Ways to Shorten your Path to a College Degree

People often look for a shortcut, some easy way to achieve a goal but more often than not the quick path doesn’t work or some other fault is found with trying to find the “easy” way to achieve a goal.  Fortunately, there are ways to accelerate earning a degree that doesn’t entail an ethics violation or having to worry if the degree came from a degree mill along with the worry that someone may find out that the paper on the wall is worthless. 

A college education normally takes four years and the economy along with life’s situations can change greatly in that four years.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to compress a four year education in to something less than four years?  It is possible but it depends on one essential ingredient and that is hard work. 

Types of Students

There are two main types of students who want to shorten their degree path.  These are high school students looking forward with some amount of trepidation about the amount of student loans for a four year education and working adults.  In both cases these people realize the costs of extra school time and the “opportunity costs” associated with extra time in school and not in the workforce. 

High school students have the possibility of spending a year less in the dormitory or incurring other living expenses and adults see it as way to gain entry into a new profession and put the college time away from impacting on family time.  For both the main reasons generally concern money but there are other considerations. 

Accelerated College Credit for High School Students

In order for a high school student to accelerate the college experience there are basically three ways and one involves a little bit of luck.  The first and most likely is the availability of AP classes in subjects such as calculus, biology, history, English or one of several foreign languages.  These classes will be challenging and could also be difficult to get into depending on the student’s GPA.  The second way, generally done right after high school and before college is the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).  There are over 30 different CLEP subject examinations in areas such as history, world civilization, sociology, psychology, math and economics. 

Lastly, there are some high schools that have partnerships with local colleges where exceptional students are sometimes allowed to take college courses during their junior and senior years of high school.  Each of these methods allows a high school student to earn college credit and the amount of time it saves the student will vary depending on the college, the major and the scores on each of the exams that the student completes. 

College Credit for Working Adults

One way for working adults, and even non-working adults, to earn college credit is much the same as it is for high school students and that is the CLEP tests.  Another avenue open to adults are Excelsior College Examinations (ECEs) and DSST examinations sponsored by the Department of Defense.  The DSSTs used to be restricted to military personnel only but this restriction has been lifted and these examinations are now available at testing centers located throughout the country and in all major cities.  For each of these examinations it is generally only necessary to read a book or two from the bibliography from the examination to be able to pass the examination and earn the college credit. 

Another way for adults to earn college credit and accelerate attaining the college degree is credit for work experience.  Many industry sponsored courses and various certifications have been evaluated for college credit. This same principle also applies to military personnel as many military training courses have been evaluated for college credit.  Some people often mistakenly cite military time as a way to earn college credit but time alone is not enough.  Some military courses earn 1 or 2 college credits and there are others than earn up to 42 college credits and even some that earn graduate credit.  Regardless of whether the course is from industry or the military, if the course has been certified as worthy of college credit, it is possible to use that training as a way to accelerate attaining a degree.  

Colleges Often Help Adult Learners

Many colleges, especially those that cater to adults or to the military offer an additional way to earn college credit.  This is done through what is called “experiential learning” and often involves developing a portfolio of knowledge that is equivalent to college courses.  In this process, the student documents what has been accomplished in their career and pairs it with college courses and if enough documentation is presented in addition to a good working knowledge of the subject then the college awards the credit. 

Another way that colleges help adult learners get a college degree quicker is by offering accelerated classes with more than the usual 3 terms a year.  Often these terms are 8 or 9 weeks and if the adult learner is willing to forego a personal life for a while it is possible to earn as much as 45 credits in a year if not more.

Lastly, there are a number of colleges that have very liberal acceptance policies regarding non-traditional ways of earning college credit.  These include Excelsior College, Thomas Edison State College, Charter Oak College and Western Governors University.  Some degrees are fairly easy to attain in a shortened period of time.  Others, such as engineering and the sciences will not be as easy and the ability to shorten the process is often limited due to the sequencing of required course work. 

Attaining a degree can open doors to opportunities previously unavailable and can also increase the paycheck. As stated earlier, there are no easy ways to an accredited degree but with effort, planning and proper execution of the plan it is possible.  The student may miss out on the “college experience” but often this path is chosen by those who value the real work experience over that of the academic experience