Fastest Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs 2021

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Typically requiring 120 credits, bachelor’s degrees focus on specific subjects like chemistry, philosophy, or engineering. Earning a bachelor’s can lead to increased salary potential. In 2019, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported 59% higher median annual earnings for 25-34 year-olds with a bachelor’s compared to those with a high school diploma.

The fastest bachelor’s degrees allow students to finish in less than the usual four years. How much faster students can graduate depends on school, major, and prior credentials. Accelerated online degrees often appeal to working professionals who seek career advancement but cannot commit to four years of schooling.

This page ranks the top five fastest bachelor’s degrees. We also review what to expect from a fast online degree program, why students should consider an accelerated track, and how to select the right school.

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What to Expect | Admissions | Costs | Fastest Online Degrees

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Why Get an Accelerated Degree?

In a traditional bachelor’s program, full-time enrollees can expect to graduate in four years. The fastest bachelor’s degrees provide the same credentials in a quicker time frame. These programs allow working professionals who want to move up the career ladder or change occupations to accomplish their goals without leaving the workforce for several years.

Fast online degrees may also cost less, depending on program type and cost structure (per semester vs. per credit). Students who graduate in less than four years can save at schools that charge tuition per semester. Many students can use prior academic experience, professional or military training, and/or credit by exam opportunities to reduce their credit requirements, saving both time and money.

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What to Expect From an Accelerated Degree

Ambitious and tenacious students can complete the fastest bachelor’s degrees in as little as one year. How accelerated programs cut time to graduation varies by school.

Competency-based programs let learners complete courses as soon as they master the material, rather than at the end of the term. These programs typically run online in an asynchronous format, allowing enrollees to study and complete exams at their own pace.

In fast-track programs, students can leverage work experience or training to test out of coursework. Some of the fastest bachelor’s degrees allow applicants to submit professional portfolios. To receive credit, students must demonstrate that their experience satisfies course objectives.

Ambitious and tenacious students can complete the fastest bachelor’s degrees in as little as one year.

The fastest online degree programs may also grant credits to learners with satisfactory scores on proficiency tests, such as the College-Level Examination Program or Advanced Placement exams.

Degree completion programs provide an alternative to accelerated online degrees. These programs allow students to apply previously earned credits toward their degree.

Below, we compare how fast online degrees typically stack up against traditional bachelor’s programs.

Comparing Accelerated and Traditional Bachelor’s Programs

Accelerated Bachelor’s Traditional Bachelor’s
Length 1-3.5 years full time Four years full time
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED certificate, and a minimum GPA. Schools may accept professional experience portfolios or proficiency test scores. Some programs require relevant work experience and/or transfer credits. High school diploma or GED certificate and a minimum GPA
Student demographics High school graduates, transfer students, and professionals seeking advancement High school graduates and transfer students
Class Types General education requirements plus core and advanced major classes. Some accelerated programs waive course requirements based on student experience or standardized test scores. General education requirements and core and advanced major classes
Program Format Typically online or hybrid On campus, online, or hybrid

The Admissions Process

The fastest bachelor’s degrees generally require applicants to hold at least a high school diploma or GED certificate. Prospective students must typically submit a school application or the Common App, a resume, official transcripts, personal essays, recommendation letters, SAT/ACT scores, and an application fee. Schools may set minimum GPA requirements — often between 2.5-3.0.

Many accelerated programs expect a minimum amount of work experience in the major area. Some programs require applicants to submit professional experience portfolios or satisfactory standardized test scores. Degree completion programs may require enrollees to hold an associate degree or a minimum number of transfer credits.

Why You Should Attend a Fast School Online

As distance learning continues to grow in popularity, colleges increasingly offer accelerated bachelor’s degrees online.

Many of the fastest online degrees offer an asynchronous delivery format, allowing learners to complete course modules at their own pace.

Remote education often costs less than the on-campus alternative. Some public schools charge in-state tuition for distance learners, regardless of residency. Private colleges also increasingly provide reduced online rates. Remote learning typically entails further savings on housing, commuting, and parking.

Many of the fastest online degrees offer an asynchronous delivery format, allowing learners to complete course modules at their own pace. Asynchronous study can help enrollees balance their studies with professional and personal commitments. An asynchronous format may also shave off time by allowing students to load up on courses.

How Much Will a Fast Online Degree Cost?

According to data from the NCES, public colleges and universities charged in-state enrollees an average of $9,425 in tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 school year. Tuition and fees at private, nonprofit institutions averaged $36,689 during the same time period. Other costs learners may incur include expenses for room and board, textbooks, technology, and transportation.

Attending an accelerated program can significantly reduce degree-seekers’ costs. These programs allow students to return to the workforce faster, minimizing lost income. They can also reduce tuition costs and other school expenses.

Accelerated programs that charge per semester can shave off years of school costs for enrollees whose schedules can accommodate a heavy course load. Programs offering credit for professional experience or volunteer work can also entail substantial savings, especially if they charge per credit. Earning an accelerated bachelor’s degree online can further offset expenses. Students can also look into financial aid options, such as grants, loans, work-study opportunities, and scholarships.

