The Top 15 Accelerated Online Degree Programs in 2021

Accelerated online degree programs are another online education format where the courses run for about six to eight weeks. The courses frequently begin, usually every month, and some courses are conducted synchronously or asynchronously. There is no definite time frame, but it is projected that programs can be completed in half the time compared to the traditional route with this pacing. Some universities offer accelerated online degrees designed to fast-track students’ learning, following a rigid yet tight schedule. In comparison, other programs allow for certain levels of flexibility where the student can combine accelerated and traditional courses to fit their busy schedules better. 

Accelerated online programs can be likened to self-paced online programs where both modes follow one principle – competency-based education. Students can breeze through their courses once competency of the required skills and knowledge has been established. These demonstrations of competencies are not evaluated through exams but rather through activities or exercises that integrate pedagogy with real-life application. By allowing students to skip to the part of competency demonstration instead of spending at least eight weeks of sessions tackling topics they already know, these fast-track courses save students a lot of time and money, (considerably, to be discussed below).

CC_Accelerated Degree Programs - fact

Table of Contents

The Market for Accelerated Online Degrees

The demand comes from adults looking to either beef up their credentials with advanced degrees or adult students who have not had the chance to earn a bachelor’s degree because they had to work at an early age. Accelerated degrees, though not as popular yet, the typical instructor-based online programs or non-degree online courses (MOOCs), are gradually gaining traction as an educational alternative because they follow a competency-based learning model, which perfectly suits the busy schedules adult students are currently juggling.

Accelerated degrees are not only for adult students trying to earn a degree, but for those that cannot afford to leave their jobs in pursuit of career advancement. Young (or “on-time”) students can also enjoy the benefits of an accelerated degree. After all, the labor market is constantly changing and there is the risk of what is being learned in school now will no longer be relevant by the time the student – or the graduate – enters the workforce. A concrete example of this can be seen in the field of Information Technology. Cloud computing, blockchain, ERP systems, project management, machine learning, and AI are all fairly new technologies that have emerged over the last decade. So, if one spends a long time trying to attain a degree, chances are, they would have to take some additional non-degree courses, training, or certifications to catch up and be continually relevant and marketable in a volatile job market. 

Accelerated or fast-track degrees can minimize this risk, provided that the student does complete the program within the prescribed time frame. 

RELATED FAQ: What Is An Accelerated Degree Program?

Types of Accelerated Online Degree Programs

Accelerated online degrees come in different forms to accommodate every kind of student looking to fast-track their way to the workforce. Bridging programs from high school to college or college to graduate levels are available, and these are viable ways to accelerate one’s studies. Here are some examples:

Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) – this is like a high school to college bridging program that is currently in place in only a handful of states such as: Minnesota, Texas, and Illinois (while Minnesota does not appear in the official Census-PSEO data, a quick Google search indicates otherwise, where PSEO is widely implemented in most MN high schools and colleges). High schools that implement this program in partnership with community colleges or four-year colleges allow their students from the 9th or 10th grade to take college courses at partner secondary schools. In Minnesota, the program applies only to 10th graders and onward. Those in 10th grade can take vocational or trade courses at partner community colleges, while those in 11th and 12th grade may take courses that can be credited towards an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. States that have implemented this program have reported a 10 to 77 percent attendance and completion among the students that participated in the program.

The 4+1 program (or the 3+2 program) is the higher learning equivalent of the bridging program described above. It bridges the undergraduate studies with a graduate degree by allowing undergrads to take advanced courses on their senior year (or junior year, in the case of 3+2) that can be credited towards a master’s degree. Completion of the master’s degree will comprise the fifth year of study. Traditionally, it will take students at least six years to complete both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, while an accelerated program can reduce that to just five years. The 4+1 program is a common offering among universities that offer online degrees, such as Arizona State University, Minnesota State University, and many others. In fact, at ASU, most of its accelerated undergraduate programs are offered with a 4+1 format alone, with some exceptions where the program is offered with two options: 4+1 for a dual-degree option, or completion within three years for a bachelor’s degree only option.

