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How Fast Can I Earn a Teaching Degree Online?

Are you looking for a quick and convenient way to earn your teaching credential? Explore the many online bachelor’s and master’s teaching degree options available today in accelerated formats and discover how you can launch your teaching career in less time than you ever thought possible.

Author: Stephen Porritt
Editor: STEPS Staff

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If you’ve been considering earning your teaching degree, you know you’ve got at least four years of full-time school in front of you, plus possibly more time for student teaching and other licensing requirements. However, what if you could get your teaching degree in less time than four years? It’s possible with accelerated teaching degrees.

For motivated students looking to get into the teaching profession as quickly as possible, there are ways to speed up the timeline to a teaching career. Check back later this year for our ranked list of accelerated online teaching degree programs for 2024, but for now, dive into our school spotlights to learn if an accelerated program is for you.

Spotlight on Top Accelerated Online Teaching Programs

While each program is different, there are several critical factors that you should weigh when choosing an accelerated online teaching program. Is the program online or hybrid? Are the classes self-paced, asynchronous, or synchronous? What accreditations does the school and program hold? You’ll also want to know exactly how long it will take to get through the program. The school spotlights below address these factors and more.

Western Governors University (WGU) offers a wealth of online degree programs, and their school of education is no exception. With over twenty teaching degree programs, including both bachelor’s and master’s, there are plenty of paths to choose from. Learners can specialize in elementary, secondary, special education, mathematics, science, or English. And with self-paced coursework and a semi-yearly tuition structure, the faster you study, the less you pay.

At a glance:

  • Private nonprofit university
  • Accredited through the NWCCU, AAQEP, and CAEP
  • Self-paced, online-only degree programs
  • Bachelor programs completed by most within 36 months, and masters completed by most graduates within 24 months

Florida International University (FIU) is a traditional, brick-and-mortar institution with a number of online programs offered. As you might expect, this means that their online-only selection is less robust than online-first universities like WGU. However, FIU does offer online versions of two of their bachelor’s degrees (early childhood education and exceptional student education) and several online master’s degrees (curriculum and instruction, foreign language, and special education).

At a glance:

  • Public nonprofit university
  • Accredited through the SACSCOC and CAEP
  • Both online-only and on campus programs available
  • Online programs are synchronous and semester-based
  • Campuses for in-person classes are primarily located in and near Miami, Florida

Purdue Global is another online-first university, emphasizing dramatically increased flexibility over an on-campus experience. While the list of available online education degrees is limited with two master’s programs and one doctorate, Purdueoffers the freedom to accelerate your learning by completing coursework faster. Purdue also has a number of opportunities and programs available to students and graduates, like their partnerships with Promise Open Doors, which is a pathway to teaching ESL abroad, and VIPKid, which offers tuition reductions for ESL teachers.

At a glance:

  • Public nonprofit university
  • Accredited through the HLC
  • Self-paced, asynchronous, online-only degree programs
  • Only postgraduate programs available
  • Master’s programs completed by most students within 18 months; doctorates completed by most graduates within 30 months

Concordia represents a middle ground between online-only universities like WGU and Purdue and traditional campuses with online offerings. They operate a physical campus in Mequon, Wisconsin, where in-person learners attend and earn their degrees. But they also offer a wealth of online and virtual options, including some specifically tailored to off-campus, accelerated learners. Coursework is broken into 8-week terms, and programs include bachelor’s, master’s, and licensure, covering everything from primary and secondary education to cross-discipline special ed and education administration.

At a glance:

  • Private nonprofit university
  • Accredited through the HLC, CAEP, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • Offers a selection of online-only, virtual, and in-person degree programs, with some labeled specifically as adult accelerated degrees
  • Bachelor’s programs completed by most students within 36 months; master’s completed by most graduates within 36 months, including licensure

Arizona State University (ASU) is another excellent example of a highly regarded institution that has begun broadening its online offerings in the last few years. They have a respectable selection of education and teaching programs, both on-campus and online, and nearly all of their online postgrad programs include licensure or licensure preparation. One important detail to note is that their online bachelor degrees come with a disclaimer stating that ASU doesn’t guarantee the program will be sufficient for meeting licensing requirements outside the state of Arizona. Instead, most learners who intend to find roles as teachers are encouraged to study in person for undergrad at ASU or to pursue a postgraduate program that includes licensure via ASU Online.

