Earning an Associate Degree Online Fast

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A How-To Guide to Accelerated Associate Degree Programs

Accelerated online programs allow students to earn college degrees quicker than ever before. This option appeals especially to those in the military, healthcare, and business, who often have external schedule pressures or who seek to advance careers quickly. Others interested in accelerated programs simply want to move sooner into their next educational phase.

Notably, online programs can deliver the same degrees in a shorter time frame than traditional on-campus programs. You can, for example, earn your associate degree in healthcare in 18 months rather than two years.

So how does this work? Most accelerated programs compress class schedules into five- or seven-week sessions, rather than typical 16-week terms. They also take advantage of summers and offer coursework all year long. Perhaps best of all, because you earn your degree quicker, these degrees make college more affordable than ever.

Earning a 12-Month Accelerated Associate Degree: A Timeline

Before Enrollment: Research

  • Choose schools that offer 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 admission requirements and whether you will be able to meet them.
  • Determine the technology requirements for remote learning, such as software and hardware.
  • Find out if the program has on-campus or in-person requirements. If it does, ensure that 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 upfront and well before the deadline.
  • Apply for and arrange financial aid, private student loans, scholarships, etc.

Attendance: Year 1

In the first year of an accelerated associate degree online, students typically take a full course load of general education requirements and a few classes toward their major.

Schedule and workload vary by school. Some colleges offer their coursework in quarters, during which distance learners take fewer classes in short, quick bursts. Other schools utilize the semester or trimester system, allowing degree candidates to enroll in more classes across a longer period. Finally, many schools incorporate summer classes, which can help students earn an associate degree online fast.

The first year tends to focus on checking off course requirements. An internship or practicum may come in year two.

Graduation: End of Year 1

Because of the speed and intensity of an accelerated associate degree online, graduation arrives quickly. Associate degrees typically require 60 credits. Thanks to packed schedules and shorter courses, students can generally meet this goal within 18 months — or roughly six months faster than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

As you approach graduation, you will begin your job search. Some graduates leave their programs with job offers in hand; others move quickly into bachelor’s programs.

Example Curriculum: Accelerated Associate in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice programs often offer accelerated options. The following classes give you an idea how a typical online program might look. This list does not include every class, but it should provide a general idea of the subjects covered.

Quarters 1-2 or Semester 1

Introduction to Criminal Justice
English Composition
Modern Policing
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

Quarters 3-4 or Semester 2

American Government and Policy
English Composition II
Introduction to Sociology

Accelerated Online Associate vs. Online Associate Timeline

An accelerated online associate degree can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to earn your diploma compared to a traditional online associate degree. The link below shows just how long it usually takes a student to complete a more traditional web-based associate degree.



What Is the Fastest Online Associate Degree to Get?

Students looking for a fast track associate degree online often include service members, healthcare workers, and others simply looking for higher paying jobs. In the list below, you will find program ideas for each of these demographics. Criminal justice, for example, often proves a good fit for members of the military. Working professionals might want to explore one of the many programs designed specifically for them.

Accelerated Online Associate Programs for Military Members

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Criminal Justice

    • Completion Time
      Ideal for members of the military with some criminal justice experience, this type of program allows you to complete an associate degree in just 16 months. The curriculum splits into 7.5-week sessions, giving you the opportunity to earn the 68 required credits fast.
    • Example Courses
      • Introduction to Criminal Justice: This course explores the basics of the American system of criminal justice.
      • Criminology: This class takes students through patterns of illegal behavior and ways criminals think.
      • Introduction to Psychology: This course considers the human mind and why people do what they do.
    • Program Requirements
      Students may be required to complete a research project, but the school does not require internship or field experience. Requirements include the ability to perform college-level writing and math.

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Counterterrorism

    • Completion Time
      This course of study explores the origins and history of terrorism. Students learn strategies to combat terrorist threats. Programs like this coordinate perfectly with a military background. It takes less than two years to complete, and students can receive credit for prior military experience. Service members also benefit from discounted tuition.
    • Example Courses
      • Mind of a Terrorist: This course surveys the behavior and motivation of today’s terrorists.
      • Homeland Security and Intelligence: Students look at ways national security utilizes data and intelligence sources to fight terrorist threats.
      • Homegrown Terrorism: This course addresses how Americans become radicalized.
    • Program Requirements
      Applicants typically need a high school degree or equivalent. Some programs like this require neither prior military service nor outside practicums or fieldwork. Degree candidates can often quickly earn credits by transferring military experience.

