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For distance learners: 6 superfoods (and 1 liquid) that will kickstart your brain

As a distance learner, your life is likely busy. Classes, homework, and life in general can make it difficult to eat healthy. It can be tempting to just grab fast food instead of asserting the effort to make a home-cooked meal. 

While many folks discovered the joy of cooking healthier food during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, others may still feel uneasy about cooking.

In this blog post, we’ll share a handful of healthy foods to help kickstart (and sustain) your learning. Fortunately, many of the brain-boosting foods we’ll discuss can be eaten right on their own. So even if you don’t have time to cook between meals (especially when facing a big exam), there are some superfoods you can eat while on-the-go.

Let’s dive in!

Dark chocolate

When you go to your online class, make sure a handful of dark chocolates are nearby. The dark chocolate’s cocoa is loaded with flavonoids that help increase the blood flow to your brain and improve brain function. In fact, cocoa has the highest flavonoid content by weight out of any other food. 

With this jump to your brain, you’ll likely be better at solving problems, paying attention, and remembering facts that will be on the next test. And when test-time comes, you may want to eat a few beforehand to help you perform at the top of your game.

Nuts

Nuts such as almonds are packed with vitamins and protein that can help you concentrate when studying for that big exam. In addition, walnuts can improve your memory due to the antioxidants that fight against cognitive decline. 

I’ve found that nuts help me stay full longer than other snack foods like potato chips or cookies, which is good for learning.

Having a belly that isn’t rumbling can allow you to focus on your homework and help you work for longer stretches at a time. 

Dark leafy green vegetables

A 2018 report in the journal Neurology states that eating a serving of green leafy vegetables a day can help prevent cognitive decline. If you’re not an older person, the brain benefits are still there. The nutrients found in these veggies, such Vitamins A, C, and K, can help boost your brain functions. 

The following are some examples of this superfood:

  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Swiss chard
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens

You could go all-in and make a spinach, kale, chard, collard, and turnip casserole or shake. It might not taste great, but your brain will appreciate it.

Wild salmon

This fatty fish is a fantastic source of Omega-2 oil DHA, which can improve your memory and focus. It also includes Vitamins A and D, both of which can help boost brain function. 

If you have a long night of studying ahead of you, you may want to cook up some salmon to kickstart your brain. The protein should help you stay full enough for the length of the test, which means you’ll be less distracted.

Berries

The antioxidants in berries help protect the cells in your brain. Berries can also assist in improving your thinking and motor skills. They also can prevent inflammation in the brain.

It may be a good idea to keep berries in your fridge. They are a healthy alternative to other sweet or sour snacks you could choose. 

Here are a few common berries you can likely find in your local grocery store:

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Blackberries

Citrus Fruits

The polyphenols in citrus fruits have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties that can help keep your brain safe from harm. These polyphenols also help your brain function better. 

Some common citrus fruits include:

  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Key limes

Consider adding an orange or grapefruit to your meal. Doing so could provide some solid cognitive benefits.

Water

Dehydration isn’t great for mental fatigue, and it contributes to the premature aging of your brain. A lack of water can also affect your memory, making it more difficult to retain information.

I’ve discovered that if I don’t drink enough, I’ll get headaches. And since pain and learning don’t mix well, it’s best to drink plenty of water. 

So how much water should you be drinking each day? While the research on this varies, men should stick with three liters (13 cups) and women should drink a little over two liters (9 cups).

If you don’t have a refillable water bottle, I recommend getting one. Just like you need water before or after exercising, you need water when you learn and problem-solve. 

Wrapping up

There are plenty of foods you can eat to keep your brain in tip-top condition. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and remember to be conscious of what you eat, since doing so can help you in school. Your brain is what’s going to get you that degree, so take care of it by eating right.

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Is college right for you? Eight alternatives to the traditional path

For many students, college is an important step after high school. College can provide training for a specialized career like medicine or law, or an opportunity to study at a deeper level than in high school. But for too many students, college is “just what you do after high school,” and they end up graduating (or dropping out) with crippling debt and no real prospects.

So it’s important to consider seriously whether college is a good fit for you. Let’s take a look at some alternatives.

1. Community college

Some of the fastest-growing career fields, including dental hygiene and veterinary tech, only require a two-year degree, and community college graduates may be better off financially than their peers at four-year colleges.

Tuition is much lower—think $3,400 a year instead of $9,400 for an in-state public university or $24,000 out-of-state. In addition, most community college students can live at home, zapping the cost of the dorm and cafeteria. Young adults can enter the workforce faster and without the burden of student loans.

2. The military

Joining the military after high school can be a great opportunity to spread those wings. Some young adults join the military because they aren’t interested in college or don’t have the grades to pursue something they want to study. Others don’t have the financial means to make it work. Some do it for patriotism, others for adventure.