The 2+2 program is a common pathway for students who have earned their associate’s degree and want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the related field of study, for example, RN to BSN, or what is known as “completion degree” or “completion courses.” Another version of the 2+2 degree, also called the “Dual Degree Program,” allows college students to earn two bachelor degrees – a Bachelor of Arts, usually in Liberal Arts or Economics, and a Bachelor of Science, with the usual degrees being Engineering or Business Management, but some schools, like Drew University in New Jersey, offer more dual degree programs beyond Engineering and Business. Regardless of the program and school, the goal is to complete both programs in four to five years, which is still way more accelerated than taking two separate baccalaureate programs.

The straightforward, standalone online accelerated degree program refers to the typical accelerated program, where the courses included, especially for the majors, run from six to eight weeks. It is a straightforward program, with no bridging or completion programs here. Students start from the beginning of their programs with introductory courses and all but at an accelerated pace. Most courses required by the chosen program have multiple start dates throughout the year, so students need not wait for the next term to enroll in a class as long as they have completed the pre-requisites of the class. For streamlining purposes, this piece will only list the 15 bachelor’s and master’s programs that are delivered in this format. Pathways that offer dual degrees or completion courses from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree will not be included. 

RELATED: Colleges That Give Credit For Life Experience

fast degree

How Would You Know if an Accelerated Degree is for You?

Did you take AP classes in high school? Did you gain marketable skills through real-life work experiences that did not require a college degree like bookkeeping, programming, CAD/CAM design, or a nursing assistant – all of which could translate to college credits in programs like accountancy, computer science, architecture, and nursing, respectively? Do you consider yourself to be strongly disciplined and motivated to follow a tight and rigid study schedule? Is the goal of joining the workforce (or re-joining the workforce for experienced students) a much stronger goal than having enjoyed the “college experience”? 

If you answered “yes” to any or all of these, then an accelerated online program may be the best pathway for you. Such a program requires discipline, perseverance, diligence, and motivation of the highest level. It also requires some financial fluidity as accelerated programs are not exactly more affordable compared to other programs, whether traditional or instructor-based online programs. Indeed, the accelerated pace and the competency-based education allow students to reduce their tuition costs, but this is only true if the student gets to complete their program on time.  

Universities and colleges offering accelerated degrees usually charge on a subscription basis. Students pay a fixed fee, usually anywhere from $2500 to $5000, with the one-time fee being valid for a quarter or a semester at most. Students can take as many classes as they can. In an accelerated format, assuming the student takes two different courses, this translates to as little as three to four courses per quarter or six to eight courses per semester. Not a bad deal, but again, strict adherence to the course schedule must be observed to enjoy the true monetary value of the subscription. 

Effective Strategies for Successful Accelerated Online Learning

Accelerated online learning can be really tough and demanding at times. The schedules can be grueling and sometimes unbearable for some students. Especially those who are not used to the time pressure. However, the feat is not impossible! To be successful, motivation and discipline are not enough. Physical and tangible strategies must be implemented to ensure a high probability of success in this learning mode.

