Accelerated Online Degrees for Working Adults

Working and going to college require balance. Here, we outline what you need to know about accelerated online degrees for working adults.

February 10, 2022

Accelerated Online Degrees for Working Adults

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Reach Your Goals Faster with an Accelerated Degree

Earning a degree can lead to more job opportunities and higher earning potential. As professionals increase their education, their average wages go up while unemployment goes down. Accelerated online degrees help make it easier for working adults to reach their educational goals.

Students can pursue online degrees in many in-demand fields, including business, education, and healthcare. Top-ranked colleges offer online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Learners attending college while working often benefit from an online format.

Our guide to online accelerated degrees explains how to choose a program and finish an online degree.

How Do Accelerated Online Degrees Work?

Accelerated programs help learners complete degrees sooner than traditional programs. Students can earn some accelerated degrees in just 12 months.

Combining an accelerated program with an online learning format allows learners to benefit from flexibility and speed. In an online accelerated degree-completion program, for example, students transfer their prior college credits toward a bachelor's degree. Accelerated master's programs help working adults advance their career in less time.

The online format makes it easier for working adults to balance school with their career. Many online programs design their coursework for working students.

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Learn More About Accelerated Online Programs by Degree Level

Is an Accelerated Degree Right for Me?

Accelerated online degrees work well for many students. First-time college students, those seeking degree-completion options, and career-minded students can benefit from accelerated programs. Working adults bring unique needs to college. Before applying, prospective students should consider the pros and cons of accelerated formats.

Online accelerated degrees often appeal to first-time college students. The flexible, convenient format makes it easier to earn a degree. Enrollees may find themselves better equipped for the rigors of college-level work.

However, accelerated programs often require a bigger time investment than traditional programs. First-time college students should look for programs that offer student services. Tutoring, academic advising, and career planning can help learners reach their educational goals.

Many students complete part of their degree and then leave school. Degree-completion programs help adults with some college experience earn a degree. Finishing college can mean new job opportunities and higher salaries.

Before enrolling, degree-completion students should research transfer credit policies to maximize their previous coursework. Some learners find accelerated programs difficult after taking a break from school. However, many students benefit from returning to college later in life.

A degree can help career-minded students advance in their current job or change careers. For example, a master's degree helps teachers move up the salary scale or transition into administrative roles. A bachelor's in nursing allows registered nurses (RNs) to specialize and increase their earning potential.

Accelerated programs help working adults earn a degree faster. However, professionals with demanding careers may struggle to find time for an online program.

Evaluating Online Accelerated Programs

Before enrolling in an online accelerated program, working adults should consider several factors. Program structure, in-person requirements, and graduation requirements all shape the learning experience. This section introduces key factors to consider when evaluating online accelerated degrees.

Distance learning programs use synchronous and asynchronous courses. A synchronous format means that live classes follow set meeting times. An asynchronous format lets learners complete coursework on their schedule with no set class times. Prospective students should consider which format best fits their work schedule.

Online learners need strong self-motivation and organizational skills. Applicants should consider their personal learning style and whether an accelerated online degree fits their strengths. Students need discipline and independence to stay on track in an accelerated format.

Programs use several methods to accelerate the course of study. Some use an accelerated course format where learners complete more classes per term. Others combine undergraduate and graduate coursework. Students may also accelerate a program by taking classes during more terms each year. Overall, the type of acceleration affects student experience.

Some online programs include in-person requirements. Learners may need to complete in-person classes, internships, or clinical hours. Other programs run fully online. Prospective students should consider any in-person components and ensure they can fulfill these requirements.

An accelerated online program requires a significant time commitment. Working adults considering college should carefully evaluate the time needed for earning a degree. Taking on school while balancing work and personal obligations can overburden learners. Students should plan ahead to block out time for school.

Accelerated Degree Spotlight

Accelerated online degrees reduce the time needed to earn a degree. Working adults benefit from the following accelerated programs. These degrees can boost earning potential.

RN-to-BSN

Completion Time: Earning a bachelor's degree in nursing typically takes four years. RNs can speed up that timeline in an RN-to-BSN program. Designed for nurses attending college while working, an RN-to-BSN program takes as little as one year to complete. Online learners may complete practicum requirements at their current workplace.

Example Courses:

  • Comprehensive Health Assessment: Learners strengthen their health assessment skills. The course covers physical and mental health assessments. Students learn how to take comprehensive patient histories and communicate health assessment information.
  • Evidence-Based Nursing Practice: Students examine nursing research to determine how to apply proven approaches in nursing practice. The course trains nurses to critically examine research and develop new practices based on data.
  • Community Health: Nurses examine health issues at the community level. The course covers population health, vulnerable populations, and public health. Topics may also include case management, community health interventions, and environmental health.

