Accelerated online degrees for working adults allow enrollees to attend college without cutting their work hours. They save time and money on commuting and parking expenses — and may even spend less on tuition.
This guide leads you through 10 examples of accelerated degree types you can earn online. Graduating may increase your career opportunities, make a shift to a different field, or earn higher salaries.
What to expect in an accelerated online degree program
Reputable, accredited accelerated bachelor’s degree programs mirror their on-campus counterparts. They offer the same quality of curriculum, instructors, and post-graduation career outcomes.
The main differences center on the ability to learn and study at your own pace and finish much sooner than you would in an in-person classroom setting.
Classes will most likely be asynchronous. You’ll use discussion boards to interact with professors and other students.
Some programs may require synchronous meetings, in-person internships, or on-campus residencies. These typically take place on weekends or in the evenings to accommodate work schedules.
Program lengths average two years for most degrees. It is sometimes possible to graduate earlier with self-discipline, time management, and motivation.
10 best accelerated online degrees for working adults
To compile this list of accelerated online degrees for working adults, we considered the career interests of ZDNet readers, then scoured the web to find programs in those fields that typically offer:
- Self-paced or compressed learning
- Accommodations for working adults
- Preparation for advancement opportunities or new directions
Our curated list of accelerated online bachelor’s degrees for working adults includes programs in business, engineering, computer science, information technology, and public service. All aim to help graduates stay relevant and in demand over the coming decades.
Degrees are listed alphabetically.
1. Business administration
Accelerated business administration degrees can be completed in 16-36 months. They include focus areas like business analytics, entrepreneurship, human resources, and marketing management.
Skill-based learning covers topics in accounting, business technology, and project management, along with collaboration, communication, and strategic thinking.
Many programs offer competency-based instruction, which credits students for prior educational, professional, and life experiences. Some include internship opportunities and immersive projects.
Admission usually permits students to start year-round. Some programs may require SAT or ACT scores.
Potential careers for bachelor’s in business administration degree-holders include accountant or auditor, general or operations manager, human resources manager, and management analyst.
2. Computer science
Students can complete an accelerated computer science degree online in one to two years, depending on transferable credits or prior coding experience.
Computer science curricula include courses in algorithms, computer systems and architecture, data structures and analysis, and programming.
Students develop skills in analytical thinking, concentration, and problem-solving. Programs may offer innovative learning tools like access to virtual machines for hands-on exercises, along with tech internships and capstone projects.
Admission sometimes requires a specific GPA to gauge success in handling an accelerated course load.
Career options for computer science graduates include computer network architect, data scientist, computer programmer, and software engineer.
3. Criminal justice
Adult learners interested in law enforcement, private investigation, or homeland security can earn an accelerated criminal justice degree online in 12-30 months.
Programs often offer monthly start dates and learning on students’ schedules. Credit may be given for passing tests, prior learning, and military experience.
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Courses include criminal behavior, criminal law, interviewing and interrogation, forensics, and terrorism. Enrollees learn to be critical thinkers, leaders, and effective communicators.
Programs may include hands-on internships at local agencies or police departments.
Potential careers span fields including computer forensics investigator, FBI agent, fish and game warden, and homicide detective.
Students interested in accelerated online engineering degrees can choose from majors such as:
Courses cover math and science, plus specialization areas like chemistry for chemical engineering or robotics for tech-focused engineering.
Completion times for earning an engineering bachelor’s vary by focus area, but most accelerated program enrollees can finish in about two years. Because many areas of engineering require hands-on training, online students may be required to attend in-person labs or on-campus residencies.
Career possibilities range from mining and mechanical engineering to network architects and computer hardware engineers.
5. Environmental science
As climate change drives a shift toward clean energy sources, environmental policy professionals should be in demand.
You may join the field with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or environmental studies. These degrees emphasize how culture and politics contribute to environmental degradation and inform policy making.
With transfer credits, learners can graduate in 18-24 months.
Coursework teaches skills in advocacy, analysis, communication, and risk assessment. You’ll study economics, history, law and regulation, and social dynamics. The interdisciplinary curriculum will also include science-based courses, which may require in-person labs.
Career choices include climate change analyst, environmental lobbyist, and sustainability specialist.
Finance degrees in accelerated online formats can be completed in 12-24 months.
Bachelor’s programs in finance teach skills in accounting, analysis, financial planning, and strategic thinking.
They also prepare students for certification exams, such as Certified Financial Analyst or Certified Financial Planner, through coursework and internships. Concentration areas include general finance, investments, real estate, and wealth management.
Most programs offer generous credit transfer policies, condensed five- to eight-week courses, and rolling admissions so you can start online college today.
Some may award credit by examination or for prior work experience to further accelerate the process. Finance degree-holders pursue careers as financial advisors, analysts, and managers.
7. Forensics/crime scene investigation
Law enforcement professionals may gain career advancement with a forensics/crime scene investigation degree. Many students already hold a degree such as psychology, sociology, or criminal justice.
Accelerated programs typically follow a hybrid format of online and in-person instruction. Field instruction is vital to mastering these skills. Completion time averages 24 months, but some students finish in one year.
Concentration tracks include underwater crime scene investigations, law enforcement intelligence, and pre-law. You’ll learn evidential reasoning, forensic science, problem-solving, and crime scene professionalism and ethics.
Bachelor’s degree holders work as crime scene investigators, death investigators, evidence technicians, and forensic scientists.
8. Information technology
An accelerated online information technology degree can take only one to two years.
This degree may lead to in-demand IT careers such as:
- Computer technician
- Cybersecurity specialist
- Database administrator
- Information security analyst
- System administrator
IT students learn skills in ethical hacking, network configuration, programming languages, security infrastructure, and troubleshooting. The program includes hands-on components through online labs or in-person internships. You’ll also complete asynchronous, self-paced coursework.
Concentrations may include data management, security and assurance, IT management, network administration, and scripting and programming.
An IT bachelor’s may appeal if you’re a first-time degree-seekers or already working in entry-level IT positions interested in career advancement.
9. Legal studies
An accelerated online bachelor’s degree in legal studies can prepare students for law school or provide training for legal support positions in as little as 18 months.
Courses cover contracts, foundations of the U.S. legal system, legal ethics, and legal theory and practice. They teach skills in analysis, communication, critical thinking, professionalism, and research. Concentrations may focus on corporate law, family law, or litigation.
Enrollees can apply previous coursework, professional experience, or military service toward their degrees. Potential careers with a legal studies bachelor’s include law office manager, legal assistant, and paralegal.
10. Public administration
Accelerated online public administration bachelor’s degrees tend to attract students already working in the field who want to apply for more advanced opportunities. They take an average of 18 months.
Concentrations include public policy and leadership, public service, Native American studies, sustainability, and social services.
Courses cover administrative law, conflict resolution, public budgeting, urban planning, and policy development. Learners gain skills in oral and written communication, research, and effective interpersonal relationships.
Programs typically culminate with a capstone project. Students may also complete internships. Graduates may find employment in city planning, legislation, operations management, politics, and the federal government.