If you’re thinking about returning to school to finish your degree, you may have looked at an accelerated degree program and wondered if it’s right for you. On the plus side, it would be great to get your degree faster. But on the flip side, can your current lifestyle handle the additional work?

Let’s take a closer look at accelerated degree programs and find out.

Questions? We Have Answers!

What is an accelerated degree program? An accelerated degree program lets you earn your bachelor’s degree in as little as 16 months. The shorter timeline is possible because classes are compressed. Instead of 16-week traditional college classes, you’ll find that accelerated program classes are much shorter in duration, ranging anywhere from five to 12 weeks, with the average somewhere around eight weeks.

In fact, depending on how many education requirements you’ve already completed and whether your school also grants adults credit for work and life experience, it may even be possible to earn your degree in less than 18 months. Check with an advisor at your school of choice for details.

Do accelerated classes cover less material than traditional classes? Not at all. The classes are compressed, but the subject matter isn’t. You’ll learn just as much information, but in less time. That’s why you need to be absolutely sure you can handle the accelerated timeline along with your other responsibilities. If you decide to go into an accelerated program, expect to do a lot of homework and studying in your free time.

Are accelerated program classes only offered online? It depends on the school and the program, but many schools have a choice of ways to attend classes:

  • All online classes
  • All on-campus evening and/or weekend classes
  • A blend of online and on-campus classes

Because so many of the students in an accelerated program are working adults, onsite classes are usually scheduled to accommodate traditional working hours.

Be honest with me—will I be the oldest person in the class? Our honest answer: The odds are high that you’ll have a good number of classmates in your general age range and life situation. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in Fall 2019, 7.4 million of the 19.9 million students who attend college—more than a third—will be 25 years old and over. And students 35 and over are an increasing presence, with 3.5 million enrolled in 2018—with that number expected to grow by 2025.

How do I know whether to choose online vs. in-person classes? This is truly a case where everyone’s experience is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. However, to help you make the right decision for your situation, here are a few positives of each to consider:

Online classes

  • Flexibility—Because you don’t have to be at a certain classroom at a certain time, you can study and work on your assignments in the morning before work, at lunchtime, and even in the middle of the night if it fits your schedule.
  • Location—You can access your classes from anywhere; all you need is an internet connection and a browser to access the classroom and discussion forums.
  • Convenience—No gas costs, no hour-long commute after a long work day, no after-class drive home at 10 p.m. in a snowstorm or other bad weather. You can go home, have dinner with your family and then “attend” class on the couch in your sweats or PJs.
  • Choice—Since so many colleges do offer online classes, you’re not limited to finding something in your backyard. You can attend a college across town, across the state or even across the country without having to uproot your life.
  • Cost—Keep in mind that this will vary by school, but because online classes don’t require physical classrooms with all the associated costs, it’s entirely possible that tuition costs may be less than a traditional curriculum. (Of course, financial aid, grants and scholarships are also available to accelerated/adult students, but every bit helps.)

In-person classes

  • Structure—With online classes, once you get your course syllabus, it’s on you to remember everything and stay on schedule. In-person classes offer more structure, physical cues and reminders, which can be a gift to a student who’s juggling school, a job and family obligations.
  • Contact—If you thrive on the energy of a classroom—human interaction with classmates, the instructor at the front of a classroom where you can see and hear his or her body language, mannerisms, tone, etc.—a physical classroom may be your best bet.
  • Interaction—In-person classes, especially at a small college, mean more opportunities and time for face-to-face contact with instructors, advisors and everyone else you interact with on campus. Smaller universities are also more likely to work with you if something doesn’t quite fit “within the lines.”
  • Community—Many smaller private universities have implemented accelerated degree programs. Not only does that keep you a vital part of your local community, the smaller class sizes and lower student-to-instructor ratio gives you a kind of “community-within-a-community,” sometimes with people you already know.
  • Accreditation—This actually pertains to all colleges, but brick-and-mortar colleges do have a slight edge. After all, it’s unlikely most scammers will go to the trouble of setting up an entire physical campus, while anyone can toss up an impressive-looking website that teaches you nothing and grants fake degrees. Do your due diligence and make sure the school or program you’re interested in is accredited. An excellent place to start is with the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Take the First Step Today

You’re standing at a crossroads, which, let’s admit it, can be scary. But isn’t it also kind of exhilarating to know that just one step—the first one—will put you squarely on the path to the life you’ve dreamed about for yourself and your family?

Decisions this big are best supported with a solid plan, and hopefully what we’ve laid out here will give you the beginnings of one. We also hope you’re reassured that you’ll be in good company if you decide to return to school for your degree. The key is to keep in mind that the type of accelerated program that works best for you will depend to a great extent on your learning style. So be honest with yourself about what you want and need—and don’t be afraid to go after it.

Your future is waiting for you. Are you ready?


Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes: Pros and Cons,” by My College Guide, mycollegeguide.org, May 2017.

Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree Online: Pros & Cons,” by Get Educated, geteducated.com, undated.

5 Steps to Check if an Online Program is Accredited,” by Jordan Friedman, usnews.com, June 12, 2017.

Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP), U.S. Department of Education, ope.ed.gov.

Fast Facts,” by the National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov, 2019.