How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

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How long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree? Learn about strategies, transfer credits, and other options to expedite your journey toward a degree.

How long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree? It depends on various things, including the college you choose, the credits you take, and the way that you manage your time.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's Degree

If you’re in a hurry to get your on-campus or online bachelor’s degree, there are tips and tricks that you can utilize to speed things up. And when you’re finished, you could be making an average of 84% more than if you had never gone to college, according to The Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

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How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree – On-Campus Options

students listening to a professor in university classroom

The traditional path to a bachelor’s degree is four years, but there are ways that you can shorten your time in school. You can still take the same classes and learn the same things, but you can be on a faster track to your degree.

Accelerated Online Courses

Accelerated courses can be finished in 5-10 weeks as opposed to the usual 16. This can let you earn your credits in a fraction of the usual time.

The catch is that accelerated courses can be very intense. Since you’ll have to cram a lot of learning into a limited amount of time, the deadlines for your assignments will be shorter, and you’ll move through material quickly.

In a classroom setting, accelerated courses might be scheduled every day of the week, or they might involve nights and weekends. In an online setting, they might have regular tests to gauge how well that you’re keeping up.

Schools often limit the number of accelerated courses that you can take at once. Others might require permission from an academic advisor before you can sign up. You’ll need to talk to the school and learn how they handle accelerated courses before you start planning a timetable for your degree.

Prior Credits

If you were enrolled in advanced placement (AP) classes in high school, you might be able to convert them into college credits.

The biggest hurdle is getting a good score. AP classes are scored on a scale of 1-5, and the passing grade is 3. However, many colleges want a 4 or 5 in exchange for college credit, so a 3 might not be good enough.

According to the College Board, only 58% of public colleges will accept a 3, and only 33% of private ones will. Prestigious universities like Harvard and MIT won’t accept anything less than a 5.

Schools can also have restrictions on the AP credits that they’re willing to accept. For example, Northwestern University doesn’t award any AP credits for politics, and the University of Chicago doesn’t give credit for any one-semester AP class regardless of the subject.


College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is a series of tests that you can take to earn college credit. They’re less than $100 each, so they’re only a fraction of the cost of tuition, and they’re available for a wide range of first-year subjects. Here are just a few examples:

  • Biology
  • College algebra
  • American literature
  • Introductory psychology
  • Principles of microeconomics
  • Financial accounting
  • Spanish

CLEP exams are worth 2-3 college credits, so they’re basically the equivalent of a class.

An important thing to know about CLEP credits is that they aren’t accepted by every college. They’re recognized by 2,900 institutions, but since there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in America, there’s still a good chunk that will not apply CLEP credits to your degree.

Testing Out

While CLEP is the most common way to test out of college courses, there are other options as well.

  • The DSST are equivalency exams that function a lot like CLEP. However, they’re offered for both introductory and intermediate courses, while CLEP is only meant for basic courses.
  • CREDIT allows you to earn credits for workplace training. Your employer will need to be a part of this.
  • Some schools will allow you to take proficiency exams to bypass entry-level classes. This is most common with languages, but depending on the school, it can also be applied to math, science, and the humanities.

If you’ve already chosen a school, talk to an admissions counselor and ask about testing out of certain subjects. They might already have programs in place for it.

Life Experience Credit

If you’re an adult learner, you might have skills, experiences, and certifications that will translate into college credit. This can save you the time and expense of enrolling in classes and learning things that you already know.

Life experience credits come in many forms. Sometimes, they’re part of an official prior learning assessment (PLA) that will require you to take a proficiency exam or put together a portfolio.

There are also schools like Ohio University that will require you to take a portfolio development course before you can actually submit it.

Other life experience credits will transfer with less fuss. If you’ve been in the military, for example, your school might already have an equivalency program in place for veterans.

Large Credit Loads

Large Credit Loads

You’re considered a full-time student if you earn 12 credits per semester. This is just the minimum, however, and you’re free to earn more and accumulate them faster.

