Yes, fast online degrees exist and they can help you finish college in less time.
It is not only possible, but easy to find many accredited colleges that offer fast online degrees. These degrees are often referred to as accelerated degrees in the academic world and offer students the opportunity to complete their degree at a much faster pace than average with accelerated online courses.
Not all accredited or fast online degrees are created equal though, so it’s important to keep the following criteria in mind when determining which accelerated degree program is the best choice for you.
Some accelerated degree programs allow you to start from scratch, while others allow you to build upon the credits you have already earned along the way. Either way, the goal is the same: Finish your degree faster.
Life Experience Credit
I won’t go into detail about it until later in this article, but some accredited universities now give college credit for life experience. The requirements vary widely by university, but as an example, I was able to get college credit for 21 credit hours (nearly one year of college) by submitting a credit for prior learning portfolio at my university. It was time consuming, and at times, a tedious process, but not nearly as tedious as taking 7 classes would have been to earn the same credit! I’ll discuss this in greater detail later.
There are a variety of fast online degrees that can get you from where you are to where you want to be.
The following accelerated programs offer multiple types of fast degrees, whether it be from start to finish, completing a degree you began previously, or accelerated class options that allow you to complete more credits each semester than traditional programs.
All fast online degrees are not all alike. Some cater to students who already hold a bachelor’s degree, while others allow students to complete a bachelor’s from start to finish with no prior experience. Both undergraduate and graduate accelerated degrees are offered by a number of accredited colleges and universities through online study.
An accelerated degree may be for you if…
You hold no prior degree, but want to earn one.
If you only have a high school diploma or GED certificate and desire to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, there are quite a few accelerated programs that can help you do so. With no prior degree, most accelerated bachelor degrees can be completed in two to three years and most accelerated associate degrees can be completed in one year, depending on your educational background and experience. The good news is, accelerated degree programs cater to working, adult students. So, you don’t have to give up life as you know it to earn your degree in a reasonable period of time.
You hold a degree, but not the one you need or want for your career.
If you already have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or have a license in your field (such as Nursing), but wish to pursue an additional degree to advance in your career, an accelerated degree can help you reach those goals.
For example, one of the most popular accelerated programs is for students who already hold a nursing license as an RN (Registered Nurse) and wish to earn their BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). In this degree program, licensed nurses can earn their BSN quickly and without having to give up their careers as nurses. With a BSN, they demonstrate increased knowledge in their field, get a nice salary boost, and are more marketable when advancing in their positions as nurses. These RN to BSN degrees take approximately one year to complete.
In addition to the nursing field, there are a number of programs available for students who already hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and wish to pursue additional studies at an accelerated pace.
You already hold an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field.
There are several types of accelerated bachelor’s degrees available to students, including degrees in Business Administration, Healthcare Management, Information Systems, Finance, Accounting, Communication, Psychology, and Leadership, among many other majors and concentrations.
Fast Degree Course Types
Some colleges and universities offer accelerated online classes, meaning you can take multiple classes in the span of one year, rather than being restricted to a semester schedule. Rather than the traditional 16-week academic semester, accelerated classes are usually eight weeks in length, giving you the opportunity to take twice as many courses during the time period of a normal semester. Some programs even offer accelerated classes that are shorter (five or six weeks), giving you even more opportunity to complete a large number of credit hours in just one calendar year.
The most beneficial part about accelerated classes is that you can still take only two or three at a time, depending on your schedule, but earn 30 or more credit hours in a year (instead of only 12 or 15), as with a traditional semester schedule. While the daily course load may be larger, you won’t be overwhelmed with trying to focus on five to six courses in one semester, which would be difficult even for the most dedicated students. Instead, you can spend eight weeks intensely focusing on just two courses.
Accelerated courses are offered online, giving you the flexibility and convenience of working from home. There is no commute, so you don’t have to re-arrange your schedule to complete your course work.
Accelerated Master’s Degree
Earning a master’s degree can either mean a salary bump in your current job or a promotion to a new position. It can also open up new career opportunities within your field. Accelerated graduate degrees allow you to achieve these goals within months, rather than years, as with a traditional program.
Accelerated degrees in Business Administration (MBA) and Healthcare Management and Administration are common, but you can also find some accelerated degree programs in Accounting, Teaching, and Communication. Most accelerated master’s programs take around 12 months to complete and require that you hold a bachelor’s degree in the same or similar area of study.
Degree Completion Programs
Some fast degrees cater to students who need to finish a degree they already started. Whether because work, life, or other factors got in the way of you completing that degree, degree completion programs can help you finish it in an efficient, cost-effective way.
