If you want to earn a reputable bachelor’s degree from a university, you may think you know your options: traditional on-campus or online education.
But there’s another choice: self-paced, competency-based education (CBE) where you move through a degree based on how quickly you are learning—independent of traditional semester schedules. CBE is ideal for those who want to earn a high quality, fast, online degree.
In traditional semester-based programs, you have to finish a course in sixteen weeks—even if you know the material and could go faster, or if you are really struggling and need more time. And it can be frustrating when a class you need to graduate isn’t available, delaying you further. As a result, a bachelor’s degree completion program can take several years to finish, even if you go back to school full time.
Compare that to a self-paced, CBE program, such as the UW Flexible Option offered by UW Extended Campus and the University of Wisconsin System, where your pace is truly up to you. In this format, it is possible to complete a degree in 12 months. Every course is offered every subscription period, and you control the speed at which you study.
But could you do it? Here are four signs that you are a good candidate to earn a degree in just one year.
1. You’re ready to put in the work.
Completing a fast, online bachelor’s degree in 12 months is possible, and we can point to UW Flexible Option graduates who have done it. However, word to the wise: it’s challenging.
You will likely need to dedicate 30 to 40 hours to your studies each week. In fact, if your goal is to finish in one year, you will want to think about your studies like you would a full-time job. Students who do this are typically self-starters, disciplined, and highly motivated.
On the other hand, keep in mind that some students who complete their degree this fast are working part-time or are deployed overseas. Others have been in their fields for a long time and have a wealth of existing knowledge they can apply to their studies. Some are currently between jobs, looking for a quick way to upskill or reskill and they have extra available time right now. If any of the above apply to you, then an accelerated pace might be a good fit.
Get a UW Flexible Option Degree Guide
Download an introductory guide (PDF) to the self-paced, competency-based UW Flexible Option programs, including details about costs, admission requirements, and more.
2. You have a lot of college credit already—around 60 to 80 credits.
There are over 750,000 adults in Wisconsin who have college credit but no degree. If you fall into that category—and you have 60 to 80 credits—the UW Flexible Option is an ideal path, especially if your goal is to graduate within a year.
A full bachelor’s degree is typically 120 credits, which is about 40 classes. If you are starting college for the first time, finishing an entire bachelor’s degree in a year won’t be realistic. You will not have the time to truly demonstrate learning on the material (and be wary of those that say otherwise!).
But, if you are in the early stages of your college studies, you could begin with the UW-Milwaukee Associate of Arts & Sciences (AAS) degree offered through the UW Flexible Option. An AAS is a way to satisfy your general education requirements (the first half of a bachelor’s degree) and set you up on a great foundation to complete your bachelor’s degree after.
To find out how many credits you need to graduate, contact an enrollment adviser (608-262-2011) to see if your program offers an unofficial credit evaluation. Otherwise, when you apply to your chosen program you will receive an official transfer credit evaluation. This will help you know for sure how many credits you will need to graduate with your chosen bachelor’s degree.
3. You are considering a self-paced, competency-based program.
In Competency-Based Education (CBE), you make progress based on your learning, not on time spent in a classroom. The UW Flexible Option offers online degree and certificate programs that give busy adults the flexibility they need to earn a credential. The pace that you choose is up to you, not an instructor or an institution. As soon as you master a competency (through a rigorous project-based assessment), you can move on to the next one. No waiting for other classmates, or waiting an entire semester.
Here are more ways CBE makes a fast online bachelor’s degree more attainable:
- You can start any month. No waiting for the next semester.
- You don’t waste time studying things you already know. You can apply existing knowledge to your studies and potentially leverage it to progress faster.
- With the “All You Can Learn” subscription period option, you can complete as many courses as you would like in 12 weeks for one flat rate. And if you progress faster than anticipated, you can always add more courses within that subscription period.
- You work 1-to-1 with your instructor, not with other students. There are no group projects or collaborative discussions, so you don’t need to coordinate your work time with other students.
4. You have the time to complete one or two courses per month.
The average number of courses you would need to complete each month depends on how much transfer credit you have. But, as a quick illustration, here are some simplified scenarios. These show the time you might need to finish your bachelor’s degree in 4 subscription periods (12 months).
|Credits you transferred in||Credits remaining to degree||Average completed credits needed
per month to finish in 12 months
Reminder: You might be thinking, “I think I could finish one class each month for a year”—and that’s great! But remember to consider the number of hours you have available for schoolwork. UW Flexible Option programs follow the federal standard definition of a credit hour: 45 hours of total work per 1 credit hour. So if you only have, say, an hour each night after the kids go to bed that you can use for school, you’ll want to set a more realistic goal of finishing your degree in two to three years, rather than trying to cram into one.
Note: The math isn’t always easy when it comes to transfer credit: something might transfer but not satisfy a degree requirement, and you still need to earn enough credits to meet the residency requirement of your college. Therefore, it will be important that you talk about your transfer credit, time available per week, and your degree goals with your Academic Success Coach.
Go for a Fast Online Bachelor’s Degree, But Know You Can Slow Down
You want a degree fast. That’s fantastic. But if you later want to slow down, you can do just that in your UW Flexible Option degree program. It was designed to be flexible for those who need to go lightning fast, as well as those who are extremely busy and need to take their studies at a steadier pace.
In fact, though the focus of this article is on speed-to-degree, many UW Flexible Option students, like our alumnus Aaron Apel, use the flexibility of the program to go very slowly through the program due to their busy life. And that’s a great feature about the UW Flexible Option: it’s ultimately not about how fast or slow you go, it’s about your personalized learning journey and you earning the degree you’ve always wanted.
Your next step?
Explore the degree and certificate programs offered through University of Wisconsin Flexible Option.
Call (608-262-2011) or email one of our knowledgeable enrollment advisers to talk through how the UW Flexible Option might be a great fit for you.
Editors note: This post was originally published in May 2018 and has been updated.