At a glance:

  • Public nonprofit university
  • Accredited through the HLC
  • Offers a selection of online-only education programs through ASU Online in addition to full, on-campus catalog
  • Classes may be synchronous or asynchronous, with each lasting between six and eight weeks
  • Multiple campus locations, with primary campuses located in Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona

Types of Accelerated Online Teaching Degrees

With teaching licensure requiring at least a four-year degree, it’s important to understand what kinds of accelerated online teaching degrees are available. Many online programs include earning a license in their master’s programs. Additionally, doctorates and PhDs tend to be more than is required for a teaching job, and unavailable as accelerated degree programs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at your primary options in this vertical.

Bachelor’s Programs

Traditionally, a bachelor’s degree in education can be earned in four years, or eight semesters, by completing between 12 and 18 credit hours per semester. To accelerate a program, the goal is to move faster than that. Reputable and accredited programs can’t reduce or lighten the course load, but they can and do modify how it’s delivered. This can be done either by condensing courses into shorter terms or by allowing learners to move at their own pace and complete work as fast as they can manage.

Both methods are viable for accelerating your progress toward a degree. Some course lengths are as short as six weeks, less than half a standard semester. With the right program and an admittedly grueling pace, a four-year degree can theoretically be completed in about half the time. More realistically, students of accelerated teaching bachelor’s programs can complete their degree and prepare for licensure in less than three years.

Master’s Programs

Master’s programs are common for teaching and education, in part because many online undergraduate teaching degrees, especially accelerated programs, omit licensure to shorten the time to graduation. As a result, universities frequently offer masters programs specifically to offer a path to licensure to those with a bachelor’s already under their belt.

A master’s degree doesn’t require as many credit hours as a bachelor’s, so even with licensure included, students can often complete an online master’s program in teaching or education in as little as 18 months.

Bachelors + Master’s (combined)

Much less common than the two options above or accelerated online doctoral teaching programs, is the combined online bachelor’s/master’s teaching program. While combined programs are not rare on their own, finding accredited online programs that will prepare you to earn licensure can be difficult. If you do manage to find a combined online teaching degree program, you may be able to complete it in as little as five years, start to finish.

Comparing Accelerated & Traditional Online Teaching Programs

While students take accelerated programs to graduate faster, it’s important to understand that an accelerated teaching degree doesn’t guarantee you’ll graduate faster. Programs labeled this way can be completed faster, but most of that is up to you.

Online degrees are built to prioritize flexibility to work around the learner’s schedule. Usually, this means slower progress, rather than faster. Adult students with jobs, families, and other responsibilities can’t usually complete the equivalent of 20 credit hours per semester.

However, self-paced and concentrated formats leave you the option to stack the pile as high as you like and clear the plate as fast as you can. Compare traditional degrees with accelerated online programs to see the time and effort they take to accomplish.

Program Duration

Traditional Teaching Program

Most in-person four-year degree seekers study for a freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year, completing in roughly the amount of time it took to finish high school.

Beyond that, the four-year estimate rarely includes licensure, which always requires several hours of student teaching experience. Depending on the program and whether it’s tied to a master’s degree, this can extend your stay on the campus by as little as six months and as much as two years.

Accelerated Teaching Program

Accelerated and online programs give you the flexibility to accomplish more, faster. You’ll still be doing the work required to earn a full teaching degree, but if you can work fast, both undergrad and postgrad programs can be reasonably completed in about half the time (2–3 years for bachelor’s, 1–2 for master’s).

Coursework Intensity

Traditional Teaching Program

If you’re looking at college options, you’re obviously familiar with the standard pace of learning institutions, which include daytime classes, spread across fall and spring, with lengthy summer and winter breaks and perhaps a few smaller breaks throughout.

While graduating in four years is a feat, the traditional pace is less intense and less difficult than an accelerated program. However, it also takes longer, and tends to cost more because even in a classroom, time is money.

