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1 Year Bachelor Degree Programs

1 Year Bachelor Degree Programs

I was 27, working full-time, and had never taken a single college class. To help others, I've created a list of tips to help you accelerate your bachelor's degree.

We’ve had quite a few people ask us about accelerated bachelor’s degree programs. So, we decided to write an in-depth guide to help interested students finish their degree in half the time.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick start tip —

The fastest way to finish your bachelor’s is to take accelerated classes online — Purdue University offers 6 week online courses, making them a great choice to help you get your bachelor’s faster. Colorado State and Liberty University offer 8-week online classes. We talk more about Accelerated Online Courses here.

one year bachelors degree

In a hurry? A few helpful links to get you started:

How to finish your bachelor’s faster than you possibly think…

When I started on my bachelor’s degree, I was 27 and working full-time. The nearest university was a solid 45 minute commute from work. My manager let me leave a little early to beat traffic, but it still meant that I was sitting in night classes until almost 10:00 PM. That didn’t leave much time to have a life, let alone do my school work.

After one year of night classes, I only had 4 classes under my belt. I did the math… at that pace, it was going to take me 10 years to finish my bachelor’s degree. No thanks!

I decided to start researching alternative ways to earn my bachelor’s degree at a faster pace. It wasn’t long before I found quite a few ways to accelerate the process. If you really want to earn your degree fast, you will likely have to use a combination of methods, but you can earn your four year degree in one year or less if you have all your ducks in a row.

How to Get your Bachelor’s in One Year

Yes, you can earn your bachelor’s in one year, but it takes a bit of planning and a lot of work!

First, you have to select a university with liberal credit for prior learning policies.

Credit for prior learning is a fancy way of saying that a university “may” award credit for life or work experience, military training, or passing an exam (CLEP, DSST, UExcel, TECEP). Although most universities support credit for prior learning to some degree, they typically put a cap on the number of credits you can earn by this method.

  • To show you the possibilities, I will use Charter Oak State College as an example

Charter Oak State College has generous policies regarding credit by exam and alternative credit. Using a combination of credit by exam, portfolio assessment (experiential learning), and accelerated classes, you can earn your bachelor’s degree in one year, provided you meet all degree plan requirements as stated in the academic handbook.

Sample 1 Year Plan – Bachelor’s in Psychology*

*Institutional requirements frequently change. Before starting on any degree plan, look at your target school’s academic catalog and speak with an advisor.

The following sample uses a combination of credit by exam, portfolio assessment, and accelerated online classes. As you can see, earning your bachelor’s in 1 year is a very aggressive undertaking, but possible if you maintain a pace of about 10 credit hours per month.

  1. January – CLEP College Composition Exam w/Essay (6 credits), CLEP College Mathematics (6 credits)
  2. February – CLEP Social Sciences & History (6 credits), CLEP Natural Sciences (6 credits)
  3. March – CLEP Humanities (3 credits), CLEP English Literature (3 credits), UExcel Ethics Theory (3 credits), DSST General Anthropology (3 credits)
  4. April – DSST Criminal Justice (3 credits), UExcel Abnormal Psychology (3 credits), UExcel Psychology of Adulthood (3 credits), Charter Oak Cognitive Psychology (3 credits)
  5. May – GRE Subject Exam: Psychology (18 credits)
  6. June – Charter Oak Adolescent Psychology (3 credits), Charter Oak Learning & Memory (3 credits), UExcel Research Methods in Psychology (3 credits), UExcel Statistics (3 credits)
  7. July – UExcel Social Psychology (3 credits), Charter Oak Cornerstone (3 credits), Charter Oak Public Speaking (3 credits), TECEP Psychology of Women (3 credits)
  8. August – Charter Oak Psychology Capstone (3 credits)
  9. September thru December – At this point, you still need 27 credit hours (equivalent of 9 classes). These can be filled by general electives since degree requirements have been completed. If you have military training or on-the-job training or other life experience, you may be able to satisfy most of these credits with a portfolio assessment. If not, you can earn more credit through exams or accelerated online classes.

I provided this example to give you a sense of the time and effort required to finish your entire bachelor’s degree in one year. For most people working full-time jobs, this pace is a little too fast. For the truly driven, it may be perfect.

If you fall somewhere in the middle, you can still finish your bachelor’s degree at a faster than normal pace at a number of reputable universities.

To complete your bachelor’s degree in less time:

ways to get 1 year bachelors

Life Experience Credit

Life experience credit is my favorite form of college credit. Finally, you can get credit for what you already know!

Life experience credit goes by many names… credit for prior learning, prior learning assessment, life experience portfolio. The name differs by university, but the general idea is the same; you may be eligible to receive college credit for demonstrated mastery in a particular field.

Here’s a list of online colleges that award credit for life experience.

Quite a few accredited colleges offer credit for life experience and work experience, but not all of them do.

Some common non-traditional sources of credit for prior learning:

  • On-the-Job Training
  • Training Approved by the American Council on Education
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
  • Law Enforcement Training
  • Military Training
  • Corrections Training
  • Chartered Life Underwriter
  • Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter
  • Certified Financial Planner
  • Chartered Financial Consultant
  • General Securities Representative
  • Real Estate Sales or Broker’s License
  • Private Pilot’s License
  • Certified Public Accountant

Be sure to ask your admissions advisor about receiving credit for prior learning as it isn’t always published on the university website.

