An Introduction to Accelerated Degree Programs

How to save time and money by working toward an advanced degree as an undergrad.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

Some careers require a degree beyond a bachelor’s, like physical therapy and teaching, or are helped by a master’s degree, such as engineering and finance. But the thought of spending more time in a classroom or finding the money for two or three more years of tuition can be a turnoff. That’s where an accelerated degree program comes in.

Many colleges and universities offer the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree within five years, instead of the standard six, or a bachelor’s and doctorate degree in six years instead of seven. These programs are also referred to as “4+1,” “4-1,” “3+2,” “3-2,” or “3/2” programs.

If you think your son or daughter may be interested in going this route, here is what you need to know.

Freshman need not apply In order to apply for admission to an accelerated degree program, a student needs a specific number of credits, which is usually achieved by the end of sophomore year. In other words, this decision does not have to be made as soon as your child reaches campus.

Grades matter Colleges and academic departments have their own minimum GPA requirements for admission. Though it can be as high as 3.5, a 3.0 tends to be the norm.

Note that Cs may be acceptable in undergraduate courses, but a student must get at least a B in the advanced classes to earn credit toward a graduate or doctorate degree.

Explore before applying Committing to an accelerated degree program is a big step and your child should either intern in the field he’s interested in or shadow someone working in that career to determine if this is the right area for him. He can find these opportunities on campus through Career Services or his academic department.

If your student shows an interest in an accelerated degree program, a smart move is to research the requirements sooner rather than later. This can help smooth the transition into the advanced degree part of the program.

Degrees don’t have to be in the same area Often a student can pursue an undergraduate degree in any field and in senior year begin working toward an MBA (master’s of business administration).

This can also hold true for those seeking their master’s degree to gain their teaching certification. They can major in history, Spanish, chemistry, etc. and earn their graduate degree in adolescent education in that specific subject.

An undergrad who wants to become a physical therapist can major in biology, exercise science, athletic training, health science, rehabilitation science or something similar, depending upon what the college offers.

Students can also work on two degrees in similar fields, like economics and business administration, or communications and corporate administration.

The basics of these programs You may be wondering how a student can acquire two degrees in less time and still meet the course and credit requirements for both the undergraduate and graduate degrees. Essentially, a student takes a specific number of graduate level courses during senior year, which count toward the remaining credits of her bachelor’s degree, possibly as recommended undergraduate electives if they are in a different major.

Taking full advantage of a financial aid package A four-year scholarship can be used in the senior year to pay for what is also the first year of a graduate or doctoral program. A student will need to apply for financial aid for the remaining year(s).

Advantages An accelerated degree program saves money and gets your child out in the workforce faster. It can be an alternative to going to grad school part-time while working to pay tuition, or to help minimize borrowing.

Depending upon the college and the program, graduate admissions test requirements may be waved, avoiding the cost of the prep and test, time studying and, of course, anxiety.

Disadvantages The biggest downside to an accelerated degree program is that your child may be studying with the same professors for five or six years if her undergrad and grad degrees are in the same field.

There’s also the chance that after all this work she will decide she picked the wrong field or college. Hopefully, she’ll have weighed her decision carefully before committing to the program.

Where to learn more Visit any college website and type “accelerated degree” in the search box on the homepage. If the school offers this program, you will find links to pages with details, probably by department.

Share your thoughts on accelerated degree programs in the comments section below.

 

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