If you’re like many students, you are more excited about the exciting engineering career in your future than you are about the years of rigorous studies leading up to it. While it is possible to shorten the time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering somewhat, it is far from easy. Here is the information you need to know about accelerated engineering programs, ways to speed up your studies and how to make the most of the time you spend in college.
Fastest Bachelor’s in Engineering Programs
While a typical bachelor’s degree program is considered to take four years of full-time study, or about 120 college credits, it is common for engineering programs to take longer than four years. Bachelor’s programs in engineering often require 130 college credits, so you are already looking at a big course load. Among all demographic groups studied, fewer than half of the students pursuing an engineering degree had managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within five years, according to CBS News. If most students aren’t completing their “four-year” education in five years, it’s certainly difficult to consolidate it down to fewer than four years.
There’s also the fact that the classes you take as an engineering student are rigorous. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which accredits degree programs in every discipline of engineering, requires students to take at least one full year (32 credits) of math and basic science courses and one and a half years of engineering science and technology classes. You can’t cut out or bypass these requirements at an accredited engineering school. Given the intensity of the workload, taking extra classes each semester in an attempt to graduate sooner may not be feasible.
The doesn’t mean that you must resign yourself to long years of being stuck in a classroom with no say over how your education progresses. First of all, much of what you learn as an engineering student will take place outside the classroom, in laboratories and through field work, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Secondly, there are some options for students who really do want to get their bachelor’s degrees quickly.
One option is to choose a school that awards credit for life and professional experience. For example, Colorado Technical University’s Fast Track program allows students to test out of some degree requirements by taking online mini modules and passing exams to prove that they know the material. Computer engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering and cybersecurity engineering are among the degree options offered with the Fast Track option.
If you already have an associate’s degree or some prior college studies, choosing a school with a generous transfer policy can help shorten your education by making sure you don’t lose any of the credits you have earned.
What to Know About Accelerated Engineering Degrees
When it comes to engineering studies, finishing your degree faster doesn’t equate to getting a better education, and it may not offer you the professional head start you think it will. Often, students who take longer to attain their bachelor’s degree in engineering actually are in a better position for career success because of the experiences they gained during their education.
If you manage to cram all of your coursework into fewer than four years, there is a good chance that you missed out on opportunities like engineering competitions and extracurricular activities like Engineers Without Borders, which can provide you with valuable experience in project management and hands-on engineering design work.
On the other hand, many undergraduate engineering students who take longer to earn their degrees do so because they are working so hard already, not because they are simply taking their time studying. These students take part in internships, spending a term or semester getting on-the-job training from local engineering firms. They may take advantage of cooperative programs, in which they are full-time, paid employees. A cooperative program typically takes two to three terms or more, alternated with study terms, so that students graduate with a year and a half of real work experience under their belts and have the opportunity to earn some money in the process.
Before you decide to go for the fastest engineering program you can find, make sure you understand what that program will entail. You should consider what experiences you could be giving up by focusing on the time it takes to graduate rather than the education you are receiving.
An ABET-accredited program also requires students to complete a major design experience. These capstone or senior design projects often take more than one semester, and there’s no easy way to shorten the process.
Accelerated Five-Year Engineering Programs
When engineering schools do offer accelerated programs, they are typically “4+1” programs that allow students to begin working toward their master’s degrees as an undergraduate. Though you will be in school for five years under one of these programs, you will ultimately save a year or more of study compared to finishing your bachelor’s degree on time and then going to graduate school for a separate master’s degree program.
Some of the schools that offer these 4+1 programs for engineering students include:
Five-year programs that combine undergraduate and graduate studies are good choices for students who want to become college instructors or work in research and development, according to the BLS.
If you really want to earn your degree quicker, one way to accomplish your goal is to take additional classes during summer and winter breaks. You may only shave off one semester of study, but you will still be able to take full advantage of your education and experience options without cutting corners.