How to Graduate College Early: The 10 Best Colleges for Graduating Early

TBC Early Graduation

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?


Binghamton University Binghamton, New York

"Approximately 50 students per year take advantage of Binghamton‘s accelerated degree options. We expect this number to grow substantially in the coming years," says Strehle. "Currently, the most popular accelerated programs are electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and engineering to MBA 4+1."

The school’s fast-track program blends a bachelor’s degree with a master’s and takes five years to complete. More than 50 majors are available, covering a diverse range of science, humanities, liberals arts, business, and performing arts subjects.

Tuition at Binghamton, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, "is variable and dependent on multiple factors, such as residency requirements or extra fees for particular programs."

Strehle explains Binghamton’s payment options: "The structure of the accelerated degree option allows students to pay the rate of undergraduate study for the first four years of the program, and then students will pay the graduate rate for their fifth and final year." The program yields two degrees with a full year of tuition in savings.


Bellevue University Bellevue, Nebraska

Nebraska-based Bellevue University accepts students with either 60 credit hours or an associate degree into its accelerated cohort degree program. Those who do not meet these criteria may still catch up through military service, CLEP tests, or other equivalencies. Seventeen bachelor of science (BS) and two master of science (MS) degrees are available, with all of them available online and all but three with brick-and-mortar options. Most of the majors center around business, healthcare, and law and criminal justice.

"Approximately 3,000 students currently attend Bellevue University in undergraduate accelerated programs," says Sterner. "Popular majors include business, behavioral health science, healthcare management, and project management." No matter their majors or professional goals, they are welcome to ask Career Services for "free assistance with resume writing, interviewing and career exploration."

What makes Bellevue’s accelerated program stand out is its "cohort major" structure. This helps build camaraderie between students in the time it takes to wrap up a degree. "In a cohort major, a student will begin with a group of students and proceed through the entire major together on a set schedule," she says. "The convenience of being enrolled in all of the required major classes at the start minimizes scheduling and streamlines financial details."


Temple University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Temple University’s accelerated programming options cover an extensive range of subjects and degree plans, including bachelor’s, bachelor’s combined with a master’s, bachelor’s with a professional degree, and bachelor’s with a master’s and teaching certification. However, potential students need to know that the school does not integrate curricula: students are expected to complete all the required classes for each degree, though some flexibility might be afforded when it comes to electives.

Students in blended degree plans receive their diplomas as they complete the necessary courses designed to help them graduate college early. Finish the bachelor’s portion, for example, and you receive the bachelor’s degree and proceed directly to graduate-level study. Programs are divided into how many years each individual diploma takes; 4+1 means four for bachelor’s, one for master’s; 3+2 means three for bachelor’s, two for master’s; and so forth. Some undergraduates may be able to count up to 12 credit hours from their bachelor’s toward a graduate program, which expedites the process.

As expected, students hoping to enter the workforce early enjoy access to the Career Center, just like their peers in non-accelerated programs. There, they can meet one-on-one with an advisor for mock interviews, resume assistance, information regarding upcoming job fairs, social media advice, and other services.


University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan

Although University of Michigan’s accelerated offerings are not as diverse as some of their peers, they deserve mention for high standards. In the psychology department, faculty members must invite students to participate. Once approved, students may begin taking graduate-level or upper-level statistics courses that count toward a master’s degree. Only seniors may enter the program, and if accepted, they will be eligible for grants and financial aid. Standard tuition and fees apply.

Another popular degree path is the Accelerated Second Degree (ASD) nursing program. This program can take a student with a bachelor’s degree to an RN in just 16 months, and gains them early assurance for admission to the Family Nurse Practitioner program. Up to 40 applicants are accepted twice per year.


Mississippi College Clinton, Mississippi

Because of its flexible evening schedule, Mississippi College is an especially viable fit for the working adults comprising its target audience. It offers degree paths in business, communication, and sociology. Classes are held in the evenings, twice a week. This structure allows students to complete 30 required classes annually, compared to 24 for students in more traditional programs. Courses can be completed in a traditional classroom setting or online. An accelerated nursing degree is also available.


Boston University Boston, Massachusetts

Perfect for both "traditional" students and working adults returning to school, Boston University‘s accelerated degree plan offers students a bachelor’s degree in as little as two years. The time investment requires two summers and four semesters, and the majors available are computer science and management studies. Like Bellevue University, Boston U students take courses within the cohort model, where they study alongside the same classmates for the full two years.

Students who complete their accelerated degrees with a 3.0 GPA are guaranteed admission into Boston U’s graduate program in their major. For adults going back to college to improve their job skills training and career opportunities, the school works with many corporations for tuition reimbursement.


Albertus Magnus College New Haven, Connecticut

Albertus Magnus College began providing accelerated degree plans and certifications for working adults in 1985. Participants may attend courses online, through a blended option, or face-to-face. It’s a wonderful online school to graduate early from. Majors include a wide assortment of business and communications subjects, psychology, sociology, English, general studies, philosophy, religion, and humanities, and may be completed at the associate or bachelor’s level.

Participants choose between "team-based" and "modular" formats, depending on their circumstances. The former offers intensive courses that last between five and six weeks, while the latter allows students to choose two classes per every eight weeks. Albertus Magnus does accept a limited amount of transfer credits, and will count CLEP and DANTES exams as credit toward the accelerated degree.

For the modular format, students can expect to pay $1,530 for every three-credit course, a $35 application fee, and a $6 information technology fee per credit hour.


Albright College Reading, Pennsylvania

At Albright College, accelerated courses meet for five to seven weeks, with one class a week taking place at night. Across the nine locations there are seven majors available, including accounting, crime and justice, and computer information systems. There are no computer or technology fees, and books are delivered right to you. There is a scholarship program in place for those who are transferring from Pennsylvania and New Jersey community colleges that partner with Albright.


University of Indianapolis Indianapolis, Indiana

Enrollees in the accelerated degree program at the University of Indianapolis attend classes one night a week for five weeks, with new cycles starting every nine weeks. They may transfer up to 30 credit hours from other schools or qualify via life experience, but they still need 124 hours to complete a bachelor’s degree. Available diplomas include a bachelor’s of science in organizational leadership, a bachelor’s of liberal studies, and an associate in life science. UIndy also allows students to mix accelerated and traditional courses.


Rasmussen College Maitland, Florida

For more than a century, Rasmussen College has been helping students better themselves and their prospects. Their Flex Choice program is ideal for a dedicated self-starter looking to set their own pace. There are 54 programs available throughout seven schools across the country, including nursing, education, and design. Classes are both self-led and faculty-led, leading to a dynamic education experience with proven results. It is one of the best online schools to graduate early from.

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.