Life in the Fast Lane: All About Accelerated Online College Degrees Reach Your Professional Goals Faster

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As the name implies, accelerated programs offer a legitimate way for students to complete a certificate or degree program in a shorter period of time than traditional programs, thus helping them to save time and money and get a head start on their career pursuits. These programs are designed for motivated, energetic students who want to get through school and onto achieving their career goals. However, accelerated degrees may not be the best choice for students who need extra time with schoolwork or who tend to lag behind. Because of the accelerated nature of these programs, the work is nonstop, and it can be hard to catch up once a student gets behind. This is precisely the reason why these programs are a solid choice for students who are eager to tackle their education head-on.

Here you’ll find background information on accelerated programs along with popular programs, pros and cons, and resources to help prospective students make a more informed decision as to whether or not accelerated degree programs are right for them.

What Are Online Accelerated Programs?

Fast track programs are…
  • A potential way to save on tuition costs by reducing the amount of time spent in school.
  • Ideal for those who are organized and able to stay on top of things.
  • A means to get through college as soon as possible.
  • Useful for students who can devote all their attention and effort to school in order to finish quickly.
Fast track programs are not…
  • Conducive for long-term recall of topics learned in class (when compared to classes of traditional length).
  • Good for those who tend to procrastinate and are not very organized.
  • For those who want to have the full “college experience.”
  • For students who must juggle several other obligations such as taking care of a child or working full-time.

Popular Online Accelerated Programs

Nursing: RN to MSN
How it’s accelerated

The RN to MSN accelerated programs are designed for registered nurses who already have some nursing experience. These programs allow students to take courses that provide dual credit for their BSN and MSN degrees, receive credit for prior degrees, and take classes year round, rather than adhering to a traditional academic calendar.

Classes taken

The exact curriculum depends on the specific program and the student’s prior professional and educational background. There is opportunity for students to specialize in certain areas, such as nursing education. However, the following classes can be typically found in the MSN component of an RN to MSN accelerated online program:

  • Nursing technology and data management
  • Evidence-based nursing practice
  • The modern healthcare environment
  • Nursing research
On campus requirements

Even though most courses are offered completely through distance learning, due to the hands-on nature of the nursing practice, there will be in-person clinical or practicum requirements. These might be completed at a clinic or hospital near the student, or as an on-campus intensive.

Learn more about RN to MSN programs
How it’s accelerated

Instead of taking the usual two years to get an MBA, accelerated programs can be completed in as little one year. Classes are usually offered year-round and in a compressed format, where students only take two or three classes at once, but do so for about six to eight weeks per class, making an accelerated online MBA program like this a smart choice for working adults. Also worth looking into are online MBAs with no GMAT requirement to enroll, potentially saving further time.

Classes taken

Classes commonly found in accelerated MBA program include:

  • Global business strategy
  • Financial strategy
  • Business leadership
  • Supply chain management
Foundational courses

In order to finish in one year, students will need to take certain business prerequisites, such as financial accounting and marketing. However, many entering students will have already met these requirements during the completion of their bachelor’s degree.

Learn more about accelerated MBA programs
Bachelor’s in Computer Science
How it’s accelerated

Most bachelor’s degrees in computer science take four years to complete. With an accelerated computer science degree online, it can be completed in eighteen months, assuming students already have two years of college credit under their belt. One key element of this accelerated program is asynchronous courses, which allow students to speed up the college experience.

Classes taken

The typical courses students may expect in an accelerated computer science program include:

  • Project management
  • Network administration
  • Cloud computing
  • Database systems

In order be accepted into 18-month accelerated programs, students must have either an associate degree (preferably in field related to computer science) or have college credits equivalent to what’s required to complete an associate’s degree. They may also be expected to have professional experience. Some programs offer one-year accelerated computer science bachelor’s degrees to students who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another major, even if it’s unrelated.

