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What is the shortest college degree?

In today’s fast-paced world, some students are looking for the quickest path to a college degree. A short degree program allows students to enter the workforce faster and potentially reduce college costs. But which college majors and programs offer the quickest route to graduation? Here’s an overview of some of the shortest bachelor’s degree options.

What is Considered a Short Degree Program?

There is no universally agreed upon definition for what constitutes a “short” bachelor’s degree program. However, many experts consider programs that take 3 years or less to complete to be accelerated degrees.

Traditional bachelor’s degree programs usually take 4 years of full-time study to complete 120 required credits. Programs that significantly reduce the time to graduation do so through measures such as:

  • Offering accelerated course formats (condensed courses, fast-track programs, year-round study)
  • Offering credit for prior learning or work experience
  • Limiting general education requirements
  • Offering high numbers of online or hybrid courses

Accelerated programs allow motivated students to complete their degrees faster. But the condensed timeline also means increased study intensity and little flexibility if issues come up. Such programs are best suited for focused, disciplined students.

The Shortest Bachelor’s Degrees

While individual experiences vary, the following majors are often amongst the very shortest paths to a bachelor’s degree:

Business Administration

A business administration degree provides broad training for management and business operations roles. Typical core topics include accounting, marketing, human resources, operations, and finance. With many core courses available online, business administration is one of the most flexible accelerated degrees. Motivated students can potentially graduate in just over 2 years.

Computer Science

Given the demand for high-tech skills, accelerated computer science programs have proliferated. Offerings like coding bootcamps condense core computing skills like programming and data structures into intensive 9-12 month programs. Students then transfer this credit into bachelor’s programs, shortening the overall timeline.

Criminal Justice

Demand for law enforcement professionals, paralegals, and private investigators feeds the growth of fast-track criminal justice programs. Typical curriculum covers law, criminology, investigation techniques, and public safety. Real-world training options help students earn credits quickly. An accelerated schedule can lead to graduation in 2-3 years.


While many nursing programs take 4 years, accelerated BSN options condense this timeline into as little as 12-18 months. These intensive programs are meant for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, allowing them to focus exclusively on nursing requirements. Programs offer year-round study and clinical rotations to enable fast graduation.


Given high interest in psychology and counseling, accelerated undergrad tracks have emerged. Students take core classes like statistics, research methods, and theory in intensive formats. External credits from life experience, clinical work, or training programs can further shorten timelines. Fast-track psychology degrees can take as little as 2.5-3 years.

Considerations When Choosing an Accelerated Program

While shortened degree timelines appeal to many, there are trade-offs to weigh when considering an accelerated bachelor’s program:

  • Cost savings – Eliminating years of study results in tuition savings. But accelerated programs often have higher per-credit costs, reducing potential savings.
  • Program availability – Accelerated degrees are not offered in all majors or at all schools. Options may be limited in some areas and competitive to enter.
  • Workloads – Condensed schedules require peak commitment. Accelerated programs are extremely demanding in terms of study time and focus required.
  • Retention – Cramming 3-4 years of learning into 2-3 requires discipline and stress management skills. Some students struggle with accelerated pacing.
  • Experience tradeoffs – Fast-tracking cuts traditional college experiences like internships, extracurricular activities, and study abroad. Students will miss out on some aspects of campus life.

Students need to weigh these factors carefully when deciding if an accelerated bachelor’s program is the right choice. While shortened timelines are appealing, the intensive workload and limited experiences are not ideal for everyone.


For motivated students looking to enter the workforce quickly, accelerated bachelor’s degree programs offer a faster pathway to graduation. Degrees in high-demand fields like business, technology, criminal justice, nursing, and psychology often offer accelerated online and campus-based formats.

While accelerated study results in less time spent in college, students take on heavier workloads and time commitments. But for those eager to start careers quickly, compressed bachelor’s programs allow you to reap the rewards of a degree faster than a traditional 4-year timeline.