Can't they just hook my brain up to the Speedy College Degree 9000?
February 6, 2007 9:53 AM   Subscribe

I want to finish college super fast, so that I'm not old and gray when I graduate. Help!

After an EXTREMELY long hiatus, I’ve started college again. The last time I was in college, Bill Clinton was president, Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise weren’t thought of as freaks, and the iPod was but a dream. I dropped out of high school way back in 1988; not for academic reasons, I had a 3.8 GPA, but I’m bi-polar, and was not on meds back then, and just couldn’t handle the hell that is high school. I went to college off and on until around 1994; but mainly for theatre, with few transferable credits.

I’m studying IT/Computer Science, with a goal toward a master’s degree. My eventual goal is to build databases. My current day job is managing a database, so I figure I’d have a good idea of the best way to build a database, from an “end user” point-of-view.

Because of my work and theatre schedule, I decided that online classes were my best bet. Just to get my feet wet, I started classes at the University of Phoenix last week; a decision I’m starting to regret. I’m no Einstein or Hawking, but my classmates make me feel like a super-genius. I know that sounds arrogant, but it’s true. The two main issues I have with this situation are 1) part of my grade depends on “interaction”, or discussing class topics on a threaded discussion board; and thus far I’m having trouble getting anyone to interact with me, and 2) the classes are paced for these students, not for me, so I’m not feeling challenged, and I feel like I’m running in a swamp.

I'd like to get my degrees as quickly as possible, working independently. What kind of online accelerated IT/Computer Science bachelor/master degree programs are out there? I haven’t had much luck finding anything interesting with The Google, so I thought I’d ask here.

I’d like to find a program that makes use of financial aid (I’m using Stafford loans now) and possibly down the line might have scholarships or grants available.

The ability to work at my own pace is essential; ideally, I’d like to be given all of the assignments at once, and just crank them out quickly, and move on to the next course.

I intend to use CLEP tests as much as possible to move myself along towards my degrees; but my fiancée told me about a program some colleges offer where you can use work experience to get school credit.

Any help/advice would much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by weirdoactor to Education (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think you could try enjoying it while it lasts. You're only two weeks in -- there will probably be times that challenge you later on, even in a subject you think you know well. Don't let yourself get cocky.
posted by loiseau at 10:02 AM on February 6, 2007

Have you tried looking through Slashdot's archives? This seems like it has to have been the subject of half a dozen Ask Slashdots. If not, and you don't get interesting answers here, you may want to, er, Ask Slashdot.

I notice you didn't mention whether your employer would be willing to help you out with education costs. Since you are pursuing a degree that's in line with the work you do, that seems like a natural question to be asking; then at least you wouldn't have to worry so much about the money, and maybe you could afford an institution of higher learning that you can take more seriously.

I ask mainly because the first thing that came to mind when I read your question was doing distance classes at Stanford (mainly because that's how I plan to do my at this point extremely hypothetical master's) and while they're supposed to be extremely high quality, they don't come cheap.

One final thought (yeah, this response has kind of been all over the place) - it is going to take you a really, really long time to get both a bachelor's and a master's in CS if you do it part time. I mean, the bachelor's alone takes a lot of people five years where I go to school. Have you considered completing an associate's degree and then finding a CS program that accommodates "nontraditional" students, perhaps with great piles of cash? If you had an associate's degree already, you could probably knock off the bachelor's and master's in three years if you did it full time.
posted by crinklebat at 10:17 AM on February 6, 2007

Response by poster: loiseau: I'm really, really not being cocky. I finished this weeks work for my two classes (five separate assignments) in twelve minutes. I want to finish fast; I'm almost 36 years old, and I want my academic credentials to match my intellect so I can get a better job, and afford to be married and have kids. Do you have any helpful advice for me?
posted by weirdoactor at 10:18 AM on February 6, 2007

Response by poster: crinklebat: I'm a contractor right now, so I don't have any employer re-imbursement options at the moment; but my boss wants to hire me on permanently, so that may change soon.

Just to be clear; I have tons of time to go to class, so long as I can make my own schedule. I do not want to go part-time. I can probably handle 20+ hours at a time. I'm all for getting an associate, then a bachelor, then master. I just want to do it at an accelerated pace, and not have to work at the speed that the school believes an "average" student should work. I test well, and do great research. I just want to be in a degree program that allows me to work as fast as I know I can.
posted by weirdoactor at 10:26 AM on February 6, 2007

Unfortunately apart from prior-learning assessments or advanced standing, there's no way to beat the system that I am aware of. You can't skip a grade in university. The degrees awarded are for completion of the mandated courses, or a mixture of the mandated courses and equivalencies as decided by the university. I can't think of any way you can achieve these degrees without having to start at the bottom like everyone else.
posted by loiseau at 10:33 AM on February 6, 2007

Best answer: To my reading the question is about acceleration, not skipping a grade or beating the system.