Master’s in Accounting
How it’s accelerated

Traditionally, a master’s degree in accounting would take a total of six years – four for the bachelor’s degree and two for the master’s degree. However, a joint bachelor’s/master’s degree can be obtained in five years, shaving one year away from the overall time requirement. This works by designing courses that meet both bachelor’s and master’s requirements.

Classes taken

CPA requirements mandate a certain accounting curriculum. Accounting students can expect to take classes such as:

  • Advanced accounting
  • Auditing procedures
  • Business law
  • Global accounting
Both degrees from one school

Students who desire a joint bachelor’s/master’s degree in accounting will usually need to get both degrees from the same school. In order to be admitted into the master’s program, students should already be deep into their bachelor’s degree program.

Students who desire a joint bachelor’s/master’s degree in accounting will usually need to get both degrees from the same school. In order to be admitted into the master’s program, students should already be deep into their bachelor’s degree program.

Pros and Cons of Online Accelerated Degrees

Cohort structure

Many online programs offer a cohort structure for their students. This facilitates students to join together and learn as a group, rather than individually.

Defined plan

Sticking to a curriculum plan is very important to make an accelerated program work. There are many ways a degree can be expedited, including arranging classes so they are taken as efficiently as possible, or maximizing the number of credits received per class.

Money savings

Being able to spend less time in school can result in money saved. Students can return to the working world sooner, and they might save on tuition and academic fees.

Get the degree faster

Getting a degree is usually a means to an end. The sooner a student reaches graduation, the sooner they can advance their professional goals.

Focused learning

Instead of learning three to five subjects at once, students of some programs can focus on just two or three subjects. Many students prefer this learning arrangement.

Time might be tight

With such an intense course load, it may be impossible to work while in school. Students might find they have to drop to part-time work in order to complete their accelerated degree.

Fewer program options

Not every academic field can be sped up, which means a specific degree or concentration may not be possible in an accelerated program.

Prior college credit is necessary

While not always the case, many accelerated programs require students to enter with a certain amount of academic credit or a degree.

Lots of studying

Students may spend 20-30 hours per week outside of class studying, and they’ll probably have a full course load during the summer. Most accelerated degree programs require a large amount of intense study time.

A quick study

Some accelerated programs compress classes into a shorter period of time. This means students will have to work harder to learn the material and retain the knowledge over time.

Why So Fast? How Online Accelerated Degree Programs Work

Accelerated programs work very well for those who are focused on the finish line. That’s because these programs usually require intense concentration and study; what would normally take four to six years is being compressed, sometimes dramatically, into much shorter periods of time. But no matter which accelerated degree program a student is considering, there are similarities. The following timeline reflects what students may expect from an 18-month program.

Earning an 18-Month Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree: A Timeline
Before Enrollment: Research
  • Figure out which school offers the area of study and degree of your choice in an accelerated format.
  • Ensure that you have already completed the total number of credits or degree requirements necessary to enter the program.
  • Calculate the total cost of attendance and financial aid options available.
  • Identify admissions requirements and whether you will be able to meet them. For instance, many accelerated online psychology degrees will require incoming students to have an associate’s degree or the equivalent amount of college credits.
  • Determine the technology requirements for remote learning, such as software and hardware requirements.
  • Find out if the program has on-campus or in-person requirements. If it does, ensure you will be able to meet those requirements.
Enrollment: Apply
  • Complete the application.
  • Include all requirements: transcripts, personal statements, letters of recommendation and proof of English proficiency, among others.
  • Prove that you have already completed the required credit hours or degree in order to enter the accelerated program.
  • Pay all fees up-front and well before the deadline.
  • Apply for and arrange financial aid, private student loans, scholarships, etc.
Attendance: Year 1
  • Depending on the specific accelerated program, each academic period will be divided into quarters, semesters or trimesters. During the first year of an accelerated bachelor’s degree program, students will take core major courses. There may also be a few general education classes, such as general science and writing.
Attendance: Year 2
  • The second year of schooling will take only six months. Many of the courses will shift away from material covering core subjects and lean toward more practical areas. Students can expect to complete internships or practicums at this time, if required. Additionally, the post-graduate job search process begins now.
Graduation: Middle of second year
  • After approximately 18 months, students will have met all the requirements for their bachelor’s degree. If post-graduate employment hasn’t yet been secured, the job search process will continue through graduation.

