Career Fast Track: 3 Ways to Get Your College Degree More Quickly

For many, the desire to finish college early and enter the career world right away may seem like an unrealistic dream. Of course, there are also students balancing school, work, and family who would be happy just to graduate before they’re old enough to retire. The good news is there are some ways to speed up the process, and possibly lighten the homework load. These resources, which can be key in finishing a degree on time or even early, have gone largely untapped by students for years.

1. Course Challenge: Most colleges allow students to challenge courses by taking an exam or completing a project pertinent to the subject. Register for the class you wish to challenge. Then meet with the instructor BEFORE classes begin to discuss the option of challenging for credit. The instructor may have a challenge packet ready to go, or instructor and student will come to an agreed upon project and deadline. Sometimes it could be as simple as bringing in a portfolio of appropriate work. Depending on the subject, an essay or report mat be required.

Because course challenges can create extra work for the instructor, it is a good idea to find out which ones are most willing to work with you, before you register. In most cases it is best to challenge a course with an instructor who has done it before. Sometimes, however, it may be to your advantage to work with an instructor who is new to course challenges. He or she may be more lenient.

Though government financial aid does not cover non-traditional credit, the cost of challenging a course is just a fraction of traditional tuition. In some cases challenges cost only $10 per credit.

If you receive financial aid based on a specific number of credit hours, it is important to note that course challenges are not counted toward these hours. So, if you are enrolled as “full-time” you still will have to take the minimum number of “traditional” credit hours to keep full-time status.

2. CLEP: The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers over thirty exams in five categories – Composition &Literature, Foreign Languages, History & Social Sciences, Science & Mathematics, and Business. Starting in July, the cost will go up from $55 to $60 per exam. While a course challenge can give one term or semester worth of credit for seemingly less money, success on a CLEP exam could count for a year in that subject. Subject study guides and practice exams can be downloaded for about $10 each at the College Board website. You may not need a lot of prior knowledge in a particular subject. Sometimes it is just as easy to learn the necessary material for the CLEP by using a study guide as to study for a course final.

Individual CLEP credit policies are set by each of the 2,900 colleges and universities that recognize the program. This includes the number of credits a student can earn through CLEP and the minimum score to pass each exam. Some of them require the “optional” essay portion of some exams, while others include a departmental exam as part of the process. For this reason, it is very important to look into the policy at the testing center where you plan to receive credit.

3. Condensed and online courses: Many colleges today offer high impact versions of general education requirements. Courses that usually run for 10 or 11 weeks can be completed in 5 or 6. Because of the short time frame, it does take more concentrated study time and more work is required each day. But, if you are not too keen on spending eleven weeks in biology or pre-calculus, it may be worth buckling down for five weeks instead. These courses are usually offered in the summer, but several institutions also offer them online. Because these are still considered “traditional” (in most cases), they are covered by financial aid and count toward enrollment requirements.

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