Some requirements to gain admission into these types of degree completion programs might include:
- Specific number of credit hours toward a degree
- Credit hours in specific courses (like general education requirements)
- Work or volunteer experience
- Computer proficiency (to complete online courses)
- Minimum grade point average (at previous institutions)
- High school diploma or GED certificate
Every program will require different admission’s criteria, but the above are fairly common. Many of these completion programs use cohorts, meaning students will work with a handful of others in their same position. They will follow the completion program together, having each other for support.
Most courses offered through completion programs are accelerated, and multiple terms (rather than only two or three semesters) are offered throughout the year to conveniently fit students’ schedules. A number of these completion programs take approximately two years to complete, though a student could conceivably finish in less time.
Programs that offer fast degrees are designed for students of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you’re a working adult looking to put your foot in the door of a professional career or a recent high school graduate looking to forego the traditional college experience to save time and money, accelerated programs provide a unique opportunity. These programs are not for everyone, though, and demand dedication and commitment to completing the course work on a fast-paced timeline.
Credit for Life Experience and Prior Learning
Most people don’t know that they can receive credit for life experiences, licenses, certificates, or other exams and professional activities that they’ve completed. Many accelerated programs will allow you to transfer up to half of the credits required to graduate.
For example, if you’re applying to an accelerated bachelor’s degree program that requires 120 hours of completion, you might be able to transfer up to 60 hours from previous experience, work, and credit by examination. Credit policies vary widely by institution, so it is advisable to do your research in advance.
In addition to traditional credit transfer of courses completed at another institution, the following are the ways in which you may be able to receive college credit:
- Work Experience: Some programs offer transfer credit for hours you’ve spent working professionally. Specifically, if you work in law enforcement or public safety, certain training programs you went through can make you eligible to receive credit for courses like Criminal Justice. Many programs will look at work experience on a case-by-case basis and determine whether or not your work experience will qualify you for transfer credit. In most cases, your work experience will need to align with the college course for which you are seeking credit.
- Military Experience: Most programs offer transfer credit for experience you’ve had in any military branch. You’ll need to submit an official military transcript to be eligible.
- Exams, Certificates, and Licensure: Certain exams can also count toward transfer credit, like AP or IB exams at the high school level, DSST, CLEP, and DANTES exams (which are designed to give college credit), and other exams specific to individual fields. RN certification and EMT certification can also earn students transfer credit if they are pursuing fast degrees. Licensure that may make students eligible for transfer credit include real estate and aviation pilot licensure, among others.
Most Popular Majors
Because of the popularity of fast online degrees, colleges and universities now offer all levels of degrees in almost any field you can imagine. You can find accredited fast degrees at the associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral levels. You can find degrees in the fields of Education, Psychology, Business, Computer Science and Information Technology, Criminal Justice, Healthcare Management, Religion, Accounting, and beyond.
If you choose a fully online program, you can apply to any program in the country and you won’t be limited by your geographic location. Degrees that require in person training (like Nursing) aren’t usually offered fully online, though you can still easily find those degrees offered at accredited institutions and in accelerated formats.
Campus vs. Online Programs
Another way in which to determine which programs are a cut above others is by considering whether or not a program has a campus affiliation. Many well-known colleges and universities are now offering fast online degrees. Large state universities or more prestigious private colleges that offer fast degrees carry over all the accreditation and name recognition to those degrees, so you can be assured that the degree you’ll receive will be just as valuable as if you had enrolled on campus as a more traditional student.
Some people wonder about the value of online degrees. There are many fully online programs that offer accredited fast degrees. If you follow the accreditation tips above, you should easily be able to find an online program that will offer a valuable degree. Some accredited programs offer hybrid degrees. This simply means that most course work will be completed online, but you will be required to show up in person a few times (or more) over the course of your degree to attend seminars, workshops, or class sessions.
Top 10 Fast Online Degrees
The top 10 fast degrees online are the most popular and widely available online degrees that lead to potentially fulfilling and stable careers.
All of the degrees listed here are offered at a variety of colleges and universities across the country.
No matter the degree program you choose, make sure it is accredited so that you’ll earn the most valuable degree possible.
Consistently the most popular fast degree online is a degree in Business. With concentrations offered through this degree like Marketing, Finance, Accounting, and Administration, this degree can prepare students for a wide range of career paths.
