General Education

How to Earn Both Your Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Just 5 Years

How to Earn Both Your Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Just 5 Years
At some colleges and universities, students can earn both their undergraduate and graduate degrees in just five years. Commonly referred to as “Accelerated 4+1,” or “Accelerated Bachelor’s/Master’s,” these programs are an excellent option for the right kind of student. Image from Pexels
Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert February 26, 2019

An accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program will put you back in the workplace with an advanced degree sooner than the traditional path—saving a year of study and up to two years of tuition.

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Adult learners with years of work experience who may be attending college later in life are especially motivated to raise their degree level quickly and rejoin the workforce. An accelerated bachelor’s to master’s degree program may be the most efficient way for such students to make up for lost time.

At some colleges and universities, students can earn both their undergraduate and graduate degrees in just five years. Commonly referred to as “Accelerated 4+1," or “Accelerated Bachelor’s/Master’s," these higher education programs are an excellent option for the right kind of student.

The breakdown on accelerated 4+1 programs

A master’s degree is an important credential, and may be required for professions such as teaching. But pursuing an advanced degree takes time and money. This can place a particular burden on non-traditional students. That’s why a 4+1 bachelor’s to master’s program might be particularly appealing.

Food for thought: Can You Afford to Skip College?

In a 4+1 program, students complete their four years of undergraduate study while simultaneously working toward their master’s degree. After a final year focused on graduate study, they leave college with both degrees in hand.

How an accelerated master’s works

Students who are accepted into an accelerated program typically take graduate-level courses during their senior year of college, often fulfilling the requirements for both their undergraduate and graduate degrees. For example, a student enrolled in an accelerated Master of Business Administration (MBA) program might begin taking graduate business courses during their fourth year of undergrad; these credits count toward their undergraduate degree, as well as their master’s degree.

The exact formula for accelerated study varies by school, but the advantages remain the same: enrolling in coursework that gives credit toward two degrees instead of one allows students to double the value for their time and money.

How to apply to a 4+1 program

Traditionally, there are three options for applying to an accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program:

  • Applying directly without college credits: Many accelerated programs accept prospective students before they have even started their undergraduate studies. Applicants might include high school seniors or adults enrolling in college for the first time. If a student applies directly and is accepted, they will know that they are en route to a master’s on their first day of undergrad.
  • Applying as a transfer student: If you’ve already earned college credits elsewhere, can you take advantage of a school’s accelerated option? Whether you’re hoping to transfer to a new college or are completing your unfinished degree after a few years away, some schools let you apply those undergraduate or associate degree credits toward your 4+1 degree. Just be sure to check the specific program’s requirements. At Temple University, for example, you must have a 3.0 GPA from your transfer institution and at least two semesters left in your undergraduate studies to enroll in a 4+1 program.
  • Applying internally as an enrolled undergraduate: Some 4+1 programs only accept students who are currently enrolled in their program as undergraduates. In these cases, students typically apply during their junior or senior year. If you are currently enrolled as an undergraduate, or planning to apply to undergraduate institutions, it may be worth finding out whether this graduate program will be an option for you.

Admission policies vary by institution and course of study. It may be a very different process for students applying to graduate programs in healthcare or public health than for students in computer science, information technology, or cyber security. It’s important to research what each school requires and to balance that against your goals and qualifications.

The big motivator: do 4+1 programs save money?

Graduate school is expensive, and many graduate students are looking for financial aid or other ways to help finance their studies. Reducing the time required to earn a master’s degree can mean significant savings. Fee structures vary by institution, but students in 4 + 1 degree programs typically pay an undergraduate tuition rate during their first four years of school. Some classes taken during this time will count towards both their undergraduate and graduate degrees, so students save on the higher cost of graduate tuition. Every master’s level class taken during the first four years means extra money in the bank for the student.

Another financial perk? Applying to graduate school involves application fees, which can be costly, as well as graduate level entrance exams fees, which can amount to several hundred dollars each. Accelerated programs allow students to skip this step, saving them both time and money in the enrollment process.

A sampling of common accelerated bachelor’s/master’s programs

Not sure whether there are accelerated programs within your area of interest? Here's a list of common 4+1 degrees and majors:

Accounting

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of science (MS).

Applied mathematics

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of science (MS).

Biology

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of science (MS).

Business

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of business administration (MBA).

Chemistry

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and master of science (MS).

Communications

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and master of science (MS).

Education

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of science (MS).

Engineering

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of science (MS).

Environmental Science

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) and master of science (MS).

Finance

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and master of science in finance (MSF).

History

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and a master of arts (MA).

Public Administration

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and a master of public administration (MPA).

Physics

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and a master of science (MS).

Psychology

Earning both a bachelor of science (BS) master of science (MS).

Sociology

Earning both a bachelor of arts (BA) and a master of science (MS).

In addition, many of these programs may be available in online degree programs. The benefits of online learning are in line with these 4+1 accelerated online programs, and full-time, online courses may allow online students even greater flexibility to study what they want, from where they are, and move quickly to earning an online masters degree and on to their chosen career path.

4+1 benefits: fast-tracking to a grad degree and a rewarding career

While the payoff for a 4+1 program is major, the commitment is equally huge. It’s important to be sure of what you want before selecting this compelling option. It’s also important to determine whether you need a graduate degree at all. If a master’s degree is unnecessary in your chosen profession, you might be better off enrolling in a traditional bachelor's degree program.

An accelerated bachelor’s to master’s will put you back in the workplace with an advanced degree sooner than the traditional path, saving a year of study and up to two years of tuition. If you see an advanced degree in your future, this offers a seamless track to fulfilling your goal.

(This article was updated on December 8, 2021.)

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com.

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.


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