There are colleges that offer enrollment throughout the calendar year, not just the traditional academic year. There are colleges that allow working students to put together portfolios and/or receive academic credit for their work experience. One possibility that came immediately to mind: Excelsior College.

I think no matter what the program, weirdoactor, you're probably going to want to talk to an academic advisor and come up with a plan before you actually matriculate. You're also going to have to be careful about accreditation status in your search, especially if you plan to apply to graduate school eventually. discusses this, and offers distance ed program directories as well.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:42 AM on February 6, 2007

Have you taken a look at University of Maryland University College? It's fully accredited, employers won't look at the degree suspiciously, and it seems comparable to the University of Phoenix in cost.
posted by needled at 11:15 AM on February 6, 2007

I'm in a similar boat, going back to school for computer science while working days as a software engineer, after a 7 year hiatus from school. I'm in my second year and the coursework has been... less than challenging.

I've gotten friendly with the department heads and was able to pseudo-CLEP out of a couple of courses just by turning in the final project and the exam.

I imagine that until you get into the higher level CS courses the work won't be much of a challenge. I've used the opportunity to cover parts of the textbook that we didnt get to during that semester and just overloaded on the non-CS courses I have to take.
posted by kableh at 11:31 AM on February 6, 2007

I returned to college at 34 after a long hiatus to complete a BS degree in computer science. I quit my job and went full time to complete as soon as possible, which was two semesters. I received about $11,000 a year in student loans. I immediately enrolled in the Master's program, and took classes every semester (including spring/summer). I also became a graduate assistant, so tuition was free, and I receive a stipend which works out to $400 every two weeks. Plus the $5,500 a term for financial aid loans (only fall/winter). My wife helps out a lot with home and utility expenses. Now, it is a year and a half later, and I am completing my Master's degree with 33 credits and a thesis. I've received an A in every course since I've returned. If you can manage it, I highly suggest going full time to school. You are not distracted by work and can apply yourself fully to school. It's awesome.

Make an appointment with an academic advisor at any reputable university or college nearby and explore your options.
posted by Roger Dodger at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2007

I finished this weeks work for my two classes (five separate assignments) in twelve minutes. I want to finish fast

So do we all. I'm in a similar situation to you, and had similar experiences. But, you know, there are good reasons it's set up like that. While the assignments in the first two weeks are pretty easy and you can breeze through them, that's not so true of the ones in year two or three. Then you really appreciate having the time to do them properly.

Additionally, while the summer holidays seem like a "waste" before you've actually done any work, by the time you reach them they're a godsend, especially if you're working full-time as well.

I'd definitely recommend going full-time, but forget full-time++ no matter how clever you are. Your adult life won't allow it, and chances are you'd fuck up. Again.
posted by bonaldi at 12:17 PM on February 6, 2007

I've taken a few classes at the above-mentioned University of Maryland University College. The classes themselves have varied wildly in quality depending on the instruction, but one thing I like about them that might appeal to you is the way their semester system is set up. They have regular semesters September-December and January-May, but also semesters partially offset from that (October-February, and I think March-July-ish), so it's easy to speed things up without being totally overloaded by taking both Fall I classes and Fall 2 classes simultaneously. I can squeeze in more classes by taking them slightly offset, so big end-of-semester projects/finals/etc. aren't all due at once.
posted by Stacey at 3:02 PM on February 6, 2007

The community college I take classes at has accelerated transfer classes which are designed to get working adults in and out and off on their way to a four-year college quickly. They also have online courses. Perhaps your local college does something similar. At any rate, you should talk to an advisor- if you can get financial aid, you can attend "real" school without having to work, and then you'll definitely finish faster.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:02 PM on February 6, 2007

I am pretty sure you can get a Computer Information Science degree entirely online where I teach, and it is pretty cheap as well. It isn't my department, however, and I can't tell you much about the program.
posted by LarryC at 6:00 PM on February 6, 2007

Steve Pavlina completed his IT degree in 3 semesters. He has an article about how he did it on the website, though I haven't found it yet.
posted by divabat at 5:35 PM on February 7, 2007

the trick is to take 2 or 3 summer classes to make things go faster.. check to see if you can take some classes at your local CC, and MAKE SURE THEY TRANSFER IN>>>
posted by hudsonvalley5 at 7:29 PM on February 14, 2007

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