Learning on the Fast Track: An Online Student’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Accelerated Courses

Accelerated courses allow students to complete a course in anywhere from 10 to 5 weeks rather than the usual 16. For many students, they can be a great way to earn college credits quickly, but they can also be incredibly intense, especially if you’re trying to take one while balancing your usual responsibilities at work and at home.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enroll in an accelerated online course if you believe it’s the right fit for you, but you will need to be prepared and know what to expect. Here are some tips that can ensure that you’re ready to take on any of the challenges an accelerated course may pose.

Before Your Course Begins

Before the semester begins, you should already be preparing for the work that your accelerated course will require. Remember, the duration of an accelerated course may be relatively short, but because it offers students the same amount of credit as a longer course, the same amount of work must be completed over that much shorter time span (this can mean spending two to three times more hours per week on your coursework than in a traditional 16 week course). That means you need to be organized, on task, and ready to go from day one. Get started by:

  • Looking at the syllabus. In an accelerated course, the course syllabus becomes critically important. You may only have a few weeks to complete a major paper or project, so you need to know what will be expected, when tests will fall, and what topics will be covered.
  • Writing down important dates on a calendar or schedule. The syllabus will tell you the big due dates for your course, so put these in whatever calendar or scheduling system you use so you will not be surprised by them later and can plan ahead. You may also want to block out time right now for completing your course requirements each week so that you don’t fall behind.
  • Getting all required course materials and supplies. Don’t wait until your course has begun to get your textbooks, software, or other materials for your course. Getting them ahead will ensure you have time to review them, and may even be able to work ahead (check with your instructor to see if this is advisable—some topics may be confusing when separated from the guidance of your instructor). Remember, you’re going to be completing much more work each week than you would in a traditional course, so reading can add up quickly and soon feel overwhelming.
  • Signing on to Blackboard. As soon as your course is available on Blackboard, sign in and review any materials there from your professors. This is also a good time to review your Blackboard skills and to ensure you know how to use features like discussion boards and Collaborate. You may also be able to see some of your first assignments—if you feel prepared you can start thinking about these now.
  • Creating a study space. Accelerated courses are going to take a lot of your time each week, so you need to make sure you have a space set out to study and the tech you need to connect to and interact with your course materials. Get this sorted out early so you don’t have to worry about it later and can concentrate on the content of your course without distractions.

Surviving the Semester

Finishing a college course in half the usual amount of time (or less!) isn’t easy, so you’ll need to stay on top of your coursework if you don’t want things to devolve into chaos or to simply feel impossible to manage. It can be done. Here are some tips to help.

  • Know what you need to do each week. Your planner or calendar will be your best friend in an accelerated course. You need to know what you need to do each week, when exactly it’s due, and how to do it. Having a checklist or outline or these tasks can help you stay current with your course and ensure that you’re not losing points for falling behind or forgetting about assignments.
  • Sign in daily. Even if you don’t have to (per your syllabus), it’s a good idea to make a habit of signing into Blackboard every day to see what’s new with your course. That way you’ll know right away if anything has changed (this can be especially important with regard to changes in your assignments) and will be able to keep up with discussions.
  • Don’t wait to ask for help. If you have a question you need answered by your professor don’t put it off: ask now. Every day and sometimes every hour can count when you’re in an accelerated course, so getting your answers sooner rather than later is always a smart move.
  • Stop watching the clock. Your goal in the course is to learn the material. In an accelerated format, that learning will be compressed into a fairly short period of time, meaning that you may need to put in a lot of additional work each week studying, reading, and asking questions to ensure you’re mastering the concepts and are ready to move on quickly to the next topic. Watching the clock will only stress you out, so focus on your mastery of the material instead.
  • Start working on your final papers and projects right away. Know your accelerated course requires a big paper or project? Start now. With only a few weeks to finish, you need to be working on it as soon as possible to avoid being rushed. Break down what you need to do into smaller tasks (for example: pick topic, complete research, create outline, write rough draft, etc.) and set deadlines for completing each.
  • Look ahead. Finished your work for the week? It’s time to look at what you’ll be tackling next week. Knowing what things are coming in the next few days can help prepare you mentally and will give you time to study, read, or do whatever you need to do in order to be ready to succeed in class.
  • Nip procrastination in the bud. You might be able to get away with a little procrastination in a course that spans 16 weeks, but when you’re cramming all that content into just 8 weeks or even 5, there isn’t room to miss any deadlines. Make every effort to stop procrastination before it becomes a problem. Keep in mind that you’ll be finished with your coursework in just a few short weeks and free to do as you please.
  • Find a balance. It can be tempting, especially if you’re taking summer classes, to slack off to enjoy the weather or to hang out with friends who aren’t taking courses, but you need to make sure these don’t become distractions that derail your success in the course. Work to develop a routine that not only ensures you get your work done, but also makes room for socializing, work, exercise, or anything else that’s important to you. By taking care of yourself, you’ll also do better in the course and feel less stressed, so it’s a win-win.

The Recipe for Success

So what’s the ultimate recipe for success in an accelerated online course? At the end of the day, it isn’t any different from any other online course you’d take, just a bit more of everything done at a much faster pace. Study hard, don’t put off assignments, talk to your professor, all the things that are good in any course are even better (and more important) in an accelerated course.

That said, there is one really important thing that students need to think about before signing up for the college equivalent of bootcamp that can make or break your success:  is an accelerated course is a good match for you? If you’re someone who struggles to keep up in a regular course or has a terrible problem with procrastination you will likely find the faster pace overwhelming. You also need to consider the other things going on in your life. For instance, if you’re planning a wedding, having a new baby, starting a new job, dealing with serious health issues (your own or those of people close to you), or anything else that will demand all or most of your attention this probably isn’t the best time to sign up for an intensive and fast-paced online course.

And if an accelerated course is a good match? Hopefully these tips can help you prepare for the challenges a faster course will pose and get you on the right track to more quickly earning college credits you can use towards a degree or certificate in your chosen profession!