What Is Accelerated Study?

By Joy Cromwelle
Updated on April 13, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
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Accelerated study reduces the time required to earn a degree via accelerated 8-week online classes, credit for work & life experience, and credit by examination.

Accelerated study may be the best kept secret in higher education.

You can use accelerated study to finish college faster

For many, the college experience is a commitment to years of study and countless hours spent on campus – a burden that people who have jobs, families, and other responsibilities simply can’t afford to handle. But just because you can’t commit to the daily grind of traditional college life, that doesn’t mean that you’re up the creek without a paddle.

Accelerated study is the process of reducing the time it takes to acquire a degree by  getting college credit for life and work experiences, testing out of courses, and using accelerated online classes to graduate faster.

With the help of the accelerated study approach to higher learning, you may expedite the degree process significantly, all while staying on top of the countless other duties and responsibilities that make up your everyday life.

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How to create your own accelerated study degree plan

college students making their accelerated study degree plan

The standard bachelor degree requires 120 credit hours, the equivalent of 40 college classes.

Instead of sitting in all of these classes, many students (myself included) have opted to use accelerated study to receive credit for life and work experiences and test out of classes using CLEP and DSST exams.

In addition to these non-traditional means of earning college credit, you might also significantly accelerate the path to your degree by enrolling in accelerated 8-week classes, making use of institutional degree completion programs, or transferring college credits you earned at an earlier time.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these accelerated study options.

College credit for life and work experience

A working student, answering her homework

Now that you’re familiar with the basic ideas behind the accelerated study approach, let’s take a moment to dig into the options laid out above, starting with earning credit for your life and work experiences.

As the name implies, this method is all about showing that your time spent outside of these hallowed halls of learning went to good use in the form of learning some new skill or experiencing some other event or opportunity that relates to your current coursework.

Here’s a list of colleges that award college credit for prior learning.

Gaining a certification as a financial planner, picking up a private pilot’s license, or even spending time in law enforcement or the armed services are all strong examples of what colleges are looking for when it comes to offering credit for your life and work experiences.

How I earned college credit for work experience

Student with part time job, discussing with colleagues

While attending college in Texas as an undergraduate, I was able to earn credit for four college classes using this method. Since I had extensive work experience in the information technology field, I was able to select four courses from the college’s course catalog that corresponded to this experience.

To get approval, I had to provide proof of work experience that directly correlated with the learning outcomes for each class. It took a little effort to assemble all of the necessary paperwork, but I was given college credit for all four courses. Not only did I save a significant amount of time and effort in the classroom, but I also saved quite a bit of money, too.

It is important to point out that each university has its own policy regarding credit for life and work experience. Some universities require a letter from your supervisor as proof of experience, others require documentation outlining your experiences.

There is a bit of legwork required, but it may be well worth the effort.

Credit by Examination

What is accelerated study

If you’re looking to skip classes completely, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better accelerated approach than the credit by examination route.

When it comes to testing out of classes, you have three main options:

  1. College Level Exam Program (CLEP)
  2. DSST exams
  3. Excelsior tests

At first glance, you might think that you do not have the required knowledge to test out of a particular course.

Not to worry.

Even if you have no previous experience in a field, you can typically gain enough knowledge to pass an exam (especially CLEP and DSST exams) by simply buying a cheap study guide from Amazon.

Quick tip: Be sure to read other students’ reviews before you buy the study guide. High pass rate? Go for it.

How I earned college credit by examination

College students taking exam

Using this method, I was able to test out of the equivalent of five college classes (15 credit hours). I prepared for each exam by purchasing a study guide (you can also find these at most local libraries) and taking the practice exams in each one. Most universities simply want a passing score to award credit, so you do not need complete mastery of the subject to get credit.

Quick tip: A number of CLEP exams are worth 6 credit hours each. If you pass the 90-minute exam, you earn the equivalent of two courses of college credit.

You can’t beat that!

I took advantage of this by taking the CLEP Natural Sciences (6 credit hours) and CLEP Analyzing and Interpreting Literature (6 credit hours).

The Natural Sciences exam wasn’t particularly easy, but the credit I received was enough to satisfy my university’s science requirement, so it was definitely worth the time I spent studying for the exam. The literature exam was a basic review of high school English (in my opinion) and required very little preparation to pass.