Some schools even offer a financial incentive if you take a large number of credits. The University of Minnesota, for example, has a 13-credit policy where you pay a flat tuition rate for 13 credits every semester.

You’ll lose money if you take less than 13, but on the flip side, everything after 13 credits is free.

Most colleges have a cap on the maximum amount of credits that you can take per semester. It’s usually somewhere around 18-20 credits. You might or might not be able to challenge this and earn an exception; talk to an academic advisor to learn more.

Summer Classes

Summer classes are one of the easiest ways to finish college early. Instead of taking several months off, you can keep on learning and earning.

Just be careful about overextending yourself. Since summer semesters are several weeks shorter than spring and fall semesters, the classes are condensed, and the workloads are heavier. They aren’t unlike accelerated courses in this way.

You probably won’t want to cram more than 9-10 credits into a summer semester.

Dual Degree Programs

Dual degree programs are when you earn two degrees at the same time. This can mean two bachelor’s or two master’s degrees, or it can refer to a special program where you earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously.

The second option is what you’ll want for a speedy education. Also known as “joint programs” or “combined degrees,” they’ll allow you to earn graduate credits even as an undergraduate, so you’ll finish school much faster.

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It usually takes around six years to earn both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. With a dual degree program, however, you can knock that down to five years or less.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree Online

bachelor's degree student studying online in a coffee shop

Everything that you’ve just read applies to online degrees as well as traditional, campus-based degrees. They might differ in terms of details, but if you’re serious about speeding up your bachelor’s degree, you can do it digitally as well.

Let’s say that you want to obtain your bachelor’s degree in 2-3 years as opposed to the usual four. You want to study communications. What do you need to do?

The first step is finding a school that offers accelerated online degrees. Arizona State University has an online program for mass communication and media, and they have a “fast track” option that can be completed in three years.

The next step is figuring out which prerequisites that you can get out of the way. The degree map for an ASU communications degree requires several courses that are offered by CLEP, including first-year composition, college mathematics, natural sciences, and humanities.

Each of these classes is worth three credits, so you can knock 12 credits off your total. That’s an entire semester of work as a full-time student.

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Did you take AP classes in high school? You might be able earn credit for several electives, including art, history, geography, psychology, and studio art. You’ll receive more credits for scoring higher on your AP exams.

For example, if you scored a 5 in Latin, you could receive 16 credit hours. If you scored a 4, you could receive 12.Like many schools, it takes 120 hours to earn a communications degree at ASU. You can earn up to 60 hours through equivalency credits, but that’s on the extreme end of things, so let’s be cautious and say that you earned 30: one-fourth of your degree.

If you’re on a three-year fast track, and you complete a fourth of the program through equivalency credits, you could be done with your bachelor’s degree in 2.25 years.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree After an Associate’s Degree?

How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's Degree After an Associate's Degree

An associate degree is usually about half of the work of a bachelor’s degree:

  • 60 credits instead of 120 credits
  • 20 classes instead of 40 classes
  • Two years instead of four years

If you’re interested in earning a bachelor’s degree after already getting your associate degree, the good news is that you’re probably halfway there. Many associate classes can transfer into a four-year degree program, especially the basic stuff like math and composition.

You might lose a few credits if you’re pursuing a different major. For example, if you earned an associate degree in accounting but are going back to school for a bachelor’s in education, those finance and business credits might not transfer.

Let’s go back to the scenario where you’re an aspiring communications major at Arizona State University. If you got your associate degree from community college, they’ll accept up to 64 transfer credits, which is a little more than half of the required 120.

They don’t accept life experience credits as a transfer student. They also don’t accept credits from “noncollegiate institutions” like corporations and government agencies.

You can still take CLEP courses, but since they’re mainly for introductory topics, you probably fulfilled those degree requirements while getting your associate degree.

