When you pursue a college education, you’re not only investing your hard-earned money and your effort. You’re also spending a good deal of time earning that degree. A bachelor’s degree program typically takes four years of full-time study to complete, but many students take even longer. One reason some students gravitate toward online college is because they hope they can earn their degree in less time so they can begin putting their education to work sooner rather than later.

How Online Colleges Accelerate Education

Some online college degree programs take the same length of time to complete as traditional programs. In such programs, students would take about two years of full-time study to earn an associate’s degree or four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, depending on the structure of the degree program and on how long it takes to complete the online courses, the time could be shorter. On average, online students take 15 to 24 months to earn their associate’s degrees and three to four full years (36 to 48 months) to complete bachelor’s degrees.

There are a few ways online colleges can decrease the length of time it takes to complete a degree. Some schools condense a semester’s worth of material into a course that lasts just a few weeks or a couple of months. These courses are demanding, but their structure allows dedicated students to complete coursework ahead of peers in traditional programs. Online students may attend school year-round rather than only in the fall and spring, so they spend more months out of the year actually studying. Some colleges are beginning to award competency-based degrees rather than the traditional credit hour requirement for earning a degree. This may allow professionals with experience in their field to earn their degrees faster, although they should still learn and study new material during the course of their education.

A Word of Warning

Though you can earn a college degree at an accelerated pace by choosing the right online program rather than studying at a traditional school, be wary of any college that promises a degree in an unrealistic amount of time. It takes more than just a few months to learn the knowledge and skills you will need to know for your future career, and it will definitely take more than a few months to earn a degree from a legitimate online degree program.

More than one-third of students who decide to go to an online rather than traditional college to earn their degrees do so for the possibility of taking accelerated courses and completing their studies early, according to EdTech magazine. For these students, the benefits are numerous. They may be able to save money by spending less time in school. They can start putting their degrees to use in professional jobs earlier, increasing their earning potential and getting a head start in finding their desired jobs or advancing their careers.