2. Information Technology
Competing for the top spot is an Information Technology degree. The tech industry is still booming and people are flocking to Information Technology and other computer-related degrees so that they can get their piece of this lucrative pie. Whether you want to join the ranks of engineers who study software engineering and computer science, or if you prefer to work with network administration, there are a wide-range of online degree programs being offered to fit your needs.
3. Criminal Justice
Another steadily popular degree is Criminal Justice. Anyone interested in entering law enforcement, the court systems, or paralegal work would benefit from this degree. It can also be a great stepping stone degree for someone interested in attending law school and becoming an attorney.
Many programs are offering fast degrees online in Management. From Human Resources to Entertainment to Healthcare, you can find almost any management degree offered online. These management degrees prepare graduates to enter leadership roles in the field they’re most interested in without having to first earn a degree in that specific field.
Online degrees in education come in all shapes and sizes, from Elementary Education to Special Education, and are not only popular but prepare students to become state licensed teachers. While these programs are fully online, most require an internship component in which students shadow a teacher in order to gain hands on experience.
While a bachelor’s degree in Psychology won’t enable someone to become a practicing psychologist (only a doctoral degree does), students who hold this degree are prepared for a variety of careers. These careers include counseling, social work, human resources administration, and crisis management.
Another flexible degree that’s easy to earn online is a degree in Communications. This degree teaches students about human behavior and interactions as well as communication skills that are essential to performing any job that involves training, leading, or working on a team. Communications degree graduates find work in a variety of fields, from human resources to social media to entertainment.
Another popular fast degree online is the RN (Registered Nurse) to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree. Although this degree is targeted at a specific student population, programs that offer this degree are vibrant and growing. Nurses have the opportunity to easily complete their bachelor’s degree to both increase their knowledge of the field and open up new job opportunities.
9. Graphic Design
Companies are always looking to improve their online and print presence to attract potential clients and customers. Someone with a degree in Graphic Design could be a valuable asset to a company. With the creation of innovative software programs and web development programs, companies need knowledgeable and competent graphic designers who understand how to use the newest methods.
Religion is another popular online degree because there aren’t as many colleges and universities that offer this degree compared to the others on this list. For students looking for competent training in this field, whether because they want to become a pastor, a counselor, or go into social work and take with them a religious perspective, they can find online programs at religious-affiliated universities that offer fast online degrees.
Accredited Fast Degrees – National vs. Regional Accreditation
For most career fields, accreditation is the single most important feature of an institution from which someone earns their degree.
But what accreditation is the most important and why?
Accreditation simply means that a respected accrediting organization has recognized the program as competent and satisfactory in its ability to train students professionally in the career fields for which they are earning their degree. It doesn’t matter if you work your tail off to complete your degree and receive all high grades if you didn’t attend a program that was accredited, either regionally or nationally.
The general rule of thumb is that regional accreditation is more respected and sought after than national accreditation. Here’s a breakdown of each type of accreditation.
Regional accreditation is seen as the king of accreditation, because the requirements for an institution to become regionally accredited are much more stringent. While regionally accredited institutions may cost more, require more effort and materials to apply to, and ask students to complete more general courses in the humanities, they are the most respected institutions.
In fact, most institutions are regionally accredited. Because of this, you should be cautious of institutions that only have national accreditation.
Regional accreditation is more specific and sometimes more stringent than national accreditation. If regional accreditation is possible for your field, consider applying only to programs that have obtained it. Some regional accrediting agencies are:
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Regional accreditation also means that students can receive tuition reimbursement from their companies, apply for state licensure in various fields, and transfer most of the credits they earned from a regionally accredited institution.
National accreditation is often awarded to institutions that specialize in trade and vocational training. Nationally accredited institutions are often more affordable, have less requirements for application, and oftentimes require less general core requirements. These institutions, however, may not be as well respected in the employment world of many fields as regionally accredited institutions. Courses may also be self-lead rather than taught by trained instructors, and credits earned at these institutions may not be transferable to other institutions or qualify for licensure in certain fields like Education, Psychology, and Accounting.
There are many national accrediting agencies that grant accreditation to many types of programs, from psychology to education to business administration. Just a few of the most recognized accrediting agencies include:
- Distance Education and Training Council
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- American Psychological Association
- American Bar Association
- American Dental Association
- Association of American Medical Colleges
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation
Programs proudly display accreditation in their information materials, online and in print, so if you do not see accreditation listed, inquire about it. Some programs indicate that they are in consideration for or waiting on accreditation. Accreditation often takes time, so you may want to consider alternative fast degrees and programs if you see this kind of announcement.