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Selecting the Right Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Online

When researching the fastest online degrees, learners should weigh other factors in addition to speed. Potentially pivotal considerations include:

  • Accreditation: Only apply to schools that hold regional accreditation. This credential certifies that an institution meets rigorous academic standards. Selecting an accredited college can affect your future career and education opportunities. If you know your major, you should also factor in programmatic accreditation. This qualification can further enhance your degree’s caliber.
  • Financial Aid: Research how much financial aid schools provide. Scholarships and other financial aid can offset program costs. Keep in mind that because early decision binds applicants to attend a given school, this option means that students may lose the opportunity to compare financial aid packages.
  • Diversity of Majors: Consider choosing an accelerated program that allows you to major in your preferred area of study. If you do not yet know your major, investigate whether the school provides diverse options that allow you to progress toward your career goal.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I fast-track a bachelor's degree online?

    Yes. Many schools provide fast-track bachelor’s degrees online. Fast online degree programs may allow you to test out of requirements or load up on courses, potentially reducing time to graduation.

  • How long does it take to get an accelerated bachelor's degree online?

    The time required to earn an accelerated bachelor’s degree online depends on how many courses you can take per term, how many credits you can test out of, and how many credits your previous experience provides. The fastest online degrees take about one year.

  • Can I finish my online bachelor's in two years?

    Yes. You can finish your online bachelor’s in two years, provided you can receive credits for prior experience or take twice as many classes as expected each year. Some students take courses during summer and winter intersessions to finish sooner.

  • How do you get an online degree fast?

    Students can earn a fast online degree in two ways. Accelerated programs accept life experience as course credits or let enrollees test out of courses. Alternatively, degree-seekers can take more courses per academic year than expected.

The Best Accelerated Online Degree Programs

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  1. Western Governors University
    Location

    Salt Lake City, UT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1997, Western Governors University became the first school to offer all bachelor’s and master’s programs through competency-based learning. Through this model, students progress through courses by completing assessments and demonstrating mastery, not by having to wait until the session ends. WGU’s competency-based learning gives students access to more than 20 of the fastest online bachelor’s degrees available, including programs in elementary education, data analytics, and cybersecurity and information assurance. 

    At WGU, assessments take the form of tests, essays, or projects and practical demonstrations. Courses start on the first of every month, and students that complete the minimum course requirement can add more as soon as they want. Since WGU’s tuition rates are term-based, the more courses students complete, the lower their overall tuition. For admission, applicants need a high school diploma or GED. They may also need to present work or college experience and may need to complete an assessment test.

    WGU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

  2. Capella University
    Location

    Minneapolis, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1993, Capella University opened with the goal of making education more accessible for nontraditional learners. The school offers two online learning formats to its more than 38,000 students, including a FlexPath that allows students to progress through their program at their own speed. Through this format, learners can access more than 15 accelerated online bachelor’s programs, including degrees in IT project management, human resource management, and healthcare leadership.

    At Capella, students leverage their previous experience, knowledge, and learning to turn four-year programs into some of the fastest online bachelor’s degrees. Learners can take two courses at a time and move onto the next courses as soon as they complete their current studies. As many as 10% of Capella’s students earn a bachelor’s degree in one year.

    For admission, FlexPath applicants need a high school diploma or a GED, along with at least 45 college credits and a minimum 2.8 GPA. Students can also save money through the school’s 12-week billing cycle, reducing costs by fast-tracking their studies.

    Capella is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  3. Rasmussen College
    Location

    Bloomington, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Opened in 1900, Rasmussen College focuses on providing innovative programs to its students. In 2016, the school introduced competency-based programs, which have become some of the fastest online bachelor’s degrees. At Rasmussen College, learners can access more than 15 accelerated online bachelor’s programs, including degrees in computer science, early childhood education, and health and wellness. The online programs deliver all coursework asynchronously and offer up to eight start dates per year. 

    Students at the college can accelerate their degree in a variety of ways. Traditional transfer applicants can receive up to 67% of the required degree credits through transfer, but they can also benefit from Flex Choice options. In addition to previous training, Flex Choice enables learners to earn credit for life, professional, and military experience. Students can also complete self-directed assessments to test out of courses or demonstrate proficiency through various projects available in the college’s competency-based programs. 

    Rasmussen College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  4. Colorado Technical University
    Location

    Colorado Springs, CO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Colorado Technical University has focused on innovative learning since its founding in 1965. In 2000, the school introduced online learning to better accommodate its diverse collection of students. CTU then began Fast Track learning, which turned its programs into some of the fastest online bachelor’s degrees available. CTU students can access accelerated degrees in information technology, psychology, and business management, along with more than 40 other majors. 

    Leveraging the school’s prior learning assessment program, students at CTU can demonstrate subject proficiency and move through courses with ease. Each degree offers competency-based Fast Track exams. CTU graduates save up to 30% of time and money spent on their degree. Applicants can earn up to 75% of required credits through transfer. For admission, prospective students need a high school diploma or a GED.

    CTU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  5. American InterContinental University
    Location

    Schaumburg, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1998, American InterContinental University offers students a variety of flexible study options, including more than 25 online programs in fields like media production, healthcare management, and fashion design and marketing. In addition to its traditional online program pathways, AIU offers some of the fastest online bachelor’s degree options. Learners can accelerate their progress through transfer credits, accelerated schedules, and the intellipath learning tool. 

    At AIU, online learners with experience and knowledge in a specific field can build on what they already know. Intellipath learning allows students to streamline their degree and reduce the overall costs. AIU also offers Accelerate Assessments, which allow students to bypass a course or subject in which they can demonstrate proficiency, usually through an examination. For admission, applicants need a high school diploma or a GED. 

    AIU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

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