  1. Accelerate your accelerated studies. Get a head start on your readings. That way, you would not be scrambling or lose yourself in the discussion once classes are held. Remember, even the classes themselves are conducted at an accelerated pace. Expect the instructor (for synchronous or cohort types) or the material (for asynchronous types) to be fast-paced as well. The discussions might breeze through on the topics, and you will have to rely on your readings for better comprehension. 
  2. Keep a constant online presence. The great thing about online learning is that it fosters collaboration and group or public learning through forums or public posts. Your learning will be further enhanced if you keep track of concepts discussed on these platforms. Learning from your classmates or others who have previously taken the same program will significantly pump your knowledge up and keep you ahead. You can also go beyond your course site and look at discussion websites like Quora, Reddit, or even Twitter for discussions, literature, studies, or posts from subject matter experts. Just make sure it is posted by a real SME and not some troll by checking the user’s credentials.
  3. Constantly jot down notes and digest and reflect on these. Doing due diligence is not just about reading to keep up. Writing notes and not just copying what is on the instruction material, but jotting what you learned in your own words helps in information retention and comprehension. Reflecting on your notes will also help stir ideas on applying what you have learned in school at work, which brings us to our next point below.
  4. Constantly think of ways on how to integrate school and work. Accelerated programs are based on competency-based learning, so you always have to develop ways to integrate your learning in practical situations or use your learning as solutions to work challenges. Every time you are reading your modules, notes, or somebody else’s forum posts, think of ways these concepts can be applied in real-life work scenarios or how these questions can be answered by simulating it at work, kind of like an experiment. Always have this proactive mindset all the time.
  5. Stay ahead of your assignments and other coursework. If you can do it in advance, why not do it? If you are confident with your understanding and output, why not submit your work ahead of time? Always remember that with fast-track programs, you need not wait until the end of the term or the course to submit your deliverables. You can further reduce the time spent on your program if you are proactive with your coursework and other submissions. 
  6. Compete with yourself, not with anyone else. Studying at an accelerated pace may get you all caught up and feel as if you are competing with the crowd. This is not a race against your peers but rather a race against time, against yourself. Enrolling in accelerated programs is a good way to challenge yourself in terms of pace and discipline, but never get caught up with the pace and treat your peers as competitors. Do not make an enemy out of your classmates whom you might end up working with eventually as you join the workforce. 
fast degrees

The Top 15 Accelerated Online Degree Programs

The list below is curated based on the labor market demand projected by the  BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. Two, the fields of study availability as a standalone, accelerated online program leading to either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree separately. While dual degrees do offer a superior advantage in terms of marketability and pace compared to the traditional pathway of earning a bachelor’s degree first, then a master’s degree, the latter is the most optimal pathway for students who are on a trajectory of completing their studies, whether undergraduate or graduate, in the soonest time possible without breaking the bank. Dual degrees, as attractive and tempting as these programs sound, will incur more fees because, well, two degrees are waiting for them at the podium. Single, standalone programs are the fastest – and reasonably more affordable path – towards an online degree.

The assumption here is that whoever is reading this piece is an incoming undergraduate student or an incoming graduate student returning to school after a significant amount of time and whose ultimate goal is to get into the workforce in the soonest time possible with a degree. Completion pace and a positive job outlook are the key determinants in building the list below.

All bachelor’s degrees listed below can be completed in 3 years or less, with due diligence. Advanced degrees or master’s degrees listed below vary in completion time projections, with some can be completed in as little as 12 months to a maximum of 18 months for the fast-track option. 

quick degrees

Accountancy (BS)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 7%

A degree in Accountancy is recession-proof, in-demand across industries, and is actually one of the more understated degrees one can earn, and yet it has proven over and over again how versatile it could be. It could open the doors for a career in the banking sector, treasury (federal or state), organizational auditing, Finance, business technology (for those who have taken electives in information technology, data analytics, or ERP management) academe, business processing, and many more. Accountants are in demand everywhere, regardless of industry. Even non-profit organizations and schools need accountants. Whether private or public, any firm or establishment that has money coming in and out will need an accountant to balance the books and for legal and statutory compliances, like tax compliance.  Those who have had working experience as bookkeepers can leverage this going into their undergraduate studies. 