Example Curriculum: Information Technology

The example curriculum below is based on earning the accelerated bachelor’s degree in information technology. Please note that this example does not list every class that may be required, but should give a general idea of what subjects will be covered.

Quarters 1-2 or Semester 1

  • Writing
  • Ethics
  • Management information systems

Quarters 3-4 or Semester 2

  • Business statistics
  • Database design
  • Network administration

Quarter 5-6 or Semester 3

  • Data security
  • Information technology seminar
  • Project management

Accelerated Online Degree Spotlight

Elmhurst College

Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Psychology

Degree Requirement: 32 credits, which can be completed in one year.

Prerequisites: Minimum of 30 college credits

Example of classes:

  • Counseling psychology
  • Scientific statistical analysis
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Organizational psychology
  • Psychology research principles

Other graduation requirements:

  • Completion of a capstone project
  • General education courses, such as literature and science, will also be required

Northeastern University

Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Health Management

Degree Requirement: About 45 credits, which will take about 18 months to complete.

Prerequisites: Minimum of 60 college credits

Example of classes:

  • Healthcare ethics
  • Public health
  • Biostatistics
  • Healthcare management
  • Healthcare law

Other graduation requirements:

  • Completion of a capstone project
  • General education courses, such as writing and history, will also be required

Philadelphia University

Degree: Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources Management

Degree Requirement: 60 credits, which can be completed in about two years.

Prerequisites: Minimum of 30 college credits

Example of classes:

  • Tools for human resources
  • Employee development
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Human relations
  • Applied human resource management

Other graduation requirements:

  • Up to 72 credits can be transferred from other sources, such as military training and CLEP (College-Level Examination Program)
  • General education courses, such as communication and history, will also be required

Choosing an Accelerated Online Degree Program: 5 Things to Consider

Not all accelerated online programs are the same. Each school has its own unique set of requirements and method of speeding up the learning process, but not all methods work for everyone. Prospective students must carefully research programs before enrolling to find the one that meets their needs. This list is a good place to start.

How many credits?

Determine how many prior college credits are needed for enrollment and how many credits make up the desired degree track. A school might advertise that a bachelor’s degree can be obtained in one or two years, but in order to do so, incoming students will need transfer credits.

How is the program accelerated?

Does the school compress traditional-length 16-week courses into half that time, or does the school offer classes year round? Depending on your schedule, you may be unable to commit the time required to one method. For example, if you need to have your summers free, you will need to take compressed classes. However, if you don’t have the time to handle the intensity of a compressed course load, taking classes year round may be a better fit.

What about future plans?

Maybe you want to start a family, get married or work full-time while attending an accelerated degree program. Depending on the time commitment that will be required, it may make more sense to attend school part-time.

How much will it really cost?

All things being equal, an accelerated degree will be cheaper than a traditional one. However, the exact cost for tuition, availability of financial aid, scholarships or the ability to work during school can mean a more expensive school is actually cheaper to attend.

What about in-person requirements?

Certain online degrees, such as those in nursing, require in-person clinicals or practicums. Even though your degree is technically entirely online, you will need to make sure you can meet these in-person requirements.

Other Ways to Accelerate Your Online Program

Enrolling in an accelerated degree program isn’t the only way to finish a degree faster. By taking certain steps, students can graduate early even when attending a traditional school. Here’s how:

Take AP classes in high school.

Not all schools will give college credit for Advanced Placement. The ones that do will usually require students obtain a certain score on the Advanced Placement exam.

Get work experience.

Some programs will allow students to receive college credits by working or interning while attending school or by having prior work experience before enrolling.

Take dual credit courses.

Many colleges have special partnerships with local high schools that allow students to take classes that also give college credit.

