How to finish a bachelor’s degree in two years to your full advantage?
According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2021), while graduation rates increased by 2% yearly from 2010 to 2018, the degree completion rate of this year’s freshmen might only be 1-in-4 four years from now. Numerous factors could underpin this data, with the average cost of college in the U.S. included. As such, finishing college in only two years seems like a great idea, but only after considering its pros and cons.
This guide outlines some of the ways to complete a 2-year bachelor’s degree in the U.S., along with the advantages and disadvantages that students must weigh when deciding whether to fast-track their education.
The quick answer is yes!
People typically think of a Bachelor’s degree as something that requires four years at colleges and universities to accomplish. However, it is possible to obtain such a degree in a shorter time.
Why would a student want to earn a degree in just two years rather than the standard four years? There could be many considerations, like the following:
Whatever the student’s reason, several factors need consideration before deciding to dive into a rigorous, fast-tracked undergraduate program.
Demographic shifts are compelling colleges and universities to adopt more adult-friendly policies to remain viable. As such, institutions offer learning programs designed to promote personal growth and development. They help adult learners deal with everyday issues and prepare them for current and future work opportunities. Such programs also help organizations achieve desired results, adapt to change, and examine community and societal issues. (Bergman, 2016)
Nevertheless, there are factors that students must consider before deciding whether finishing a bachelor’s degree in two years is feasible and, if it is, which method would work best for them.
As earlier mentioned, students do not necessarily have to spend four years to finish a bachelor’s degree. If they meet certain conditions, they could earn a degree sooner through adult learning programs that may involve distance learning (online courses), evening and weekend classes, test-out (CLEP and DSST), and college credit for prior work experience. (Bergman, 2016)
Distance learning is one way for many adult learners to continue with their education while working. In Fall 2019, approximately 3.45 million college students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, and 3.86 million students took at least one distance education course. (NCES, 2020a)
Meanwhile, many students consider taking online courses as the quickest path to a degree or the fastest time to complete their program (Capranos et al., 2021)
Source: Voice of the Online Learner
The North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission Task Force on Adult Degree-Completion Programs defines an adult degree completion program as one designed to meet the needs of working adults. Such adults will have earned 60 or more college credit hours. They are returning to school to complete a baccalaureate degree. Institutions deliver on their promise to complete the program in less than two years by establishing alternative class schedules, shortening the traditional semester/quarter time frame, organizing student cohorts, and crediting prior learning experiences equal to approximately 25% of the bachelor’s degree credit total. (Bergman, 2016)
This method of finishing an undergraduate degree in two years is ideal if students already have existing credits, perhaps 60 units from a program they previously enrolled in but did not finish. Students must submit their transcripts of records to their preferred institution and request for transfer of credits. The institution determines which to credit.
Similar to degree completion programs for students who were unable to finish a previously enrolled degree, those who have earned an associate’s degree at a community college may transfer credits from their associate’s degree to count towards a bachelor’s degree. However, this may still defeat the purpose of earning a bachelor’s degree in a short time since associate degrees typically take two years as well.
Nevertheless, college units are not the only ones that institutions credit. Students may participate in Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), a process of evaluating and crediting college-level learning earned outside the typical classroom setting. Examples of such learning include work experience, military training, independent study, non-credit courses, volunteer or community service, and non-college classes or seminars.
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) lists the methods typically used to evaluate a student’s learning for college credit as follows:
Typically, institutions may require students to submit a portfolio demonstrating credit-worthy mastery of a subject, or they must attend a college that offers credits for course substitutions.
PLAs save students time and money while increasing enrolment and graduation rates at schools and universities that accept them. CAEL found that Adult students with PLA credits are 17% more likely to complete their programs than those without such credit. (Klein-Collins et al., 2020)
Students can start earning college credits in high school by taking advanced placement (AP) classes. The college board created AP classes to introduce high school students to college-level classes and help them earn college credit before they even graduate. For college credit, students must pass an AP exam at the end of the year. (NSHSS, 2018)
Thus, students who take AP classes and pass AP exams could enter college for the first time with already accumulated units towards their degrees. They can skip the lower-level courses and enroll in higher-level ones earlier than most, thus accelerating their time to earn their degrees.
Accelerated degree programs are becoming popular as these allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years or less. These programs retain most of the benefits that traditional programs offer. They typically still cover the same courses with the same number of tests as in traditional programs, but all at a faster pace. Such programs are immersive and intensive.
Students may choose between a single-degree program, where there would be a short break following each course, or a dual-degree program where students may complete both bachelor’s and master’s degrees as the latter can use the same credits earned for the former.
They may also choose between on-campus and online accelerated degree programs. On-campus programs are ideal for students who enjoy socializing. On the other hand, online programs would fit those with jobs or family obligations during school hours, as courses are self-paced with no set deadlines. In fact, 25% of online students like this feature of online courses. (NCES, 2020)
Another quarter of online students choose online programs because it allows them to complete courses in less time, and 20% choose so because of the available fast-tracked accelerated courses. (NCES, 2020)
Meanwhile, class length varies by institution, and session lengths range from five to eight weeks. The length of each session influences how quickly students earn their degrees.
Many institutions offer accelerated degree programs. Just like when applying for a regular four-year university or any academic institution for that matter, students must check several accelerated programs to find the best fit.
Source: Online College Students (2018)
Getting more credits each semester allows for a shorter time to graduate. Taking advantage of the summer school term would be one way to do this.