When you need to boost your earning power, or you want to have financial and job security, it pays to invest in your education.
A Real Five-Year Plan
Numbers don’t lie, and with statistics from the Department of Labor and from the Department of Education showing the benefits of a degree, the time to enroll and learn to earn is now.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the workforce, taking care of family commitments, returning to or still in school, an accelerated program of study for fast degrees online in growth fields can help you get where you want to go.
When students used to talk about a “five year plan,” it was a joking reference to taking five years to obtain their bachelor’s degree, and thus delay entry into the workforce until the job market was more favorable. However, it’s been statistically proven that a bachelor’s or master’s degree pays off in the long run in terms of finding a job, having job security and being paid a better salary.
When added up over the course of years, the financial advantages to having a degree mean greater financial stability, more resources to weather hard economic times, more resources available to raise and provide for a family, the ability to invest income, and the ability to plan for a comfortable retirement. Delaying entry into the workforce by procrastinating over your degree only means that someone else gets there ahead of you and is climbing the ladder while you sit in Starbucks, nursing a four dollar coffee, sending out resumes on the free Wi-Fi.
Looking at the most recent data available from the Department of Labor’s statistics bureau, it’s really easy to see just how concrete those payoffs and advantages can be. For instance, the unemployment rate for the average person with a master’s degree was 3.4 percent, compared with 6.1 percent average for all levels of education. A person with a master’s degree brought home an average of $1,329 per week compared to the average of $827. That’s $502 per week, or $26,104 in wages above the median income of $43,004 for a total median income of $69,108 per year. A bachelor’s degree gives a 4 percent chance of unemployment and an average wage of $1,108 per week, or $14,612 above the average wage for the year for a total average income of $57,618.
It’s when looking at the statistics from the same study that the differences for people with only a high school diploma, or a diploma plus an unfinished degree really kick in. Someone with a high school diploma has 7 percent chance of being unemployed and will bring home an average of $651 in wages; that’s $176 a week less than average and $9,152 less than median per year for a total annual average of $33,852.
Someone with a little college credit brings in a slightly better $777 average per week, but that’s still $50 a week less than average, and they stand only a half-point advantage in their chances of being unemployed. Educational achievements, and the hard work it takes to earn them, pay off in dollars and in job security.
Everything Starts with 101
Earning a five-year master’s degree might sound like a get rich quick scheme, but it’s not. Many colleges and universities recognize the challenges of the job market, and have risen to the occasion by expanding their course offerings, offering night courses, taking their classes online, and reaching out to students already in the workforce as well as on campus. Fast degrees online programs at a reputable and accredited school send a graduate out into the workforce equipped with a well-rounded education as well as a high level of skills applicable to their chosen field.
Looking at the total master’s degrees recently conferred, the numbers from the National Council of Education Statistics show that the business and education categories led the pack. These were followed respectively by the health professions, public administration and psychology.
The bachelor’s degrees granted that same year are more numerous, and trends in majors are easily seen. The top 10 baccalaureate degrees are below, with strong growth shown in communications, biological and biomedical fields, and engineering. The speed with which the degree is attained means that a fast degrees online has extra value attached to it, simply by virtue of getting you in line ahead of students following the other kind of five year plan.
|Social sciences and history||177,144|
|Health professions and related programs||143,430|
|Visual and performing arts||93,956|
|Biological and biomedical sciences||90,003|
|Communication, journalism and related programs||83,274|
|English language and literature/letters||52,744|
|Homeland security, law enforcement and firefighting||47,602|
All students seeking higher education, whether at a community college, four-year college or university, start with the core curriculum of the undergraduate, which are required courses in the arts, humanities and sciences, how you choose your major and the timing of those courses can be critical to closing in on your own five-year goal of obtaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Core curriculum requirements for undergrads are meant to impart a breadth of knowledge, and instill a set of common culture referents that will teach critical thinking and help the student to develop insights into human nature, understanding of the sciences, and appreciation of the arts.
There are some ways to shave courses off the timeframe for the fast degrees online, but the student has to demonstrate familiarity and knowledge of the subject matter. The CLEP examinations in mathematics and sciences, history and social sciences, composition and literature, languages and business cover 33 separate undergraduate subjects. With each examination passed, it’s possible to trim three to 12 college credits from your undergraduate course load, depending upon your school’s individual policies. The examinations are prepared by the same people who produce the SAT and AP examinations and can be taken by anyone who wants to pay the $80 fee instead of the tuition for taking the undergraduate course.