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Business Data Analytics / Business Management / Business Administration (BS)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 11%

Similar to Accountancy, Business degrees offer versatility and flexibility in terms of job placement. However, the choice of concentration or major plays an important role in determining one’s marketability after college. Data Analytics majors can find themselves in IT companies and other industries, from manufacturing, marketing, research, sales, mass media, and others, as data is now prevalent and ubiquitous in all sectors. And of course, no one can dispute the versatility of Business Management and Business Administration graduates—from budget analysis to organization and leadership, from entry-level to top rung position—management graduates will always find a spot for themselves in any sector.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Computer Information Systems (BS)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 22%

Another versatile degree, Computer and Information Systems, opens the door for a career in various sectors as almost every industry now in the world runs on digitalized and automated systems. These industries include finance (fintech), visual arts, military science, healthcare, mass media, and, of course, in the realm of information technology alone. There are several capabilities and roles where one can attain proficiency and carve a lifelong career. Among these roles include software development, software engineering, network and infrastructure, programming in various languages like Python, R, C, Java, database administration, data science and analytics, cloud computing, machine learning, blockchain, solution architecture, artificial intelligence, website development and maintenance and many others.  The beauty of this field is that non-degree courses in various proficiencies and skillsets are offered by various MOOC platforms and even traditional schools. Certifications in various vendor technologies like Amazon Web Service (AWS), Microsoft’s Azure, Comp TIA, CISCO Networks, and many more can be achieved even without earning a degree. So, if a student has taken any of these certifications or non-degree programs before their undergraduate studies, they can leverage on these and even further accelerate the track towards earning a degree by simply showing a high level of competency to get through the course(s).

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Criminology / Criminal Justice (BS)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 7%

A degree in Criminology or Criminal Justice is not just founded on jurisprudence knowledge and implementation. It also deals with understanding human behavior, tendencies, and other extenuating factors for committing a crime. Contrary to popular belief, law enforcement is not the only career path for Criminology graduates – correctional facilities, counseling, investigative, security, journalism, the academe – yes, the likes of the police academy – and even the legal industry as a paralegal are viable career paths. The degree can also serve as a pre-law degree for those aspiring to pursue a JD degree and a law career.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Finance (BS)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 17%

A degree in Finance can help the graduate land a job in various industries. Still, the most exciting demand for finance graduates today outside the stock market and investment banking is in the technology sector, thanks to the emergence of fintech, the automation of payment systems and enterprise processes, and blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies. Of course, there are still the traditional yet always viable career paths such as the traditional business sector, insurance and risk sector, financial management, financial operations, and many others.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Interdisciplinary Studies (Bachelor)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 9%

Interdisciplinary Studies programs are unique because their curricula are curated with a little of everything –every subject or discipline imparts enough marketable skills. This allows the graduate to penetrate different sectors or industries for a job, armed with several transferable skills such as verbal and written communication skills, leadership and management, analysis, and other skills depending on the electives taken. Career options for graduates of this program include human resources, sales, and communication roles like a writer, editor, translation, and the like. 

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Supply Chain Management / Project Management / Marketing / Organizational Leadership (BS)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 20%

As businesses become more complex, so do the roles that oversee these specific processes. Plus, with the emergence of technologies that streamline business processes, the need to cultivate specific roles from the undergraduate level became apparent over the last decade. Supply Chain Management graduates are exceptionally highly in-demand with the rise of logistic companies that offer expedited services or companies like online marketplaces that offer the same. Project Management, a fairly new niche in the management degree discipline, produces graduates that are experts in budgeting, costing, internal accounting or controlling, scheduling, workforce pooling and solutions, written and verbal communication, project tracking, the use of various office productivity programs, materials management, logistics and all other facets of a business and the projects it is involved in. Graduates of this degree can certainly find careers in almost any industry. The same holds for Marketing and Organizational Leadership degrees, as both produce graduates equipped with transferable skills that can be applied to any industry.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Journalism / Mass Communication / Media Communication (BA)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 11%

Some say journalism is dead or that a degree in communication is no longer in demand due to the rise of “content creators.” However, a quick search on job portal sites, as well as the BLS projection, contradicts this. A degree in Communication or Journalism can still take its graduate to places. With social media taking over as the new media, the need for credible, educated, and legitimate content creators is ever-present. Whether for content creation, management, or regulation, degree holders in Communication or Journalism impart a certain sense of expertise, ethics, and authority that fly-by-night or amateur content creators do not possess. 