However, this year-round schedule may only be ideal for full-time students. As Omelicheva (2012) notes in a study that appeared in the Journal of Political Science Education, “Since summer sessions are much shorter than regular semesters, both instructors and students are required to teach and learn more in a short period of time and, therefore, need to cope with the intensity of summer modules.”
This same study, titled “Fab! or Drab?: Increasing the Effectiveness of Teaching and Learning in Summer Classes,” also stressed that “for many students, summers are the time for earning income to pay for the school and living expenses during the academic year.” In essence, employed students may “tend to be particularly inattentive and unenthused in summer school.”
In the same vein as taking summer classes, taking night classes will help students complete as many units as quickly as possible but may also be difficult for working students.
Most colleges limit students to 15, 18, or 20 credits per term, depending on whether the school uses a quarter or semester system. Still, some colleges may make exceptions, allowing some students to overload credits. However, do keep in mind that some colleges charge extra for extra credits.
As mentioned earlier, every student will have a reason to finish a bachelor’s degree in two years. Still, before deciding whether to do so, it is best to check the pros and cons of finishing a bachelor’s degree in such a short time.
Graduating in a short time is a personal choice for each student. Still, here’s a list of potential benefits from fast-tracking a bachelor’s degree.
The average cost of college in the U.S. is increasing. The average publicized (sticker) tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students in 2021-22 were $10,740 in-state, $27,560 out-of-state, and $3,800 in-district, representing 1.3%-1.6% increases from the previous year before inflation. The average publicized (sticker) tuition for private nonprofit four-year was $38,070, a 2.1% increase. (Ma & Pender, 2021)
Simultaneously, borrowers owe a record $1.73 trillion in student loan debt in 2021. The typical class of 2021 borrower owes $36,900. (Hanson, 2021)
Besides, being employed earlier rather than waiting until after finishing a four-year degree ends could save students money on tuition, not to mention other costs like housing, while also reducing the risk of increasing student loan debt further.
Students get to be employed full-time sooner than those who take four years to finish a degree, allowing them to launch their careers sooner. Those who are already working would have better chances of landing a promotion. While employers now realize that relevant experience is a far better predictor of success than a specific degree, most professional/management positions may still require a college diploma.
Besides, if students finish a bachelor’s degree sooner, they also can apply to a master’s program earlier. Note that the education level typically required for certain positions could change over time, and entry-level education requirements may differ from experienced workers. For example, in 2015–16, approximately 39% of all occupational therapists aged 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree. Occupational therapists today typically require a master’s degree from an accredited program. As a result, the BLS states that occupational therapists typically require a master’s degree. (Torpey, 2018a)
Getting a bachelor’s degree early and proceeding with a master’s degree right after would help students get better work prospects.
Everyone retires eventually, but retirement also requires money. Since those who finish a bachelor’s degree get a better chance at landing a stable job sooner, they also get to save for their retirement earlier and are likely to end up with more funds for retirement.
A recent Charles Schwab survey of 1,000 401(k) plan participants found that Americans believe they need $1.9 million to retire. (Peterson, 2021) But many miss this mark.
Note that fast-tracking graduation means getting a job earlier than other students do. Since bachelor’s degree holders tend to earn $300 more than associate degree holders and $400 more than high school graduates with no college or some college (Torpey, 2018b), they can start setting aside money for future needs like retirement.
People in their 20s who save 10% to 15% of their annual salary could retire comfortably. Those starting at 45 or older would need to save up to 35% of their annual salary. (Peterson, 2021)
Indeed, the upsides of getting out of college with a degree are quite compelling. Still, it is worth considering what students could miss out on if they graduate sooner than others do.
College is a time for self-discovery and socialization, which might eventually grow into a professional network. Rigid academic activities would limit students’ time to try new things.
Extracurricular activities help students in their personal and academic achievements. Those who participate in extracurricular activities do better at school; they also develop character traits, including leadership, time management, and the ability to accept constructive criticism. Extracurricular also increase self-esteem and resilience and foster social growth. Finally, extracurricular activities allow students to experience the value of community involvement. (Christison, 2013)
Such benefits could aid students once they join the job market. When students leave college sooner than others do, they are somehow limiting their personal growth.
Internships are valuable to gaining employment and useful for career exploration. Some industries, notably computing, finance, consulting, and journalism, regularly hire former interns. Not having enough time for internships to get mentorship from experts, build networks, find research opportunities, and define a career path could harm students’ job prospects.
Indeed, among the reasons why students choose to finish a bachelor’s degree in two years is to save money. Superficially, it does look like students save money. However, one thing to note is that some schools charge extra for overloads, so it is best to weigh in this factor, as students could be incurring extra costs instead.
Another important financial consideration that some students do not realize is that their student loan repayment clock starts ticking as soon as they graduate. Indeed, finishing a bachelor’s degree early means students can finish paying for the loans in a short time as well. However, it can be a challenging transition for them to pay their loan after their rigorous two years of study. Thus, choosing to graduate early may mean creating unnecessary stress.
Source: College Board
Finishing a bachelor’s degree in two years with online accelerated degree programs, transfer credits, and degree completion methods is possible. Many students would choose to fast-track graduation to save money and time and explore careers. However, it has downsides: students could miss out on certain college aspects that prove valuable to their future careers.
It may seem like finishing a bachelor’s degree in two years is a wise choice, but perhaps not for everyone. It takes a lot of effort to graduate in a short time. Students must know their limits and weigh in every vital factor before deciding to do so. If, after some trial and error, they determine that the fast pace and high pressure are not for them, they can always slow down and finish their degree in four years.