Credit by Exam

At the top of my list of ways to speed up the trek towards a degree is employing the various credit by exam testing systems available. Essentially, whether you sign up for the DSST, CLEP, or any of the other certified credit by exam programs, these testing outlets offer the ability to skip classes entirely – provided you’re able to achieve a satisfactory grade.

Thankfully, with the rise of study guides and a need to only reach a minimum passing grade to acquire these credits, I’ve found that you don’t have to be an expert to limit the time investment that goes into going back to school. In fact, if you go above and beyond on this front, you can even earn additional credits by achieving a higher score on the exam at some universities. Since each type of exam (CLEP, DSST, etc.) is unique, join me as I delve into the particulars of these testing resources.

CLEP Exams

As perhaps the most well-known exam system of the bunch, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers a variety of lower level course equivalent tests that usually take 90 minutes to complete. Depending on which selections you complete and your target university, the credits received from these exams can range between three and 12 credits for EACH exam.

How I earned 12 credit hours in 3 hours:

  1. CLEP Natural Sciences – 6 credit hours (90 minute exam)
  2. CLEP Analyzing and Interpreting Literature – 6 credit hours (90 minute exam)

You do not have to be an expert in the field to pass a CLEP exam. Most study guides provide enough preparation to pass the test.

The cost is around $80 per test and over 2,900 schools award credit for a passing score CLEP exams. You can visit the College Board website to see a complete list of exams.


Formerly known as the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests, DSST exams provide a unique take on the non-traditional collegiate path. While other providers – like CLEP – only focus on lower level course selections, I’d like to point out that DSST offers access to both lower and upper level coursework equivalents. However, the amount of credits you can earn rests firmly in the three to six credit range per exam.

Tests generally run about $80 per two-hour session. If you’re current or former military, you can take the exams for free. You can visit the DSST website for a complete list of exams.

DSST is accepted at around 2,000 colleges. Before you take the exam, check with your target university to see if they accept DSST credits.

Excelsior Exams

Excelsior exams work in the same way as CLEP and DSST exams. Each exam equates to three collegiate credits, provides a significant discount for military personnel, and applies to coursework at over 2,500 institutions.

My main issue with Excelsior exams is the cost, coming it at between $235 and $335, making it the priciest alternative by far. Plus, the exams are three hours, which is twice the amount of time it takes to complete a CLEP exam (and one hour longer than a DSST exam).

The main reason I am mentioning these exams as an option is because they do offer credit in some subjects not covered by CLEP or DSST. You can see a full list of Excelsior exams on their website.

Despite the three hour exam time and hefty fee, it’s still cheaper than tuition and a better alternative than sitting in a 16-week long class!

Accelerated Online Classes

If you’d rather not test out of a course, but don’t want to be stuck on campus for months at a time, accelerated online classes might be right up your alley.

Here’s a list of colleges offering accelerated online classes.

For me, 8-week online classes worked well. The flexible schedule and shorter time in class were strong selling points. Plus, you only have to juggle two classes at a time to maintain a full-time course load.

Degree Completion Programs

At this point, I’m sure some of you are wondering, “But what if I already have some credits completed? Can I use those?”

If you took a few classes here and there, but didn’t quite finish, a degree completion program might be useful. These programs help you acquire the remainder of your coursework – often at a flexible or accelerated rate.

Degree completion programs can vary from university to university, but for the most part, you’ll see a fair blend of accelerated courses and equivalency exams as part of the program.

Transfer Credits

Depending on the classes you’ve completed and your target college, there’s generally an option to transfer your previously earned credits.

You’ll want to start by finding out if your credits are eligible to be part of the transfer agreement between the two schools in question. If there’s an articulation agreement in place, it usually works in your favor. If not, you can work with the university on a course-by-course basis to maximize credit.

Some points to consider:

  • Some colleges have generous transfer policies (up to 90 credit hours), but most don’t
  • All degree plans are not created equal. Some plans have more electives built into them which gives you greater flexibility when transferring credits that aren’t related to your major.
  • Some universities put an expiration date on credits earned (like 5 years). Ask your target school about their transfer policies.

Connecting with an advisor at your target college before enrolling is a must. The last thing you want to do is try to move 90 credit hours of classes, only to find that the max your target school accepts is 60 hours.

Get College Credit for Your Military Training

It wasn’t very long ago that the path to converting your military training to credit hours varied depending on your branch of service. The Army had AARTS, Sailors and Marines had SMART, but these have all been replaced by the Joint Services Transcript (JST).

The JST serves as an aid in preparing your resume and explaining Army, Coast Guard, Marine, National Guard, and Navy work experience to universities. Using JST, you should be able to save time and money by receiving academic credits for your military training and education.

Ready to Finish College Faster?

It’s easy to see that there’s no one best way to skip ahead and finish college faster. Your life experiences are unique… and your path to an accelerated degree will be equally unique.

Some helpful links:

Have you found a way to finish college faster? What methods have worked best for you?

This article is brought to you by

Joy Miller
Joy Miller
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