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Military Studies

    • Completion Time
      Programs like these allow service members to get ahead in their military career with a related degree; they also serves as ideal diplomas with which to pivot into civilian life. Students take a single course at a time for five weeks, earning their degree in less than two years.
    • Example Courses
      • Introduction to Military Studies: A primer in the fundamentals of the military’s role in American culture, this class prepares students for the coursework ahead.
      • Introduction to Cultural Anthropology: A look at human development across the centuries, this course fulfills general education requirements.
      • American Military History I: Students study the U.S. military from its pre-Revolutionary roots to WWI.
    • Program Requirements
      Applicants must meet their prospective university’s basic requirements, which usually include a minimum number of credits and active participation in class.

Accelerated Online Healthcare and Medical Associate Programs

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Pre-Medicine

    • Completion Time
      This program type qualifies as “very accelerated” since students can earn their degree in a little over a year. This assumes, however, that they transfer some credits.
    • Example Courses
      • Biology: This course explores the human body, including major systems and functions.
      • General Chemistry: An introductory course to chemistry at the collegiate level, this course includes both lecture and lab.
      • Calculus I: All science majors must take mathematics courses, including calculus.
    • Program Requirements
      Students must meet general admission criteria, which includes a high school degree or equivalent. Learners often need to attend a new student orientation. Students may or may not need practicum or internship experience.

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Healthcare Administration

    • Completion Time
      Offered entirely through the web, this program type explores the nexus of business and medicine, and it makes an ideal foundation for future study or entry into the workplace.
    • Example Courses
      • Human Resource Management: This three-credit course explores intrapersonal communication and management styles.
      • Computer Literacy: Students learn to maximize IT in a healthcare setting in this first-semester course.
      • Medical Terminology: Distance learners become well versed in the language of healthcare in this introductory course of study.
    • Program Requirements
      Applicants must hold a high school degree or equivalent, and they typically need to pass an entrance exam to gain admission to the program. While some classes feature labs, and students should check whether the school requires internships.

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Healthcare Management

    • Completion Time
      Distance learners pick up the skills needed to move into advanced positions in the world of healthcare in this program. If students take classes during the summer session, they may be able to complete some programs in 18 months or less.
    • Example Courses
      • Healthcare Organizations: This course grounds students in the structure and governance of the U.S. healthcare system.
      • Management Principles: The basics of administration — including decision-making, problem-solving, budgeting, and intrapersonal relations — form the basis of this class.
      • Ethics of Medicine: Students in this required course consider moral questions that arise in the delivery of healthcare.
    • Program Requirements
      Students must meet the usual college admission requirements to enter this program type, including a high school diploma or GED. No practicum or field experience is required typically required.

Accelerated Online Associate Programs for High Salary Careers

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Business Administration

    • Completion Time
      This web-based program type leads to an associate degree in a little over a year. Designated advisors provide assistance throughout the program.
    • Example Courses
      • Principles of Financial Accounting: Students learn the fiscal side of administration in this three-credit course.
      • Composition: Distance learners explore the components of solid writing skills.
      • Business Software Applications: This three-credit class looks at the use of technology in modern business.
    • Program Requirements
      To earn one of these fast college degrees, learners must first earn admission to the school with a high school degree or equivalent. The program typically requires no internships, but many students choose to do one for credit.

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Software Development

    • Completion Time
      Software engineering represents the single best-paying job possible with a two-year degree, according to PayScale. This particular program usually consists of 60 credits, which students typically earn in 20 months or less. Classes often run year round.
    • Example Courses
      • Computer Networks: Networking and IT form the basis of this three-credit course, which explores operating systems and network fundamentals.
      • Database Design: This three-credit course examines database construction, security, and management.
      • Computer Architecture: Among other topics, this class investigates how software runs on a hardware platform.
    • Program Requirements
      Applicants must submit high school transcripts and meet with an admissions counselor. Some may need to take entrance placement exams. The curriculum typically excludes internships and field practicums.

  • Accelerated Online Associate in Supervision and Management Technology

    • Completion Time
      Intended for individuals seeking positions at the management level, this associate degree takes place entirely across the internet. Some universities offer classes on a rotating basis, allowing distance learners to earn credits quickly. Graduates leave with the skills needed to step into high-paying administrative careers.
    • Example Courses
      • Principles of Accounting: This three-credit course introduces the basics of bookkeeping in a professional setting.
      • Public Speaking: This class provides strategies for public discourse.
      • Personnel Management: This class imparts skills needed to oversee staff, set schedules, communicate effectively, and solve problems.
    • Program Requirements
      Candidates must submit educational transcripts from their high school or previous college careers. Most colleges do not require internship experience.

Other Popular Accelerated Degree Subjects


Explore More Accelerated Degree Levels


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