Program Requirements: Nurses in an RN-to-BSN program complete an accelerated course of study to earn a bachelor's degree. Incoming students receive credit for their RN license and take BSN courses. The curriculum also includes practicum hours to gain hands-on experience. The program prepares nurses for greater responsibilities and higher earning potential.

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Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction

Completion Time: Teachers who work full time on a master's degree can finish in 9-12 months, while part-time students may take two years. Many education master's programs operate cohort groups in eight-week accelerated classes.

Example Courses:

  • The Educator as Leader: Students consider what it means to be a leader among teachers in contemporary, multicultural environments.
  • Evidence-based Research for Education: Learners look at action research models to read, interpret, and apply data.
  • Leadership in Teaching and Learning: Students learn to apply collaboration and communication tools to solve educational problems in the classroom.

Program Requirements: Most master's in education programs require applicants to hold a state-issued teaching license, bachelor's degree, and minimum GPA ranging from a 2.0-3.5, depending on the school. In some initial certification programs, students may need to complete practicum work.

Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction

Completion Time: Many universities offer master's programs in education that take 1-2 years to complete. An accelerated master of education in curriculum and instruction typically takes 12 months or fewer. In an education graduate program, experienced teachers strengthen their skills to increase their earning potential or move into administrative roles. The program may also prepare graduates to enter teaching careers.

Example Courses:

  • Advanced Curriculum and Instruction: Students explore theoretical and practical approaches to curriculum and instruction. The course introduces frameworks for instructional development, curriculum strategies, and advanced educational methods.
  • Instructional Methods: This course takes a research-based approach to instructional methods. Students examine instructional resources and strengthen their decision-making skills. The coursework helps educators develop new, more effective strategies.
  • Curriculum Development: Graduate learners examine advanced curriculum development strategies for classroom teachers and instructional specialists. The course covers performance-based methods, curriculum implementation, and assessment.

Program Requirements: Learners complete at least 30 graduate credits. Many programs offer specializations in areas such as elementary education and secondary education. Learners may complete practicum hours.

Master of Business Administration

Completion Time: Full-time enrollees can complete a master of business administration (MBA) program in two years. Accelerated MBA programs may take only 12 months. Accelerated programs generally offer a higher course load. They may also feature fewer specializations than traditional MBA programs.

Example Courses:

  • Organizational Management: Managers set goals and motivate teams within organizations. The course covers employee behaviors, motivations, and conflict resolution. Students also evaluate leadership skills.
  • Managerial Finance: Managers in every industry benefit from financial decision-making training. Learners examine budgeting, capital management, and how to use financial data in strategic planning.
  • Strategic Leadership: Business leaders require strong strategic thinking skills. The course covers strategy development, research, and plan implementation. Learners build analytical and strategic thinking abilities.

Program Requirements: An MBA typically requires 30-50 credits. MBA programs offer specializations in marketing, finance, and accounting. In addition to coursework, MBA students often complete internships. Online learners can complete internships locally.

Bachelor of Information Technology

Completion Time: Full-time learners can earn a bachelor's degree in information technology in four years. Many schools offer accelerated options for students with prior college credits or IT experience. Depending on their transfer credits, enrollees can earn their bachelor's in information technology in just one year.

Example Courses:

  • IT Systems Planning: Organizations have different IT needs. Learners examine systems planning from an IT and business viewpoint, including how to implement operations plans.
  • Computer Networks: Students explore networking tools and techniques, focusing on creating secure computer networks. The course strengthens network architecture and client system skills.
  • Cybersecurity: Information security represents a core need for businesses. The course covers cybersecurity procedures, focusing on protecting data and security planning.

Program Requirements: Accelerated online programs in information technology build career-focused skills. Learners complete major requirements that focus on problem-solving, collaboration, and technical abilities. The degree also includes general education requirements and electives. IT majors may specialize in areas like network administration or information security. A bachelor's degree requires at least 120 credits.

Post-Bachelor's or Post-Master's Certificates

Working adults may benefit from certificate programs over degree-granting programs. Certificate programs offer focused coursework in shorter formats than degrees. Most certificate programs, also known as graduate certificates, take one year or less to finish.

Learners may enroll in post-bachelor's certificate programs to gain specialized skills in marketing, computer science, and healthcare. The credits may transfer into a master's program.

A post-master's certificate adds coursework after a master's degree. Many nursing programs, for example, offer post-master's certificates for nurses pursuing specialized careers.

Others Ways to Accelerate Traditional Online Programs

Students can further speed up accelerated online degrees. They can apply transfer credits, credit by exam, or life experience credits toward their degree. Many schools also award credit for military experience or work experience.

Learners who complete a higher credit load can also graduate early. Taking classes during winter or summer sessions allows learners to accelerate their degree. Similarly, adding a class during the term can fast-track a degree.

