Earning an online degree is easier than ever. Schools across the country are recognizing the need for convenient, online courses for working adults, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many universities to shift towards online course options.
However, even with online college degrees, students can spend years and years taking classes without ever finishing. If you want to complete your degree as quickly and easily as possible, you need to follow these steps.
Traditional universities are slowly shifting towards online courses, but some newer schools were created exclusively to offer online classes. These modern colleges are designed for working students and offer a variety of convenient options. You may be able to take accelerated, month-long courses, work with professors who prefer online-only classes, or find weekend-only classes that accommodate your work schedule.
One of the fastest ways to complete your degree online as quickly as possible is to major in General Studies. These degrees are designed for students with non-traditional backgrounds who need to graduate as soon as possible. This major has few course requirements; at some colleges, the only requirement for completing an associate’s degree in General Studies is obtaining 60 credit hours. At other schools, you may have to complete standard general education courses in English, natural sciences, or mathematics.
Summer courses can help you complete your degree quickly. These classes last from six to twelve weeks and move through the material at an accelerated path. Most advisors recommend avoiding intensive courses like mathematics or statistics during the summer, but summer classes are a great way to quickly complete courses in history or English. Because these courses move so quickly, most students choose to take only one class per summer semester.
Do you prefer self-paced study over a rigid, teacher-led course? Do you have self-taught knowledge that you think deserves college credit? Do you just want to save money and time? These are all strong reasons to consider pursuing college credit in exchange for test results.
Your first option is Advanced Placement (AP) exams. If you completed AP credit in high school, you can take an AP exam and earn college credit based on your score. Most schools accept AP credit.
What if you didn’t take AP classes? You can pursue CLEP, the College Level Examination Program. Anyone is eligible to take a CLEP exam, but you’ll have to pay $85 as an examination fee. CLEP covers over 30 courses, including science, foreign language, business, and social sciences. You can prepare for the exam by self-study, whether that means watching videos on Khan Academy or using an official CLEP preparation book. Almost 3,000 colleges accept CLEP credit, making CLEP credit a great way to quickly earn college credits.
Other test-for-college-credit options include Excelsior College Credits (ECE) and Dantes Subject Standardized Tests (DSST). Because each online school has different requirements for accepting test-based credit, you should check with an advisor before you make plans to earn your entire degree via testing.
Some online schools offer portfolio-based credits for English, graphic design, and art-related courses. If you work in publishing or media, you don’t need to sit through an introductory class designed for students with no experience in your field. You may be able to submit a portfolio of your best pieces and receive credit for work you’ve completed outside of the classroom. This technique is also helpful if you want to take an advanced course but haven’t technically met the requirements for the class. You can lobby the professor or the college department to let you into the more challenging course based on your portfolio.
If you can’t test out of general education requirements, choose your courses carefully. A three-credit course in Introduction to Earth Sciences will fulfill your natural sciences requirement just as well as a course in Advanced Astrophysics. Look for courses that are labeled “not for major students,” meaning the class is designed for students who aren’t majoring in the topic of the class. These classes move at a slower pace and sometimes cover more interesting material because professors understand that students who are taking a required course may not be as passionate about the material as students majoring in the subject.
You can also get help selecting the best classes for finishing your degree quickly. Instead of looking at the course catalog on your own, schedule a meeting with an advisor. Make it clear that you want to fulfill your general education requirements without ruining your GPA or being forced to repeat a course.
While you’re meeting with an advisor to discuss the easiest available classes at your school, ask for help planning your degree path. Your advisor has insider knowledge about which professors may be retiring soon, which courses are only offered once per year or which pre-requisites you should complete as soon as possible. You don’t want to get to your last semester of college and realize that the course you really need for your career won’t be offered until next semester. An advisor can help you avoid common mistakes that college students make.
While community colleges aren’t as convenient as exclusively online universities, you can still earn an associate’s degree quickly and easily. Community colleges primarily offer two-year degrees and charge low tuition rates. Often, you can pay all of your tuition and fees using Pell Grants or low-interest federal student loans, meaning you’ll graduate with little to no student loan debt.
However, community colleges sometimes require applicants to jump through extra hoops before admission. Some colleges require pre-admission testing and possible remedial coursework before allowing students to start working on a degree. For certain professional degrees, like an Associate’s of Science in Nursing or an A.S. in Fire Science, you may have to take a year of pre-requisite classes before beginning your two-year degree program. Plus, most community colleges still follow the traditional fall-spring-summer semester schedule, meaning you’ll have to wait up to a year to start your coursework.
If you served in the military, you deserve college credit for the courses you took while serving the country. The U.S. military has created the Joint Services Transcript (JTE) to document exactly what you’ve learned during your service. The transcript documents all military coursework, all college-level tests you took while in uniform, and a detailed description of your military occupations. According to Military.com, more than 2,000 colleges and universities accept the JTE.
You can quickly earn a college degree by taking courses at multiple schools. Whether you want to take specialized classes that are only offered by a handful of schools or just need to take advantage of multiple scheduling options, you should be able to transfer credit from any reputable college or university. Before enrolling in a second or third college, find out if the school is accredited and which major universities accept its courses for transfer credit. If you’re enrolling in a community college, ask about transfer agreements with local schools; oftentimes, universities will designate specific courses at affiliated community colleges as eligible for transfer credit.
A college degree is a status symbol. It shows potential employers that you can commit to a long-term goal, overcome obstacles, think critically and write persuasively. Obtaining your degree means better job offers and more promotional potential, so don’t delay. Get started on a plan to complete your online degree today.