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How Fast Can I Finish an Online Course?

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: August 26, 2021

The number of students taking online courses has been rapidly increasing in recent years. Covid-19 pandemic also significantly contributed to the switch from in-person to online courses.

The biggest advantage online courses offer is studying at your own pace. However, students often wonder how fast they can finish these courses.

In my academic career, I’ve had experience with both online degree programs and conventional ones.

That’s why I decided to share more information about how fast you can finish an online course, and the factors this depends on.

How Long are Online Courses?

Woman in purple sweater smiling in front of the laptop

The answer to this question depends on the course you’re interested in.

You’ll find that many online courses are the same length as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

This is because online colleges want to make sure their courses are the same quality as in-person ones.

You can expect 15 weeks of classes in one term and about 9 hours a week, which is about 135 hours total for the whole one term, for each 3-credit course.

However, an online college can follow a quarter-based approach which has three terms and a summer term. In this case, an online course would also be 135 hours long, but it’ll have 11 weeks instead of 9.

Also, the student would have to spend 12 hours weekly on studying and assignments instead of 9.

However, this isn’t the rule. How long the online course is, depends on who’s offering it. If it’s a university, the average length is 9 weeks.

However, online schools specialize in online degree programs and offer courses that can be done in a shorter time, for example, in 5 weeks.

Also, some courses can be done as fast as a student is able to. Many online teachers will send all the homework at the beginning of online classes, and the student can do and submit them when they choose.

How Long is an Online Bachelor’s Degree Program?

A woman taking down notes during an online class

The Department of Education has established semester classifications [1] ranging from full-time to less than half-time.

While most schools stick to this, each school can determine how long an online degree program is.

For the most part, the online university will have degree programs that are the same length as traditional ones.

This means that you’ll need 2 years to get an associate degree, 4 years to finish a bachelor’s program, and 2 years for a master’s degree.

There are ways of getting a degree faster. You can opt for taking summer online classes and a full load each semester to get your online degree faster.

If you’re in a hurry and can put in the work, you should consider accelerated Bachelor’s degree programs. Check if the school you’re interested in offsets accelerated online classes.

In this way, you’ll still be required to complete the standard curriculum, but in a shorter period.

For example, here’s how accelerated online classes work when getting a law degree.

To earn a Bachelor of Laws degree, you need 120-semester credits and take about 40 college courses. This program lasts for 4 years.

There are three ways to shorten the time in which you can graduate:

  • Choose a school that has an accelerated path in the same university system. You’ll find this in universities that aim to train local lawyers.
  • Choose a school that has accelerated J.D. partnerships with unaffiliated colleges.
  • Choose a law school that offers 2-year J.D. programs to students.

Another way in which a transfer student can finish a Bachelor’s degree earlier is to transfer credit hours from another school, if possible. If you have enough credit hours, you can complete the online degree in half the required time.

How Many Hours a Week Should I Dedicate to Studying Online?

Busy in front of a laptop

I mentioned that you’ll need 135 hours to complete a standard online education program that’s one term long. This time only refers to online classes, not the time you’ll spend studying and doing online class assignments.

If we divide 135 hours by 9 weeks, it means you’ll have to spend about 15 hours on online classes weekly. This is in line with a US News & World Report, which claims that students spend 15-20 hours on coursework weekly [2].

This amounts to 6 hours weekly for every credit hour, both for online learning and working on assignments.

How much time weekly you’ll have to spend on online education depends on several factors:

  • Do you have previous knowledge on the topic or practical experience through work? If yes, you’ll be able to finish a class faster than a student who has no prior knowledge.
  • What’s your studying pace? If you know your pace, you can plan in advance how many hours you’ll need to finish an online class.

In general, you’ll need less time for online learning than in person. This is because of the flexibility online education has. Students aren’t tied to specific times; they can study and complete the work whenever they want.

Accelerated Online Classes

If you’ve chosen to enroll in online degree programs that offer accelerated online classes, expect to have up to 3 hours of work outside of class for each hour you spend in online classes.

For example, if you have 5 hours of lectures weekly, you’ll need to spend 10-15 hours weekly for the required reading and doing homework and exams.

Keep in mind: Expect that you’ll have less work in your freshman year and that coursework and hours will increase as your online education progresses.

4 Ways to Get an Online Degree Faster

A person busy writing down notes

There are a number of ways you can get a degree faster. Here are a few of my top tips.

1. Get Credit for Work and Life Experiences

There are several ways to get credits and degrees faster:

  • If you have work experience and skills related to your studies.
  • School or courses certificates — If you’ve attended any public seminars or on-the-job training that is related to your studies.
  • If you’ve done independent study and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
  • If you’ve done volunteer work. This can count as a credit transfer if it’s related to your chosen degree.
  • Previously completed online school classes — Transfer previous school credits.
  • Some schools offer credits for students who’ve done military training and national testing programs.

Some adult students already have the skills and work experience to get up to 75% of the total credits needed to graduate.

2. Take More Online Classes

A woman studying

You need 120 credits to graduate, which amounts to 10 semesters in college.

But, if you take 15 credits instead of 12 per term, you can finish your online classes and get a degree in 8 semesters.

Students who can handle it can even take 18 credits per term to graduate even faster.

If you do this, plus take online classes during the summer, you’ll finish the program in 3 years.

Pro tip: Some colleges restrict how many online classes students can take per term. If your goal is to get a degree quickly, check what’s the maximum number of online classes you can take before enrolling.

3. Synchronous Classes vs. Asynchronous Classes

You should know what kind of online classes work best for you.

If you opt for synchronous classes, this means a fixed schedule. All students log in to an online classroom at a set time and interact with each other and the professor.

These classes start and end at a specific time.

If you choose asynchronous classes, then you can set your schedule. Its main advantage is learning at your own pace and logging in when you choose.

You’ll still have deadlines, but this is the more flexible option.

“Virtual learning is better because it enables students to reach greater heights and not be limited by a predetermined set of circumstances.”

 

- Tal Frankfurt, a technology consultant

To finish an online class fast, students should decide what learning style works best for them, their well-being, health, and schedule, and make the decision based on their preferences.

4. Test Out of Courses

A woman in glasses with an open book and holding a pen

Some schools give students the option to test out of courses. Usually, it’ll be classes like English, math, and foreign language classes.

The good news is, you already studied this in high school.

You’ll be given a test which determines if you should take lower-level courses or more advanced ones.

If you do well on these, you can test out. This means you have enough knowledge in these subjects and there’s no need for further learning.

This cuts down on time you’ll spend in college.

How Fast Can You Complete an Online Course Takeaways

I’ve talked about factors that determine how fast you can complete your online learning and get a degree.

Always be prepared. Make sure your computer and other technology is working properly. Pace yourself, and have a healthy learning and personal life balance.

Be aware that going to schools and being on campus in person is different from sitting alone behind a computer screen.

Finally, don’t panic. As long as you follow my tips, you’ll be successful and complete your classes.

References:

  1. https://www.ed.gov/race-top/district-competition/definitions
  2. https://www.usnews.com/education/online-learning-lessons/2015/10/02

About the author

William Cohen

William Cohen

William is an electrical engineer whose great passion is helping promising students achieve their goals and dreams. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and expertise with aspiring learners from all over the world.

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