College Level Exam Program (CLEP)

As the most well-known of the bunch, CLEP tests cover 33 single course subjects, as well as five general exam topics. At a cost of only $89 dollars per exam, there’s no denying that if you can earn the passing score of 50, then you’ve saved yourself a ton of time and money. The best part about this kind of testing – and the others covered here – is that as long as you put in some time to study the subject beforehand, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem achieving a passing grade.

DSST Standardized Subject Tests

College students studying together for their test

Depending on which of the 38 subjects you decide to test out of within the DSST program (formerly known as DANTES), your required score for a passing grade will stand somewhere in the 44 to 49 range. In terms of cost, these two-hour testing sessions will also run you only $85 per exam.

Excelsior College Credit by Exam

The final option on the list – Excelsior – offers coursework equivalent tests that cost between $235 and $335 and transfer to over 2,500 other institutions. Testing via Excelsior means you are subject to the American Council on Education Credit Recommendation Service grading system, so you’ll need at least a “C” grade in order to pass one of these tests.

Regardless of which credit by examination option you prefer, be sure to check with your university first to determine which exams they accept and the required minimum score to be awarded college credit. By far, CLEP is the most widely accepted method, but it pays to check with your university before putting in the time required to study.

Accelerated Online Courses

Student researching in the library

If you’ve ever spent a semester in college, then you know that the average course takes 16 weeks to complete. However, if your school of choice offers accelerated courses (something that is not always tethered to an accelerated study program), then you may cut your time in class down to just 8 weeks.

As long as you can handle the enhanced workload that comes with these 8-week condensed courses, you may have the opportunity to expedite this process significantly.

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

The easiest way to determine if your university has 8-week classes is to look at the academic calendar. If you are open to taking classes online (you can even earn your entire degree online), you will find that quite a few universities offer these accelerated classes as the norm. This may allow you to create your own custom plan for an accelerated college degree.

How I used accelerated classes to graduate faster

university students taking an 8-week online class

My university offered 8-week online classes with six start dates each year as follows:

  • Fall 1
  • Fall 2
  • Spring 1
  • Spring 2
  • Summer 1
  • Summer 2

With 6 semesters each year, all I had to do was take 2 classes per term to earn 36 hours of college credit per year.

Since most students only earn 30 credit hours if they attend full-time (and 15 hours if they attend part-time), you can see the value of taking accelerated classes.

Not only was I able to work full-time while enrolled full-time, but I found it was much easier to juggle two classes at a time instead of five!

If you want to accelerate the path to your degree even more, I’ve found that you might get permission to take an academic overload (if your grades are good). In my case, I asked the Dean if I could take 3 classes per 8 weeks (after demonstrating for a year that I could maintain a high GPA taking 2 classes per term).

I was granted approval.

Clearly, this is something that you should think long and hard about as college classes demand a great deal of time and energy.

Degree Completion Programs

Students studying together in the library

With only about 36% of all college students finishing their degrees in four years, it’s safe to say that you’re not alone if you started out on the path toward graduation, but never quite put enough credits together to obtain your degree. Fortunately, degree completion programs can help you make good use of these floating credits.

A degree completion program is a system that is aimed at helping you come back to school and wrap up the remaining coursework needed to achieve graduation. Usually, these programs run at an accelerated or flexible rate, helping you gain the tools you need to finish your degree at the pace you prefer.

Transfer College Credits

For those of you who aren’t looking to come back to the same institution, but still want to use the credits you’ve earned in the past, then transferring these credits to your school of choice can net the same effect. However, some institutions only accept a certain amount of transfer credits per student, and differences in course requirements can lead to eligibility concerns. There’s also a limitation on the age of acceptable credits – usually five years – imposed by certain schools that can hinder your ability to transfer your courses.

Are you ready to graduate faster?

Students doing research online

At the end of the day, going back to college does require a significant amount of time and effort on your part. Fortunately, you may expedite the process in a number of ways, from accelerated undergraduate degree programs, like a 6-month associate degree, to transferring college credits. You may be able to cut down your time to completion drastically and blaze your way through the coursework as you pursue the degree you’ve always wanted.

How are you accelerating your degree plan? Is there anything I can do to help? Leave a comment below or send a quick email, and I will get back to you.

If you’re interested in making use of online courses, use the search tool below to check out universities offering classes online.

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