Traditionally, a bachelor’s degree takes four years to earn. But it doesn’t have to. And if you’re a non-traditional student, that can be good news — not everyone is in a position to go back to school full-time for four years.
There are plenty of ways to speed up the process of earning a bachelor’s degree, whether you’re still in high school or already out in the workforce. From advanced placement (AP) credits and summer classes to cashing in on your life experience, here are some of the best ways to get to graduation day in just a year or two.
Start While You’re Still in High School
If you’re still in high school, you can take AP classes to earn college credit for some of your basic general education courses and maybe even some of your major prerequisites. This can allow you to start on your major courses sooner, which can knock a semester or two off your degree, depending on how many courses you take. But not all schools accept AP credits as transfer credits, so choose a bachelor’s degree program where you can use your credits.
Take Courses All Year Round
You don’t have to enroll in an accelerated degree program to earn your bachelor’s on an accelerated timeline. Instead of taking courses nine months out of the year and taking a summer vacation, enroll in summer courses. Summer courses typically last six to eight weeks, so you can usually manage one or two a summer, which will allow you to graduate up to a year early.
Many accelerated degree programs use this same model to fit the standard amount of bachelor’s coursework into a smaller time frame. You might choose an accelerated degree that allows you to take six- to eight-week courses year-round, for example, to finish the degree in half the usual time.
Choose a Competency-Based Program
If you’ve been working in a field for a while, chances are you’ve picked up the same skills as college graduates in your field, even though you haven’t earned a degree. And, at an increasing number of schools, you can turn this work experience into a degree by enrolling in a competency-based program.
In such a program, terms are three to six months long, and you pay by the term, not by the credit hour — your tuition payment gets you access to all the books and materials needed to learn the competencies required for your degree. You can take as many competency tests as you want during each term, and earn as many or as few credits as you want.
Most people choose to test for competencies they’ve already gained on the job right away, and then study for any additional competencies they need to round out the degree. These programs tend to be a lot cheaper than traditional bachelor’s degrees — it can be just a few thousand dollars to attend for a six-month term. You can also finish the degree much faster, in as little as six months, depending on how hard you want to work and how well you already know your field.
Make Your Life Experience Work for You
Competency-based programs are still relatively new, and can still raise eyebrows in job interviews — but you can get college credit for your work experience in many more traditional programs. Life experiences can help you earn college credit, too — maybe you learned to speak Dari while serving in Afghanistan, or developed video editing and public speaking skills while running a popular YouTube channel.
At many schools, you can “test out” of general education courses and automatically move up to more advanced courses in the subject, or get to your major classes sooner. If you have work experience relevant to your chosen major, you may even be able to waive some of the course requirements due to your work experience, if you talk to the right person in the department. There’s no need to spend four whole years of your life earning a bachelor’s degree if you don’t want to. The traditional schedule is great if you’re a young person looking for a traditional college experience, but you’d be surprised at how much faster you can earn your degree when you put your mind to it.
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