Try the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

Students can earn college credit if they make a certain score on a CLEP exam. Not all CLEP exams are approved for all college credits, so students will need to confirm with their academic advisor or school official as to what CLEP exams will work for their goals.

Turn to outside instruction.

The instruction could be from the military, government or professional organizations. In order to receive college credit, students can provide proof of the training and fill out an application requesting college credit.

Take extra courses.

Whether taking summer classes or adding an extra during the regular school year, taking extra classes when other students typically aren’t will speed up the process.

Paying for an Online Accelerated Program

Saving money is a huge draw for accelerated programs. Shaving six months or more off an education can equal tens of thousands in savings. Despite this, getting an accelerated degree can still be expensive. The following are several ways students can help pay for their accelerated degree.

Take as many courses as possible online

Depending on the school, online courses may be offered at a cheaper rate than traditional, on-campus classes.

Fill out the FAFSA

Completion of this form is required by practically all schools which offer financial aid (need or merit-based) and is required for receiving federal financial aid. Though it is usually a must for undergrad, graduate students should fill it out, too.

Look for need-based financial aid

Those less able to pay for school might be eligible to receive need-based financial aid, whether in the form of loans that must be repaid or grants or scholarships, which do not.

Seek out merit-based financial aid

This type of financial aid can be awarded for many different factors, such as academic merit, area of study or certain characteristics, such as the student’s race or life challenges they’ve overcome.

Look into employer tuition reimbursement

Many employers recognize that when their employees do well, the company does well, too. These employers might have a tuition reimbursement program in place, where they will help students pay for college.

From an Accelerated Program Graduate

Ashley Watkins completed an accelerated program with a concentration in non-profit management. Here is a bit about her experience.

Interviewwith Ashley Watkins

Tell us a bit about your accelerated program.

I completed a graduate post baccalaureate certificate program with a concentration in non-profit management. It was housed under the graduate political science department. You must apply and are judged on the same criteria as the master’s degree alternative. A student could complete it in a year going full-time; however, I took my time and paid out-of-pocket and finished in around four years. This track was perfect for me because of the convenience and affordability it offered.

Did you enjoy the speed of the classes?

I liked the pace of my in-seat courses. I found that my graduate school instructors encouraged discussion and analysis so that most students grasped concepts easily. However, I did usually only take one course a semester. Someone going full-time will have to dedicate more time to the program than I did.

What did you think of the online aspects?

Luckily, my certificate program is available 100 percent online if you choose; however, many of the classes are also in-seat, as well. I chose a combination because I prefer in-seat courses more, but the online options were great for my schedule as a full-time worker with pets at home. My online courses were also less expensive than my in-seat courses, which is a relief because there’s not a lot of assistance available for graduate programs. Of course, my online courses were, I guess, more challenging than my in-seat courses by nature as you need self-discipline to complete required readings and assignments by the deadlines. Also, you have to take the initiative to reach out to the professor or a fellow classmate if you don’t understand the lesson.

Any advice you might like to offer to those considering an accelerated program?

I think it’s a convenient and affordable option for working adults. The fact that it’s accelerated/ abbreviated hasn’t hindered my job opportunities. Instead, I’ve been considered more qualified than someone with just a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, if having a full master’s degree is really important to you, consider if you’ll be satisfied with an accelerated program degree/ certificate.

Online Accelerated Program Resources

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)

    The AACN represents the interests of undergraduate and graduate educational nursing institutions. Part of the AACN’s tasks is providing publications, including information about accelerated nursing programs.

  • AP Students

    The Advanced Placement (AP) section of the College Board’s website gives tons of information about how taking AP classes can benefit high school students, including AP classes can give students an advantage in college.

  • CLEP

    Administered by the College Board, the College-Level Examination Program website explain how students can test out of certain college classes.

  • DSST

    An alternative to the CLEP, the DSST Program allows students, including military personnel, to receive college credit for learning acquired outside of a traditional classroom setting.

  • US News and World Report – Education

    Explains how to choose which MBA program to enroll in, including whether an accelerated MBA program is the right degree to get.