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Featured Online Masters Programs

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Expert Advice on Attending Online College While Working

Portrait of Erin Looney

Erin Looney

A professor and public relations professional, Looney splits her time between teaching in Florida and managing communications and marketing for a law school in Washington, D.C. She brings experience in radio and television broadcasting, social media, public relations, media relations, and communication strategy to the classroom. She works to empower students by incorporating their real-life experiences into course concepts, helping them connect everything they learn to something they care about.

Q. Explain Your Experience With Online Students. What are Some Common Challenges Facing Your Accelerated Students?

I've taught online courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels for several schools, including Valencia College and the University of South Alabama. I've also tutored students in online and accelerated programs at Grand Canyon University, Johns Hopkins University, and Arizona State University.

Online students should know that online classes sometimes require in-person components. I taught my first online course in 2010. It was a nightmare. Students were confused when they learned their online course still required them to report to campus at designated times to deliver their speeches. We offered windows that spanned eight hours a day. This meant there were plenty of times when the required eight students would register for a specific time. However, only one or two would show, leaving students speaking to an audience of three.

Students said, "I signed up for an online class because I work/have a family/own a business/moved a state away and don't have time to come to campus several times a week." Many were only available during one window.

Online students should also know that professor availability can be challenging. Some students think they must complete their work on their own and feel afraid to ask for help. To overcome this, I explain when I will check in and how long students should expect to wait for a response.

I also state in nearly every unit introduction that I am here and will gladly take questions about what they're reading. I don't want students to get overwhelmed or behind. I stick to what I say by setting alarms and reminders until I get into that semester's routine.

Success can depend on the class, timeline, and professor's dedication. Teaching an online course requires giving more concrete and detailed feedback. Without a live lecture or even with an online lecture, students don't have as many opportunities to ask for information about their grades. Professors must clearly articulate what they do well and where they need to improve, even offering suggestions for further reading.

With accelerated courses and programs, these issues are amplified. A condensed timeline means students have far less downtime between assignments and readings. They can fall behind quickly. They may feel like the course is moving on without them, even if they're keeping up with all the course dates. Students understand what they've signed up for. However, expectations and reality don't align perfectly.

The key as a professor in online and accelerated programs is to meet students where they are. To help our students be successful at a breakneck pace that relies on technology, we must tailor our approach, messaging, and content. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it's not always easy. We must be willing to add new content types, such as video and live chats, while still making sure students can access the content easily.

Q. In What Ways Can Online Degrees Appeal to Working Adults?

Time and location flexibility make online degrees attractive for working adults. The allure of cooking dinner while listening to audio lectures or completing quizzes over lunch breaks makes it sound like a dream for working adults. These students may have always wanted to further their education but saw rigid schedules as barriers. However, even with flexibility, most online programs are not work-at-your-own-pace programs. Students must make time to complete the work on schedule.

Q. Who Are Good Candidates for Accelerated Online Programs?

I've observed some differences between online programs that follow a traditional 16-week semester and those that are condensed or accelerated. Students need at least some background in the material. I've taught an accelerated athletic training course, and the students who kept up were those with some knowledge of the subject matter.

It was much easier for a high school baseball coach or a college basketball manager to keep up with the course in the accelerated seven-week timespan than for students who were new to the sports industry. People who want to advance in their existing career without leaving the workforce make strong candidates for accelerated online programs.

It's also important for students to want to show up. They should be willing to put in a sufficient amount of time to grasp concepts. People with a specific motivation to succeed make good candidates for accelerated online programs. Everything moves quickly, which can be frustrating. Students who remember why they enrolled can use that reason to push through the demands.

Q. How Do You Tailor Accelerated Online Programs to Help Working Students Succeed?

Traditional online programs run the full 16-week semester. These programs are often modeled after existing on-campus programs. They match the pace and content of on-campus programs, but students complete coursework through learning management systems.

Accelerated online programs are also modeled after on-campus programs. However, they differ in intensity and the time it takes to complete the program. The number of courses and the amount of content are often the same for traditional and accelerated programs. Students must move quickly from one concept to the next.

I respect my accelerated students' time commitments while still ensuring they're responsible for the same material as traditional students. I make all work build on itself. I focus on a major project at the end of the semester. Incremental steps along the way serve as graded checkpoints.

Online Resources for Working Adults

This article provides a full guide to help learners choose an online program, along with a list of resources and tips for students. GoGrad offers an extensive array of resources for graduate students, such as guides to help learners choose a school, get financial aid, pass standardized exams, and secure needed academic assistance. U.S. News & World Report offers tips on topics such as connecting with instructors early and creating a schedule to help working adults succeed while getting an accelerated online education.

AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online MBA Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

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AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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