credit for Your Practical Experiences
The fastest bachelor’s degree online programs are those that award students credit for the practical experiences that they have. These programs are often open to adult students and those who took a break from school. You can ask about getting credit for any of the professional work that you did in the field as well as any volunteer work that you did in the past too. Schools will ask for proof of the work that you did such as a copy of your resume or a letter from an employer or supervisor. The more experience you have, the less time it will take to graduate.
The fastest way to get a bachelor’s degree for some students might be their military service credits, which many schools take as practical experience and previous training. The document that service members will use is called the Joint Services Transcript. According to information published by the United States Navy, students with military experience can access their transcripts online through the official Department of Defense website.
Colleges will usually examine the transcript for Military Course Completions, College Level Test Scores, and Military Experience when determining what military experience a student will be able to use toward their bachelor’s degree. Some universities have reputations for operating as military-friendly schools, and it may help you to seek out a degree from an institution that has a history of letting military students use their Joint Services Transcripts as transfer credits.
Enroll in a Fast-Track Program
If you really want to finish college fast, consider enrolling in a fast-track program. According to Jon Marcus of Time Magazine, many of these programs are open to high school students who come from backgrounds that would make it difficult for them to finish college. Marcus claims that these programs let students complete an associate’s degree in 12 months or less and finish a bachelor’s degree in three years or less. A fast-track program might be the fastest online bachelor’s degree because it uses an accelerated learning pace. Some programs include shorter classes that let you earn three credits in eight weeks or less too.
Fast-track programs are also an excellent option for working adults who want to finish their college degrees and have the ability to take evening classes or weekend classes in an accelerated format. If you’ve already got a full-time job, it may be easiest to earn a bachelor’s degree in a fast-track program online since many of these programs are offered in an asynchronous format, which is where you’re allowed to complete your class assignments at your own pace and when it’s convenient to you.
In fact, a fast-track program might offer the fastest way to earn a degree if you’re able to devote yourself full-time to the classes. Asynchronous online classes are often offered all year, so you might not be required to take breaks during the summer or during the winter holiday break. Unrestricted enrollment could help you finish your degree in just a few years of full-time enrollment online. If you were to take two classes during each two-month class cycle in an accelerated program, your total time commitment to earn your bachelor’s degree could be three-and-a-half years.
Pursue a 4+1 Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Program
Once you’ve already entered college, you might qualify for a 4+1 program where you are able to earn a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree at the same time. For many students, earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree takes at least six to seven years, but a 4+1 program usually allows you to start taking graduate-level classes before you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, you might be able to finish your bachelor’s degree in just three years alongside a master’s degree earned during your third and fourth years in college.
An article from U.S. News & World Report suggests that it’s best to start planning to enter a 4+1 program when you’re still in high school. Bachelor’s degree combination programs tend to have high admissions standards, which means students may benefit from preparing their graduate application while still in high school. At the very least, preparation might include getting a list of the application requirements before the official start of the freshman year in college and making sure to hit any required benchmarks during the first and second years of the bachelor’s degree program.
In many cases, enrolling in a 4+1 program requires an extra application submitted somewhere between the student’s sophomore and junior years of college. It’s important to remember that the 4+1 option isn’t a feature of every institution of higher learning. If you want to finish a bachelor’s degree quickly and immediately embark on a master’s degree, it’s imperative to make sure your chosen college offers an accelerated degree option and that you are capable of meeting the admissions standards for the program.
Enroll in Concurrent or Dual Enrollment Programs
One of the best ways to get a jump on your college degree and finish in less than four years after you graduate from high school is to take legitimate college classes before you actually graduate from high school. Programs are usually known as concurrent enrollment or dual enrollment, and they may operate in a few different ways. The best way to find out whether your high school participates in concurrent enrollment is to speak to a guidance counselor who will have connections to local community colleges and universities.
One method of concurrent enrollment is where the student enrolls in a class at their high school where they are given college-level instruction, and the class counts toward the student’s high school requirements, as well as their future college degree class requirements. For example, a concurrent enrollment class in English literature will count toward the student’s four years of required high school English, as well as the English class requirement for the student’s future bachelor’s degree.
Another method used for concurrent enrollment or dual enrollment is where the student will take a class at their local college while they’re still enrolled in high school. The class will be taken in addition to the student’s full-time high school course load and may occur at night or on the weekends. It’s worth noting that concurrent enrollment programs tend to have tough admissions policies where the only students allowed to enroll are those with high GPAs or above-average standardized test scores.
As far as completing a bachelor’s degree quickly or in fewer than four years, using a concurrent enrollment plan may make it possible to graduate in just three years when a high school student takes at least two college-level classes during each semester of his or her senior year, as well as a class or two during the summer before college begins.
Earning a college degree is one of the best options you have for increasing your earnings potential over the course of your lifetime. According to a report published by CNN, college graduates may earn $30,000 more than individuals who only have a high school diploma. That increase becomes even more impressive when you choose to earn a graduate degree, too.
When you choose to complete a bachelor’s degree on an accelerated timeline, you may be able to increase your income even more by entering the workforce early and getting a jump on your overall lifetime earnings. Fortunately, there are many answers to the question, “what is the fastest way to get a bachelor’s degree online,” and all it takes is some research to determine the best path for your future career success.
Related resource: Top 10 Online Colleges With No Application Fee