However, you’re still eligible for the fast track degree program. Assuming that you enter ASU with 64 out of 120 credit hours, you’ll only need 56 to graduate. Assuming that you enroll in the fast track program, you can knock off one-fourth of your degree completion time.

If you take 15 credits per semester on the fast track, you could be ready to graduate in three semesters. If you fit them all into spring, summer, and fall courses, you could have your bachelor’s degree in as little as a year.

That’s not too shabby.

Questions Related to Earning a Bachelor’s Degree Quickly

If time is of the essence as you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree, there are many ways could graduate faster than your peers. However, a lot will depend on the college, the major, the degree program, and how aggressively that you can commit to school.

How Quickly Can I Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

How Quickly Can I Get a Bachelor's Degree

Generally speaking, you’ll need at least two years to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Accelerated degree programs can shave a year off the usual completion time. They can be finished in three years instead of four.

On top of that, you can earn equivalency credits that can save you the time and effort of attending certain classes. For example, AP courses and CLEP exams can be converted into credit at some colleges, and some programs offer life experience credits that can be earned from things like workplace training and military experience.

You can also take things like language proficiency exams to earn credits for subjects that you already know.

Most colleges have a cap on how many equivalency credits that you can earn, so you can’t just test out of everything and get a degree. You’ll need to put in some work.

If you’re dedicated, however, and if you’re willing to pursue every angle of equivalency, it’s entirely possible to finish a bachelor’s degree in half of the usual time.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree Online?

Earning a bachelor’s degree online is just like earning one from a traditional campus. There are limits to the shortcuts that you can take, so it will probably require at least two years of schooling.

One benefit of online classes is that there’s more flexibility in things like accelerated programs. For example, some schools have started to experiment with competency-based programs where students are charged a flat tuition rate for a certain number of months.

During this time, they can take as many credits as they want, so motivated students can save a lot of money by completing classes quickly.

Can I Get a Bachelor’s Degree in 3 Years?

There are several ways to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years.

  • Accelerated courses: These can be finished in 5-10 weeks instead of the usual 16.
  • Accelerated degree programs: Three years is the standard time for many “fast track” programs. You’ll take around 15 credits per semester, and you’ll earn credits from summer courses as well.
  • Prior credits or proficiency credits: If you’ve taken AP classes, CLEP exams, or DSST exams, they might transfer as college credit.
  • Life experience credit: If you’ve learned specialized skills from work or military service, you can apply for life experience credit.

None of these things are guaranteed to speed up your graduation date, but they can definitely help.

Is It Possible to Get a Bachelor’s Degree in 2 Years?

It isn’t impossible to earn a bachelor’s degree in two years. However, it will require an intense, dedicated effort.

For starters, you’ll need to crank up your course load. Most bachelor’s degrees require around 120 credits, and full-time students take anywhere between 12 to 15 credits per semester. This won’t be enough if you want to graduate in two years.

You’ll either need to take more classes or enroll in accelerated programs that can fit more credits into each semester.

You’ll also need to look into equivalency credits. You can get them from CLEP exams, AP courses, workplace training, life experience, military experience, and other things. If you play your cards right, you can earn up to half of your degree through equivalency credits.

Talk to an advisor if you’re interested in getting your bachelor’s degree in two years. You’ll definitely need help if you enroll in one of the quickest bachelors degree programs, but it’s doable.

Is a Bachelor’s Degree Worth It?

Is a Bachelor's Degree Worth It

Yes, a bachelor’s degree can be worth it for many students. On average, people with a bachelor’s degree earn 31% more than associate degree holders and a whopping 84% more than people with just high school diplomas. If you major in one of the best paying bachelor degree programs, your annual income may increase by even more than 84%.

Bachelor’s degrees can also open more doors for you in terms of career opportunities, so they have benefits beyond salary as well.

Is college right for you? You’re the only person who can answer that question, but if you’re ready to move up in the world, a bachelor’s degree is something to consider.

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Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.