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Accelerated College Degrees

You could be making more money than you are right now.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that adults who hold a college degree make significantly more than adults who don’t. That math is simple.

The more complicated math looks like this: adults who hold an associate degree make, on average, $37,000 per year. Adults who hold a bachelor’s degree make, on average, $45,000 per year. And adults who hold a master’s degree or higher, on average, make $59,200 per year. If you don’t hold any degree except a high school diploma, your average salary is projected to be just $30,000 per year. Over the course of someone’s adult life, these differences amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars! For example, if you work for 40 years of your life at the average salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree, you will earn $600,000 more over your lifetime than someone without a degree. What could you do with $600,000?

Accelerated college degreeMath aside, earning a college degree opens up job and career opportunities that simply don’t exist for those without a degree or any college experience. Gone are the days where you have to study for the SAT’s and apply to your local college or university in order to get your college degree.

Accelerated college degree programs online make it possible for you to earn a degree affordably and relatively quickly in comparison to attending an on-campus program. If you don’t have the time, desire, or finances to sit in classes for the next four to six years of your life, then you’ve come to the right place. The following questions are ones you may have right now when thinking about taking the leap toward earning your degree. It can be a scary process for some students, especially those who have no experience in a college classroom at all, but this guide to why you should earn your accelerated college degree, and how you can do it, should help take away your fears.

What is an accelerated college degree?

Let’s start with the basics: an accelerated degree simply means that you will pursue your college degree at a faster pace than the norm. These degrees are designed for working adults or adults who never had or wanted the chance to attend college in a more traditional format. For example, instead of attending a college or university for four to six years, you’ll have the opportunity to complete your accelerated bachelor’s degree from start to finish in as little as two to three years. That’s half the time!

What are the advantages of an accelerated format?

One of the primary advantages of an accelerated college degree format is that you can finish your degree much faster than if you were to attend a traditional on-campus program. This will get you onto the job market with your new degree faster so that you can move into the next pay bracket with others who hold a degree. Another advantage of this format is the cost. Most accelerated degree programs cost less than on-campus programs. There are also more options for earning credit for work or training you’ve done in the past (see more about this in “Can I get any credit for non-college training and experiences?”) At a typical college or university, you can usually own earn credit for exams you took at the high school level, since most students are coming straight from graduating high school. With an accelerated program, however, you can earn credit for what you’ve done between graduating high school and where you are now. Going to school with other adults similar in age is another advantage. If you’re a bit older and feel “too old” to sit in a classroom with college-age kids, you won’t have that experience in an accelerated program. In fact, many programs require applicants to be of a certain age (23 is a common age minimum), so you’ll connect with classmates who are similar in age and life experience as you.

What are the advantages of an online format?

Accelerated degree students walking on campusSo many students are choosing to take classes and complete full degrees online, because online classes are of the same quality as on-campus classes. The Babson Survey Research Group reports that 74 percent of professors and instructors rate online courses as equal to or better than on-campus classes. Online classes are becoming the norm. Over seven million students in higher education took at least one online course in 2013, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. If you’re hoping to take easy classes that require little to no effort, you may need to look elsewhere. Getting a college degree takes effort and commitment, regardless of if you choose an online or on-campus format. Rigorous online courses that live up to on-campus course expectations and beyond are advantageous to you as the student, since you’ll be well trained and prepared in your chosen major and field.

The more logistical advantages of an online format include saving time since you don’t need to commute anywhere. You can also be flexible with when you complete course work, really making it work for your schedule. If you were to attend night school, for example, at a local college or university, it might take you up to 10 years to complete your degree. For most, that is inconvenient and off-putting. Online classes and programs, and especially accelerated ones, allow you to complete many more credit hours since you can do the work at home and on your own schedule.

What if I have never taken a college class before?

Many students in accelerated college degree programs are in the same boat as you. In fact, you’ll have a community of other adult learners to connect with in these programs. Professors and instructors who teach in programs that are designed to lead you from start to finish through a college degree will understand that you have little to no experience taking college courses. These folks have experience working with students just like you and many of them design their courses around your needs.

Also keep in mind that just because you’ll be taking courses online doesn’t mean professors and instructors aren’t there to guide you. Set up appointments over email or a chat function to discuss assignments and course concerns. You should expect to get the same attention and treatment as an on-campus student would get.

I already have some college credit. Are accelerated degrees still for me?

Female student study for college examYes, and you can most likely use that college credit to your advantage and accelerate your degree even more. Some accelerated college degrees can be earned through degree completion programs. These programs are designed for students who have some college credit from a past educational experience, but never finished their degree. Many or all of your credits can transfer to a degree completion program and you could be quickly on your way to completing that degree you may have left behind years ago.

How do I know which program to choose?

Many colleges and universities offer accelerated college degrees, so the choices are vast. Since you’re choosing an online platform, you aren’t restricted by geography. Because of this, aim for the top schools in your field that offer accelerated degrees. Look for schools that are ranked, have a long history of offering quality education, and that are nationally and regionally accredited. Also choose programs that offer exactly what you want to major in rather than a closely related subject. For example, if you want to major in Education with a specialization in special education at the early childhood level, choose a program that offers that specific area. Since your choices are almost endless when choosing an online program, there’s no reason to settle like you may have had to do if you had chosen an on-campus program. Have you always had dreams of attending an Ivy League school, but it was never feasible? You may be able to now since many of those top-ranked schools are offering online and accelerated college degrees.

