Higher education has become consumer-driven. Academic programs now allow more tailoring to a specific student's needs while at the same time providing the solid knowledge base necessary for the discipline being studied. Furthermore, most institutions of higher education realize that in order to stay competitive, they must offer ways for students to obtain their degree more quickly. Luckily for us, there are now numerous avenues for receiving a bachelor's degree fast.
Do you already have an Associate's Degree?
Enrollments at local technical colleges (which used to be called "vocational schools") have blossomed in recent years. These schools traditionally offered two-year associate's degrees which were considered "terminal" because the student would then enter the work force. But with the changing face of education and life-long learning, most technical colleges today have alliances with many traditional four-year colleges. This means that your associate's degree is now counted automatically as half of the credit needed for a bachelor's degree once you enroll in most four-year colleges. Check your local community colleges and state universities to see if they will accept your associate's degree.
Traditionally, colleges limited the number of courses in which you could enroll for each quarter or semester. This ensures that you do not overload your schedule and place yourself in a position where you can not give each class the attention and time it requires. Many schools, though, especially those with online programs, recognize that time is of the essence, particularly for working adults going back to school. These schools typically offer what's called an "accelerated program" that allows you to finish your degree more quickly through a variety of ways. They might let you, for instance, over enroll for one quarter or more.
Schols probably will also let you fulfill some requirements by taking (and passing) tests administered by the College-level Examination Program (CLEP). These tests are offered in areas in which you may already have significant professional experience. Make sure to ask any college or university you are considering if they offer an accelerated program.
Some "institutions" will offer to "award" you a bachelor's degree in as little as 72 hours. Beware of colleges and universities that will provide you with a degree for a specific fee without your having to take any courses. Organizations like this are known as "degree mills," and their degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on and could actually hurt your career more than help. Some of these places even claim to be "accredited," but the accrediting agency they list is not a recognized one. For any institution you are considering, make sure to run them through the CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) database, whose link is provided below. Make sure also that any school you contact has a bona fide admissions office with academic counselors and advisers.
Increasingly as working adults go back to school, colleges and universities are recognizing that life experience is often the best teacher. They are therefore often willing to exchange your work experience for some amount of credit towards a degree. They will not necessarily lower the overall cost of the degree, but at least you would obtain it more quickly. Make sure to ask any admissions counselor if the institution credits life experience. This, by the way, is in addition to CLEP credits described above, since your expertise may be in an area for which there is no CLEP testing.
Micah Rubenstein has been writing professionally since 1985. He was the editor of the online publication GrailWorld Magazine, the host and producer of the weekly "Message In Music" radio series and a former professor at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He teaches at Columbus State Community College and Granite State College in New Hampshire. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music from Brown University.