According to author and Forbes writer Reuven Brenner, accelerating the American education system could have a startlingly positive impact on the economy. With roughly 16 million young people in college, lowering the graduation age could add as much as $80 billion to the national equity. Finishing school early not only gives students a chance to begin establishing themselves financially, it gives them extra time to pursue a second career later on in life if they decide that their first wasn’t everything they had hoped it would be.
But how does one graduate college early? Many colleges and universities provide accelerated degree plans for students hoping to enter the workforce as quickly as possible. Not surprisingly, adult learners between 25 and 54 love the idea of these programs because they offer a chance to excel within a shorter timeframe. The average bachelor’s degree takes three to five years to complete, but an accelerated program can be completed in just 12-18 months. This can be a boon for adult students, who make up 34% of college learners. Older students, particularly those with children or other dependents, benefit greatly from the chance to re-enter the workforce full-time as soon as possible.
What Are The Best Colleges For Graduating Early?
Is Graduating Early for You?
The obvious advantage to graduating early is entering the workforce as soon as possible and finding a job that much sooner. Even for students within the “traditional” age range with no kids or spouses, the possibility of saving money and time is certainly appealing. The College Affordability and Transparency Center, run by the Department of Education, can give you an estimate of how to graduate college early, how much traditional degrees will cost, and how much you might save by abbreviating your academic career.
But it takes more than just a desire for less time and tuition savings to fit in with an accelerated degree plan. Most programs court students who are career-driven and who already hold a solid idea of what they want to accomplish post-graduation. Students unsure about their career goals would more than likely benefit from a traditional education on campus, as it provides them with more time, training, and guidance to make decisions.
“Balancing work, family, and coursework is always a challenge,” says Deann Sterner, Director of Academic Advising, Undergraduate Programs, at Bellevue University, regarding how to graduate college early. Accelerated degree plans require just as many credit hours as their predecessors. Participants usually have to sacrifice summer vacations, sign up for minimesters, and/or take a larger-than-usual course load to finish within the given time and GPA parameters.
“Start planning early,” says Susan Strehle, Interim Vice Provost and Dean of Binghamton University’s graduate school. “If you have even the slightest interest in obtaining your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in one shot, and you have some ideas about what you would like to study or what career you would enjoy, start talking to your advisor, professors, or another campus professional that you feel comfortable expressing your interests with.”
She adds, “Most programs require that your coursework be planned in a very specific manner with an advisor, and in order to ensure that all requirements are met on time, this advising process usually starts early in the academic career.”
Different schools offer different degrees through accelerated programs. Some provide associate, bachelor’s, and graduate diplomas, though many programs blend undergraduate and graduate options. Most colleges and universities limit which majors are available in these programs, so anyone interested in a specific school should see if they offer a degree in their chosen field.
Advice for Staying Ahead
“These programs are most beneficial for anyone who will need an advanced degree in order to achieve a certain personal goal or occupation because they reduce the amount of time required to reach that stage in life,” says Strehle. “Typically, students who find the most success in these programs are those who are committed to their own education, have specific professional/career goals that they are working toward, and have good time management and organizational skills.”
If you want know how to graduate early and thrive in an accelerated degree program, you’ll need to follow a few guidelines:
- Plan ahead.
Because accelerated degrees drop students right into the workforce in three years or fewer, participants really need to know where they’re headed. Without a solid plan in place, major snags could entirely derail your educational pursuits. It’s also important to not lose sight of your ultimate professional aspirations.
- Have specific career goals in mind.
Not every accelerated degree inherently targets adult learners hoping to bolster their careers, but the programs’ structures make them a more viable option over “traditional” demographics. Students still trying to sample different fields or who prefer interdisciplinary routes will likely struggle in these environments. The most successful graduates from an accelerated program know how the degrees fit in with their professional plans. Once you’re committed to a fast-track major, there isn’t much time to switch over to something else.
- Manage time.
This is the single most important factor in determining accelerated degree success. Poorly managed time wrecks an academic program. If you have kids, a job, or other responsibilities that might infringe upon completing classes or homework, you might want to ask the school how much time their accelerated degrees require before applying. In Sterner’s words: “Allow time for study. More is expected of students in a short amount of time, so set realistic goals for study time each week.”
- Manage stress.
Accelerated programs are significantly more intense than their traditional counterparts. Planning ahead will help combat much of the anxiety that students might incur while enrolled. Especially if said planning ahead involves scheduling some rest. Your body and mind alike will appreciate the respite. It’s a vital part of ensuring your success in graduating early.
- Ask for help
Reaching out to faculty members, other students, and even professionals will save valuable time and cut back on potentially debilitating stress. In an accelerated program especially, you cannot afford to lose precious hours or days trying to solve a problem you find particularly baffling.
- Take part in study group.
Even students enrolled in cohort modules can benefit from the camaraderie and support study groups provide. Participation helps everyone involved sharpen their knowledge of subjects with which they might struggle. Sterner agrees: “Engage with faculty and fellow students. While this is required to meet minimum requirements for passing each course, take the opportunity to connect, network, and learn.”
Career-driven students capable of handling intensive workloads should consider accelerated degree plans when asking how to graduate early. Many of them provide far more flexibility than the traditional diploma while saving enrollees money and, ultimately, time. These options are well worth exploring for the up-and-coming or established professional who wants all the skills without spending too much of their lives in the classroom.
Consider Getting Your Degree Online
An accelerated degree path and the online learning environment often go hand-in-hand in the modern age. More and more people are turning to online degrees at all levels to forward their careers. Since many of the tools for how to graduate early are already in place, online degrees are often the next logical step.
Obviously some degrees seem better-suited than others to online learning, such as computer science and business, but colleges across the country are finding new and better tools every day to weave together the online world and traditional education. Even if you choose not to get your accelerated degree completely online, make sure to explore the options a school may have for a blended educational approach. Managing stress is an important part of an accelerated education, and nothing says “stress management” like working in your jammies quietly at home. Consider an online school to help you reach your goal of early graduation.
To determine the best colleges for graduating early, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the top 10 colleges for graduating early. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.