What is an Accelerated Degree Program?

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Any student may attempt to complete a bachelor’s degree in less than four years, but what is a formal accelerated degree program?

An accelerated college degree is structured to make it possible for students to complete their educational program in fewer than four years for a bachelor’s degree, and fewer than two to three years for master’s degrees. Programs accelerating other types of degrees, such as Ph.D., J.D. (law) or M.D. (medical doctor), are less common, but they do exist. Many accelerated academic programs are available online.

Traditional Programs and Acceleration

Traditional bachelor’s degrees are comprised of 8 16-week semester sessions with summer and interterm classes. College classes are typically provided in units, which are tied to the number of hours students spend in the classroom. An average 4-unit course means your class meets for four hours a week for 16 weeks. A traditional program may offer some 8-week classes, and may offer summer classes which are 8- or 10-weeks long. If you want to get your bachelor’s degree in less than 4 years in a traditional program, your only choice is to take more than 4 classes a semester, and always take summer or 8-week classes. In this way, you could graduate in three years, but it will be very challenging.

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Accelerated Courses and Programs

Some colleges and universities offer flexible paths of study that enable students to cover more classes in significantly less time than traditional programs. One method breaks from the semester or quarter system entirely, offering “just in time” education, with 8-week courses starting frequently. In this type of accelerated program, students focus intensely on no more than two courses at a time. They are able to complete requirements for their major up to twice as fast as the traditional 16-week, semester-based schedule. Another option for acceleration is flexible, skills-based education. Many different schools have developed ways for students to flexibly complete classes if they already have experience, or show rapid progress and learning.

Flex Choice and Hybrid Programs

Combining traditional course-based learning and competency testing, flexible choice (Flex Choice) programs can help students complete bachelor’s degrees as quickly as 18 months. These programs combine testing and certification in skills and knowledge with accelerated education, typically provided online. Flexible and hybrid programs will also transfer units from other education courses you may have completed in the past.

Accelerated Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees

Accelerated programs providing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree are available in many fields, including nursing, education, accounting and business. Investopedia reports that combined accelerated degree programs are in increased demand in part because of rising student loan costs. Programs that combine bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the same field typically last for five years, but also eliminate costly, time consuming graduate school testing and applications.

What is an accelerated degree program? It could be a way for you to save money on your education and get out into the workforce faster. Students already accelerate their own traditional degree programs by taking more courses at one time, according to the New York Times. Traditional colleges and universities are following the example of schools that have always offered accelerated degree programs from associate’s to master’s and Ph.D., providing a pathway to efficient and affordable education.