The ideal college student graduates high school, takes the typical four to five years to earn a bachelor’s degree and goes on to find a successful job. However, that path is not ideal for many in the real world. Sometimes, students seek a faster route in order to begin their career sooner as they balance life, finances and even a family with getting an education. There is good news – certain steps can be taken to obtain an education faster and get you into your future career.

Test Out of Classes

Perhaps the quickest way to earn that degree faster is to test out of classes. If you can show prior learning outside of a traditional classroom, many colleges will offer tests where you can demonstrate that knowledge and skill and skip past a class. The College Board’s College-Level Examination Program is the most common, allowing students to earn credit by qualifying on 33 different examinations. The CLEP is accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities. Not only will this save you time, it will save you money as well. To get started, find out if the college or university you are interested in attending accepts the CLEP or another form of a proficiency exam. Next, find the resources needed to begin studying. There are many CLEP guides available online to help get you started.

Online Classes

Online classes can often take just as long as regular courses to complete, but it is possible, depending on the structure of the course, to finish sooner. Online classes can take a year off the time it takes to obtain what would otherwise be a four-year degree. The average student takes two years of full-time study to earn an associate degree and four years or more for a bachelor’s degree. In an online structure, the average time shortens to 15 to 24 months for an associates and three to four years for a bachelor’s degree.

Many colleges or universities also offer accelerated online programs, which is a huge benefit when needing to finish in a shorter time frame in order to get to a future career. However, these courses can be quite demanding and serious consideration of other responsibilities should be taken into account before entering this journey. If you can make it work with excellent time management skills, then this option can provide hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars saved, helping you get your foot in the door of that dream career sooner.

Sweat it Out in the Summer

It is so very tempting to take the summer off and continue following the same schedule you had as a grade school student. While others are out soaking up the sun and going on vacation, it can feel torturous to be stuck in a classroom. However, if you really have your sights set on finishing that degree, taking courses in the summer can take several semesters off the time spent in the classroom.


Another sure-fire way to quickly take time off earning a degree is taking advantage of mini-mester courses offered through the majority of colleges and universities. These classes are grueling and require long hours each day with homework and studying guaranteed each night. Only sign up for these classes if you are able to set everything else in your life aside for a short time. These classes often take place between semesters, such as Christmas break, but offer a great opportunity for a quicker completion.

Dual Credit

This option isn’t applicable if you are already out of high school, but if you are still in grade school and looking toward the future, this is a very viable option. Many students are focused on the life experiences of college, but if you are serious about finishing college sooner, whether due to family obligations, financial restrictions or other reasons, entering into a dual credit program in high school is a genius way to get ahead. If there is a local college, it could be a great source of information and just the place to get started with that degree.

Ask for Help

The best piece of advice is to speak with an advisor. No one knows the college catalogs and best course of action better than your academic advisor. If you are still considering multiple colleges and don’t yet have an advisor, reach out to the colleges on your shortlist and see which offers the fastest route. Getting handed a course catalog with upwards of 50 options can be daunting, but an advisor can help.

If you are needing to earn that degree quicker, the traditional approach might not be the best way. Instead, consider some alternative routes to help reach your goals and begin the life and get the future career you have always dreamed of.

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