Fast Online Degrees and Accreditation
Online courses can also be a way to leapfrog ahead to your fast degrees online, but choosing an accredited institution is very important. Without accreditation, your courses and the hard work you’ve invested in them might not be transferable to another school, or to a master’s degree program.
Most colleges and university list their accrediting organizations somewhere in their literature or on their website, and with that information the student can check their standing with the databases of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Selecting a school or program that is not accredited could even stand in the way of receiving loans, grants or financial aid.
Accreditation might seem like a hassle, and there are accreditation mills the same way there are degree mills; if someone pays the fee, they receive the paper whether it’s a degree or the ability to say they can grant one. Accreditation has four goals:
- To assure students that they are receiving a quality education.
- To assure students that the credits earned at one institution will be shown to be of acceptable quality for transfer credit to another school, promoting student mobility.
- Assuring future employers that the students schooling and degree meet certain standards.
- Provides access to state and federal financial aid, loans, and grants for students at such accredited institutions to help pay for their schooling.
What good is all that work, all the time, and the financial investment in obtaining a degree when an H.R. director looks at your resume and thinks that they didn’t think that school could grant someone a potholder, much less an advanced degree? Some of the stigma that follows distance learning comes from degree mills, but by choosing an accredited program that can be checked and verified, you assure the future financial value of your degree over your working lifetime.
Courses taken online are as valid as those taken in the classroom and allow students to proceed at their own pace and learn at times that are convenient for them. Many students balancing work and life needs against continuing education toward fast degrees online find online course work a valuable resource for completing their coursework, and even students already in traditional, campus-based classes find that taking classes toward extra credits puts them ahead of their peers. On evenings, weekends, and summer semester and even on holidays – whenever it’s convenient – the virtual classroom is open to everyone.
Take Your Time
When you start planning for your future, take your time comparing programs and financing and planning for the addition of coursework to your working and family schedules. The key to completing fast degrees online is dedication, willpower and the ability to make the most economical use of your time. Just as there is no such thing as a good cheap car, there’s no such thing as an easy bachelor’s or master’s degree, whether it’s fast degrees online or a slow one. Above all, keep in mind that you’re not just learning, you’re making an investment that will pay off in the long term.
Comparing Fast Online Degrees
When comparing colleges and universities, you’ll discover fairly quickly that no two fast degrees are alike. Some colleges have smaller class sizes, others have better financial aid programs. Considering the investment of time and money, it pays (literally) to do a bit of research before jumping into a fast degree program. Below are a few of the more common criteria you will want to check out.
Start here when considering programs. If you do not meet the minimum requirements to apply (the minimum number of hours for a degree completion program, for example), it would be a waste of your time to consider the program. There may also be computer requirements to complete online courses, which may mean additional fees if you don’t already have the minimum hardware and software requirements to get started.
Tuition and Fees
One of the appeals of a fast online degree program is that you usually end up saving money on your degree. Not all programs are alike though, and with many of these programs being for-profit, make sure there aren’t any hidden fees that you’ll be charged per course or per course cycle. Understand that sometimes tuition includes the entire program, but other times includes only individual credit hours. If you’re confused about what the program will cost, contact an admissions adviser to help answer your questions.
Semester Start Dates
Some fast degrees only have one program start date, meaning you might have to wait an entire year to begin your course work. Most accelerated programs, however, have multiple start dates throughout the year. Make sure the start date matches with your schedule and availability.
Degree Program Length
It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. Some programs that offer fast online degrees can take multiple years to complete, especially if you’re working toward a degree and have no prior college credits or work experience. Three years to complete a bachelor’s degree from the beginning is still much faster than the four to six year average it takes to complete one in a traditional college setting. Don’t assume that an accelerated degree will only take a few months of your time.
Some online courses are loaded with students, which means that if there’s only one faculty member assigned to that course, you may not get much time for guidance with that faculty member. If this type of mentoring is integral to your learning experience, make sure to choose a program that has a low faculty to student ratio (1:25 versus 1:100, for example) so that you can get the help you need.
List of Universities with the Fastest Online Courses
Take the next step to earn your degree faster…
Now that you have a vast amount of information about fast online degrees and how they can benefit you, it’s time to start comparing programs. Take your time before deciding on one. Even though these quick degrees are accelerated and take less time than traditional programs to complete, education and knowledge take time to cultivate, so it will be a time and energy commitment either way.
With jobs hitting the market by the thousands these days, there’s no reason for you to be stuck in a job that’s not satisfying. Take control of your future and make the choice to earn a degree that could mean a brighter future ahead.