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    Three Year Bachelor Degrees: Everything You Need to Know

    By Zach Skillings

    Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 15th, 2024
    Three Year Bachelor Degrees: Everything You Need to Know

    As the cost of college continues to rise, many students are looking for ways to save money on their education. One option that’s beginning to gain popularity is the “3-year degree.” These programs allow students to earn their bachelor’s degree and graduate a full year ahead of time. In this guide, we’ll discuss how 3-year degree programs work, which colleges use them, and how they might change in the future. 

    How do three-year bachelor’s degrees work? 

    Most 3-year degree programs condense the required 120 credit hours into three years instead of four. This usually means students take an overloaded course schedule every semester, in addition to summer classes. 

    However, as recently as September of this year, some of the first colleges have just gained approval to offer three year degrees that don’t just condense the timeline, but rather change the number of credits that you need.

    The “College in 3” project  

    There are not all too many 3-year bachelor’s degree programs right now, but thanks to the “College in 3” project, that very well may be changing. Unlike many current three-year programs, the goal of this project is not to pack 120 credit hours into three years. Rather, the project aims to overhaul the undergraduate curriculum in a way that still allows for summer breaks and holidays. Which means reducing the number of required credit hours to closer to 90. 

    The leaders of this project, Robert Zemsky, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania, and Lori Carrell, the Chancellor of the University of Minnesota at Rochester recruited over a dozen colleges in 2021 to simply begin looking more seriously into the idea of a three year degree.

    Fast forward to September of this year, and it was announced that Brigham Young University would officially begin offering accredited three year degree programs that are between 90-96 credit hours, instead of the traditional 120. As of April 20204, these programs are available in select majors.

    Current three-year degree programs  

    Below are some three year degree programs that are currently offered at colleges and universities in the U.S.  It’s important to note that most of these programs still require 120 credit hours, which means they require you to come in with transfer credits, or take an accelerated pathway that usually requires year round work. 


    Program Details 

    Purdue University The College of Liberal Arts offers a three-year option for several areas of study, including communication, political science, and history. Students take a full academic course load for three years in addition to summer classes. 
    University of Iowa  The Iowa Degree in Three program is available for communications, English, history, international studies, marketing, and theater arts. Students take the same course load, but at an accelerated pace. 
    New York University  NYU doesn’t offer an official three-year program, but it provides pathways for students to graduate in less than four years. 
    Hartwick College Nearly all majors at Hartwick are available in a three-year option. Students take 18 credit hours in the fall and spring, along with four credits during January term. No summer study is required. 
    Manchester University  The Fast Forward program allows students to complete their general education requirements over the summer in order to graduate within three years. 

    Benefits of three year programs

    • The main appeal of three-year programs is that they’re cost-friendlier. By eliminating the fourth year of college, students can reduce their tuition costs by 25%. 
    • Students can earn their degree ahead of time and tackle their post-grad plans sooner. For students looking to quickly enter the workforce or apply to grad school, three-year programs are a solid option.

    Drawbacks of three year degrees

    • Three-year programs that condense the timeline and do not change the required number of credits can be very demanding. In most cases, students must complete the same amount of work in less time. This means you’ll take extra courses each semester, and you’ll probably have to sacrifice holiday and summer breaks to get everything done in time.
    • Even for the new degree programs that feature less credits, the limited amount of time you’re in school may mean sacrificing on things like study abroad and internships. You may also miss out by simply having less time to enjoy things like the college experience, athletics, undergraduate research, or socializing. 

    Other ways to earn a degree in three years 

    If you’re eager to earn your degree in less time, fortunately there’s other ways you can do so. One of the best ways is to get a head start in high school. By taking AP and IB courses in high school, you can earn college credits before you even get to campus. Another option is dual enrollment, which allows students to take college courses while still in high school. 

    You can also get on the fast track to graduation by maxing out your credits every semester. Even schools that don’t offer a formal “degree in three” program often allow students to overload credits and graduate ahead of time. To do this, you’d probably need to take 18 credits a semester along with summer classes. 

    To learn more about your options, check out our complete guide on graduating college early. If you are mindful of keeping college costs down, make sure that you apply for all the scholarships that you qualify for while you are eligible!

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    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Three year degrees are not a new idea to colleges, but programs that aim to reduce the number of credits needed to receive a bachelor’s degree are still quite new
    • Graduating in three years usually require students to complete an accelerated course of study that uses the fall, spring, and summer semesters
    • The benefits of a three year degree include reduced tuition costs and a faster track to graduate programs or entry into the workforce
    • Be sure to also examine the drawbacks of three year degrees, which can include things like less time for internships, studying abroad, and enjoying a more open schedule to enjoy college life is that matters to you
    Key Takeaways

    Frequently asked questions about three year degrees

    What is a three year degree called?

    The time that it takes to complete a degree does not necessarily reflect the type of degree that you have earned. The defining factor for every degree is how many credit hours that degree was and what work you have previously completed. An undergraduate degree usually requires a minimum of 120 credit hours to be completed. As we said above, this can be done in three years, though it is traditionally done in four. Thanks to Brigham Young University, the first undergraduate degrees that require only 90-96 credit hours is now available!

    What is a two year degree called?

    A two year degree, better known as an associate degree, is intended to be used as a stand-alone degree or as your first step in transferring to an undergraduate degree program. Associate degrees usually require students to complete around 60 credit hours.

    What is a fifth year degree?

    Some undergraduate degrees require more than four years to complete. While this isn’t common with all degrees, you may find five year degrees are much more common with majors like engineering or in majors where students may complete multiple internships. Taking five years to graduate may also be the case for students who decide to switch their majors late in college and need more time to finish their required courses.

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