The time it takes to complete a college degree can be a significant drawback for some students. While certain students may want to savor the college experience, many other students want to earn their degree as fast as possible so they can move on to the next stage of their life. A traditional college degree program is an excellent way for students to take their time and savor the college experience. But what if you’re someone who wants to get their degree done quickly? Is it possible to complete a college degree faster by choosing to pursue the degree online?

Traditional College Course Structure vs. Online College

Most types of degree programs take a fixed amount of time to complete when taken on-campus. For example, a typical undergraduate Bachelor’s program takes about four years to complete. Here’s a breakdown of the time it takes to typically complete a type of degree.

  • Associate Degree – Two years
  • Bachelor’s Degree – Four years
  • Master’s Degree – Two years
  • Doctorate – Four years or more

These times to complete a degree are typical across most traditional colleges. These times are fixed because most schools adhere to a maximum course load of 18 credits per semester. Typically, you’ll find that students maintain a course load of 15 credits per semester, putting students on track to complete an undergraduate program in eight semesters or four years.

Traditional colleges also follow a particular schedule. Courses are offered in two primary semesters, one in the Fall and one in the Spring. These semesters are typically 15 weeks long. Summer semesters are also provided by many schools and are typically eight weeks long. Many courses are not offered during the summer semester, and most adhere to the 15-week length.

How Can Online Colleges Be Faster?

With an understanding of the typical framework and schedule of a college degree, we can examine how online colleges can offer students a faster path to graduation. Online colleges can provide degrees to students more quickly in several ways. They can:

  • offer degree programs that are offered in an accelerated format, 
  • offer multiple starting dates throughout the year, 
  • offer joint-degree programs
  • offer more favorable transfer credit policies

Online Colleges Offer Accelerated Degree Programs

The primary way that online colleges can beat the clock to help students graduate more quickly is through an accelerated format. As outlined above, traditional courses adhere to a 15-week semester length. Accelerated degree programs aim to cut that semester-length down to as little as a third of that original length.

Students in accelerated degree programs from online colleges will take courses that can be five weeks, seven weeks, or eight weeks long. This is a drastic reduction in the amount of time it takes to complete a particular course.

By offering students their online courses in an accelerated format, students can move through the curriculum far more quickly than they would be able to during a traditional degree program.

Online Colleges Offer Multiple Starting Dates Throughout The Year

Due to how online courses leverage asynchronous learning, online colleges are not beholden to the schedule found on a traditional college campus. With a traditional college course, students attend class together in what would be similar to a synchronous course online. That means that students must all go through the course at the same pace and same time as one group.

Asynchronous courses mean that students can attend their courses at whatever time they see fit. This allows courses to have more flexible and more plentiful start dates throughout the year. Rather than starting the course once in the Fall or the Spring, online colleges can offer dozens of start dates throughout the year.

By offering many start dates throughout the year, online students can jump into their studies much more quickly than they’d be able to on-campus. And the sooner you start your degree, the sooner you’ll be able to complete your degree.

Online Colleges Offer Joint-Degree Programs

Another way that online colleges can offer degrees to students more quickly is through joint-degree programs. Many online colleges offer two degrees bundled together that both count the same courses towards the completion of a degree. For example, many schools offer an online Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration degree. This combination of degrees is in high demand by many employers but can take over six years to complete if taken separately. 

To speed this process up, many online colleges allow some of the courses in the program to count double. They count towards the total number of credits needed to complete the Juris Doctor and the total number of credits required to complete the Master of Business Administration. This typically results in a time savings of at least a year.  

Online Colleges Offer More Favorable Transfer Credit Policies

Transfer credits allow students to gain credit for the courses they may have already taken elsewhere and put them towards completing a new degree. While most colleges offer a transfer credit policy, online colleges tend to be far more favorable towards students when it comes to accepting a wide array of additional transfer credits to be used towards completing their degrees.

Not having to repeat a course because your transfer credits weren’t accepted is just another way in which an online college degree can be faster than a traditional degree program.

Are Online Colleges Faster than Traditional Colleges?

Online college can be much faster than a traditional college degree. Accelerated degree programs, multiple starting dates, joint-degree programs, and generous transfer credit programs allow students enrolled in an online college to save time compared to those enrolled in an on-campus degree. If you’re a student who wants to complete their college degree as quickly as possible, an online college is a great way to shave that extra time off your total studies.

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