Accelerated Teaching Program

Do you like working two jobs? How about three? Do you think sleep is for the weak? All hyperbole aside, accelerated programs aren’t less difficult because they’re over faster. They’re more difficult. You’re covering the same material, or “distance,” as students who take the traditional four-year route, but you’re sprinting to the finish line while everyone else is jogging.

It is up to you to determine how much coursework you’re carrying as you progress. However, moving at full speed means no breaks, vacations, or free time, for the most part. Once you’re finished, though, it’s over. The only coursework you’ll touch will be from the other side of the teacher’s desk.

Target Audience

Traditional Teaching Program

Traditional programs are, as you might expect, for those who are jumping into a college education before anything else. You’ll be expected to be on campus and dedicate significant portions of your day to your coursework. It’s great for recent additions to adulthood who enjoyed the social aspect of their previous education and don’t have other burdens or responsibilities to tend to yet.

Accelerated Teaching Program

While online education can appeal to quite a few people in very different circumstances, accelerated programs specifically benefit those who can facilitate an all-hands-on-deck effort regarding their education. Many have prior degrees or career experience, and are looking to skill up or move laterally.

The shorter duration also limits the financial strain, as less time almost always means less cost and fewer student loans on graduation day.

Admission Requirements

Traditional Teaching Program

While there are varied rigorous criteria involved with earning licensure for a given state, qualifying for admission into a traditional teaching program is fairly standard. Like most other degree programs, a traditional teaching degree program will admit students with a high school diploma or equivalent that meet the GPA and test score requirements of the program.

Accelerated Teaching Program

Because many of the accelerated online programs are expecting incoming students to have already earned degrees or gained professional experience, proving competency in a specific area is often required or encouraged. This could be education generally or in a specific subject matter.

Performance requirements may be a little higher (e.g. a GPA minimum of 3.0 rather than 2.5), but the process is often streamlined in comparison to traditional students. High school GPA and college entrance exam scores may not be necessary, for example, though submitting GRE scores might be.

Field Experience and Student Teaching

Traditional Teaching Program

This is one area where traditional students have a bit of an edge, at least if they’re coming in without any teaching experience. A traditional program will usually spread field experience and student teaching hours over the course of the program and offer more opportunities to get in front of students to earn the required hours.

Accelerated Teaching Program

Accelerated students, on the other hand, will likely be thrown right into the deep end (or have to throw themselves, being self-paced and all). With condensed time frames and the challenges of distance learning, it may be more challenging to arrange your field experience and fit those hours into your already hectic accelerated pace. Keep in mind that the time you spend in a classroom teaching is time you’re not spending completing your own coursework, so it may take additional work to maintain the pace.

For more information on specific education degrees, check out the links below:

FAQs About Accelerated Online Teaching Programs

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far in this article, but you’ve still got questions. Below, we answer a few of the most common questions about accelerated online teaching degrees.

Do I have to student teach with an accelerated program?

It depends. If you are working toward licensure, the answer is absolutely. Every state licensing board includes student teaching hours and hands-on experience to qualify. For those who don’t intend to earn a teaching license or who already have one, this may not be required.

What kind of financial aid options exist for accelerated programs?

There are quite a few financial options, though they will vary by school, specialization, and your willingness to do things like go abroad to teach English to non-English speakers. This is in addition to the standard financial aid available to all students. There is huge demand for teachers, and most institutions are heavily incentivized to help students complete programs to enter that field.

Do accelerated teaching programs lead to the same certification as traditional programs?

Some do, but not all of them. A significant number of them are designed to prepare you for licensure as normal. Others will state limitations on where you’ll qualify (e.g., meeting some state’s requirements, but not others). Still others will explicitly state that the program is in no way tied to licensure requirements.

Can I work while pursuing an accelerated degree?

That’s up to you. As mentioned earlier, accelerated means you can, not you will complete the degree faster. If you need to earn a steady paycheck while you’re completing courses, the majority of online and accelerated programs will facilitate that, but you’ll have to adjust your schedule and timelines accordingly.

Can I transfer credits to accelerate my teaching degree?

Almost universally, yes. Practically every online teaching program assumes students will be signing up with some measure of training or experience already under their belt, be it an unfinished degree, an undergrad degree, some professional experience, etc. As such, they build their admissions process around helping you transfer in credits and transcripts to minimize how much you have to repeat (ideally, nothing).