What if I’m on a tight budget? Can I afford my degree?

Yes, you can most likely afford your degree. If you can’t save the amount of money each session or semester you need to pay for your classes, you can save money by earning credit elsewhere (see below) in order to cut back on the total number of hours you need to complete your degree. You are also eligible for federal aid and loans, just like if you were to attend a college or university in person. If you need some support in that regard, you’ll need to complete a FAFSA in advance of the start of your semester in order to qualify for a low interest loan. Financial advisors at your program can help you with that.

I have a full time job. Can I still pursue an accelerated degree?

Yes, and many students in your courses will also have full time jobs. It is indeed possible and the accelerated and online formats are favorable for adults with jobs. Of course, you’ll have to be dedicated to your studies and complete course work in your spare time (as opposed to leisure activities or whatever you spend your time off work doing now), but many students before you have done it successfully. There’s no reason why you’d be any different.

Can I get any credit for non-college training and experiences?

Online degree students at the college campusYes, and in fact, you can probably get more credit than you think. Just because you haven’t been to college before doesn’t mean you don’t have training, skills, and knowledge that can be valuable to your degree. And you don’t even need a certificate or other official document to earn credits, either. Of course, certificates of fire and rescue or EMT training or an RN license can earn you credit, but there are other options as well that you may not have thought of. For example, you can earn credit for serving in the military.

If you think your work or training experience has prepared you for a certain area or subject in your degree, then you can also take exams to prove that knowledge. DANTES, CLEP, and DSST are all subject based exams that are affordable (the CLEP exams are just $80 each), short (90 minutes is the average), and can earn you up to six college credit hours for each exam passed (with an average score of just 50 percent). If you brush up on subject areas like English, History, and Natural Sciences, you could earn enough credits to have an entire year worth of college under your belt. The cost of that entire year of college would most likely be less than a single class would cost through an on-campus program, too. Take the CLEP exams for example: at just $80 per six credit hour course, you can complete more than an entire semester of college for just $320 through this exam process.

How long will my degree take?

Of course, the length of your degree depends on what type of degree you’re pursuing. A good rule of thumb to follow with accelerated college degrees is that they normally take about half the time, give or take, as traditional on-campus degrees. In order to complete your degree the fastest, you’ll probably have to take accelerated classes. These classes enable you to take shorter sessions (five to eight weeks instead of the traditional 16 week semester) and complete more credit hours each year. Keep in mind that these accelerated classes are demanding and fast-paced. It might be wise to get your feet wet first with a regular online course within your program before committing to accelerated classes. These accelerated classes are usually specific to the online format. You won’t really find them offered through on-campus classes, which is another advantage of choosing an online accelerated degree program.

Are online programs as prestigious as on-campus programs?

The answer to this question depends on which program and school you’ve chosen. More and more top-ranked programs are offering accelerated college degrees than ever before since there is such a strong market and demand for them. Prestigious colleges and universities also recognize that some of the best suited students for their programs may not have the opportunity or funds to attend classes in person. By offering these accelerated degrees online, many programs are able to accept students who best match their mission statement and objectives. It is possible and entirely common for students to earn their accelerated college degree from a well-known, prestigious university. Online degrees from top-ranked universities are just as valuable as if you had sat in class on that university’s campus to earn your degree.

What types of degrees are available in an accelerated format?

Professor teaching accelerated college classesNowadays, almost any type of degree you can imagine is available in an accelerated and online format: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees can all be earned in these formats. If you don’t currently hold a degree, then the first two types will be your options. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, then consider a graduate degree in this convenient accelerated format. If you complete your first degree and come to love the benefits of the accelerated college degree format and culture, then keep in mind that you can go on to pursue accelerated graduate degrees in your field. Here’s a brief overview of the types of accelerated degrees that are available.

Associate Degree

The most basic and least intensive degree is the associate degree. In an accelerated format, you can complete this degree in less than two years. Many people who earn associate degrees go on to pursue their bachelor’s degree, but there are a variety of associate degrees that are designed to push students right into the workforce upon completion (like paralegal studies or criminal justice). There are many accelerated associate degrees available out there and in online formats.

Bachelor’s Degree

The bachelor’s degree, which is probably the most common and sought after degree, and the one this article focuses on the most, is typically a four to six year degree. The accelerated format is significantly shorter at two to three years, on average. Accelerated bachelor’s degrees are available in almost any major or field.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is a graduate degree that students pursue after completing a bachelor’s degree. These degrees are designed to train experts in a specific field. Many accelerated master’s programs are also offered online, in subjects from Education to Business Administration.

Ph.D. Programs

Believe it or not, many Ph.D. programs are also offered in an accelerated format. You usually need a master’s degree in the subject before going on to pursue a Ph.D., though it’s not required for all programs. Accelerated Ph.D. programs include fields like Behavioral Science, Counseling, and Economics. Some programs combine master’s and Ph.D. degrees into one, meaning you can earn both degrees simultaneously.

If you enjoy and benefit from the accelerated format, you can pursue almost any degree you can imagine. The benefits of having a college degree and affordably and conveniently pursuing an accelerated college degree are compelling and clear. It’s time for you to apply to one and join other Americans who earn a higher salary, have more job stability, and more general career satisfaction because of their degrees.