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master of Arts in Psychology

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 9%

Psychology is one of those few degrees, like medicine-related degrees, where an advanced degree is a key to opening all the career doors for someone in the field. The demand for psychology graduates with advanced degrees is consistent and steady in counseling and therapist roles, especially nowadays. These uncertain times of a global pandemic and an unprecedented time where the stigma of mental health issues no longer exists give rise to the apparent and paramount need for psychologists to help keep the populace sane during lockdowns or grounded with all that is happening in the world. Assuming all course requirements are met on time, the degree can be completed in 18 months, more or less. 

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master of Science in International Relations

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 16%

A master’s degree in International Relations can further open doors for a lifelong career in government agencies, non-profit organizations, humanitarian organizations like the United Nations and its sister groups like UNICEF, UNESCO and the like, research and think tanks, international diplomacy and law, political strategy, military strategy, and advisement, subject matter expertise, foreign linguistics and translation and many more.  This program and other similarly named programs (International Affairs, International Security, Governance with a focus on International Relations) educate its students on the issues grappling with the world, both past and current, and how they will impact the future. Some staple courses include Conflict, Negotiation and Resolution, Sustainability, Regional Issues, Foreign Languages, and International Law, to name a few. Most accelerated formats of this program can be completed in as little as a year to a year and a half.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 8%

When one thinks of accelerated degrees, one of the first degrees that come to mind is an MBA. MBA degrees are one of the first ones in the fast-track lane, offering one-year options as an accelerated alternative to the traditional two years. The timeline is tight and rigid, and strict requirements for eligibility are usually in place. As for job prospects, there is a reason why an MBA is the most sought-after advanced degree. Having one is like having a badge in an armor that screams “marketable,” “employable,” “versatile,” and “skilled,” among other descriptors. Fast-track MBA degrees can be completed in 1 year.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master of Education

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 8%

Professionals with a Master of Education degree, (or similarly named advanced degrees like Master of Educational Leadership or Educational Administration), usually find themselves at the helm of a K-12 school, which could be an elementary, middle school, or high school. They are skilled administrators, principals, and experts in curriculum creation along with design, leadership, conflict resolution, training and development, and human resources, among many other skill areas. Most universities offering a M.Ed. degree offer specialization tracks or focus such as Early Childhood Education, Special Education, Leadership, Curriculum Development, and many more. The degree can be completed in 15 to 18 months, with an average of 16 months. 

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master in Healthcare Administration (MHA)

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 32%

If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, the healthcare sector is pandemic and recession-proof. Among the degrees listed here, a Master in Healthcare Administration degree (or an MBA in Healthcare Management) poses one of the highest prospects per the BLS, at 32%, surprisingly higher than Computer Science degrees. The rise of the health or medical insurance industry, HMOs, claims, and benefits gave more opportunities to MHA graduates to hold managerial positions in industrial or corporate settings aside from the traditional hospital or community health setting. Most accelerated MHA degrees can be completed in 1 year.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master of Science in Nursing

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 45%

Registered nurses with a Master’s degree in Nursing take the top tier in this list with the most positive job prospect at 45% over the next ten years. Depending on the chosen specialization or concentration, nurses with an MSN degree can have careers as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, psychiatric nurses, educators, and researchers and hold managerial roles. The demand for nurses has always plagued hospitals and care centers for a long period, and this is one of the few roles that several states have found it challenging to fill, which is why the demand and, of course, the pay is just as high. Depending on the school, the degree can be completed in as little as 12 months.

Accelerated Online Degree Programs - Divider

Master of Public Administration

BLS 10-year outlook as of 2020: 9%

Public service, policymaking, legislation, political strategy, public relations, government and public communications, public funding allocation or control, and project management are capabilities one can gain with a Master of Public Administration degree. But it is not limited to just a career within the government. Those who prefer the private sector can also work in managerial positions, consultancy, strategy, and similar roles because the skills gained with the degree are transferable.  The degree can be completed in 15 to 18 months.