While many college students still take the traditional four-year bachelor's degree path as of 2013, ambitious students looking for the fast track can use one or more techniques to complete a degree in three years, or even less. In some cases, you must begin planning and implementing strategies while still in high school.
Prior Learning Credit
In an effort to attract more non-traditional adult students, colleges offer various types of credit for prior learning opportunities. These include competency tests or applications supported by documentation that show how a student's work experiences relate strongly to the content of a given course. You may face some limitations on the number of prior learning credits you can earn, but the ability to earn class credits with a simple test or application can significantly increase your time-to-degree. Additionally, many colleges award credit for military service based on training, classes and occupational experience. Branches of the armed forces also coordinate prior learning credit programs where you can apply for a transcript based on learning experiences.
One of the simplest ways to expedite your bachelor's degree process is to take an aggressive approach with scheduling. Typical full-time college students take 12 to 15 credits per semester. It generally takes eight semesters of 15 credits each to complete a bachelor's degree in the standard four-year timeline. If you take 18 credits a semester, you can finish within seven semesters. Some schools do place limits, though, to protect against students taking on more than they can handle. You could also take full loads in the summer to shave off one or two semesters.
Another way to quickly reduce your total class time is to complete college level entrance placement exams, or CLEP tests. CLEP is a standardized test program that is generally accepted by many colleges and universities. You simply go to a local school or testing center, complete the exam, and if you get a high enough score, get class credit. The test fee is around $50. Schools often have limits on the number of credits you can earn this way, though you might get as many as 24 credits at some schools.
Dual credit programs between high schools and colleges are extremely prevalent in 2013. This is an agreement whereby students in high school can take college-level courses form instructors approved by a local college to teach the course for college credit. In some cases, students graduate high school with 15 to 30 credits toward a college degree. Another format is for high schools to allow older students to take classes at local colleges if they are ahead of schedule to graduate.