3. Apprenticeships

Apprentices are busy both working and learning, and they’re paid for it. Apprenticeships include training for a particular job, and employers pay for their apprentices’ college or vocational degrees in some cases. By the time a young adult completes an apprenticeship, he or she will have the skills, experience, and credentials needed for employment in the field he or she apprenticed in—and no college debt.

4. Vocational training/the trades/certificates

The skilled labor shortage in this country is not a secret, but it could be a huge problem for the economy. A 2015 study predicted that by 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs would not be filled. More than 80 percent of executives who responded to the study’s survey said they would not be able to meet their customer’s needs because of that gap. About the same number said they are willing to pay above market rates. 

What does this all mean? A vocational training program could jumpstart a stable, well-paying career. Most programs only take a year or two and may be ideal for someone who wants to earn credentials but cringes at the thought of four more years of school.

5. Entrepreneurship

The year after high school can be a great time to be an entrepreneur. If you have a particular passion or skill—and a lot of hustle—you might consider starting a business or nonprofit.

High school or shortly after can be a great time to start a business—at that age, most people aren’t trying to support a family or pay down massive loans, so the stakes are low if something doesn’t work out.

6. Volunteering

If you are passionate about a cause, the time after high school—with almost nothing in the way of family or financial obligations—is an ideal time to dive in. You could spend a year in the U.S. or abroad giving your time to a nonprofit or church group.

In addition to being a service opportunity, volunteering gives you the chance to explore your passions, gain experience in the field, and create a network of people who can vouch for your skills or connect you with further opportunities.

7. A side gig

Whether it’s driving Uber or substituting for organists at area churches, more than 30 percent of workers in the U.S. have side hustles, and the trend is growing. Some side gigs can turn into full-time jobs, but another advantage of side gigs is their scalability.

8. A gap year

Some students will benefit from a year spent exploring their skills and interests, whether it’s volunteering, apprenticing, traveling, or working. A gap year can allow you to recharge your batteries and take a breather before diving back into academics. It can also help you clarify what (or whether!) you want to study in college.

In some cases, a gap year spent working is just a plain good decision. If you want to attend college, but money is tight, a year of work can be a good head start on the tuition bill.

Wrapping Up

While many students benefit from pursuing a four-year degree immediately after high school, others will be better off taking a gap year or a different route altogether. When college tuition costs are rising and non-college opportunities are multiplying, it makes sense to think seriously about what’s best for your future.

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Top job-hunting mistakes that distance learning students make

Graduates of distance learning high school programs have a lot going for them when it comes to the job market. As the product of an innovative, flexible approach to education, they tend to be good at thinking outside the box—a crucial skill in today’s rapidly shifting economy.

But no matter who you are, venturing into the job market for the first time can be intimidating. In today’s blog post, we share a few common pitfalls that you might face when first entering the job market—whether directly from high school or after graduating from college.

Here they are:

1. Starting the application process with no work experience or practical skills

If your entire skillset is book learning, you have a problem. Employers are hungry for graduates with real-world experience. In fact, a survey from 2012 found that employers listed “internships” and “employment during college” as more important than “college major” when making hiring decisions.

What to do instead: Look to establish a track record of practical work experience. This can include summer jobs, internships, volunteering, foreign mission trips, and more. An added plus is to match your work or volunteer experience to your major in college. We share more ideas here.

2. Relying too much on online applications

There is a place for spreading your resume hither and yon through online applications (also known as “spray and pray”), but the success rate leaves much to be desired.

What to do instead: Ditch the online application pool. Get out and meet new people, make contacts, and let people know you’re looking for work. Professional relationships are truly the gold standard here.

3. Not keeping your social media identities tidy

You can rest assured that many potential employers run your name through major social media sites, or simply Google your name. Look at your social media identities from the vantage point of a hiring manager—would you hire you?

What to do instead: Keep a professional appearance on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean everything on your social media identities needs to be work-oriented, but it should reflect personal integrity and professionalism. Here are more tips for navigating the world of social media when it comes to college applications.

4. Not sending a handwritten thank you note after the interview

In the past, sending a handwritten thank you note was the expected norm following an interview. But today, that practice has fallen on hard times.

What to do instead: It’s simple … always send a handwritten thank you note! Be sure to drop your interviewer an email thank you as well. This one-two punch will help you stand out as a gracious, polite individual. Get more ideas here.

5. Only looking at jobs publicly posted

We all know that the best jobs are seldom posted publicly. That harkens back to our second point and our encouragement to get out, form professional relationships, and make contacts. That way, you’ll know about job opportunities long before they are posted online.

What to do instead: Identify specific employers you’d like to work for, and reach out to hiring managers there (LinkedIn can be a handy tool for this). Try writing a personal letter with your resume attach, explaining your interest in the company. This article in Forbes has many additional great ideas.

6. Refusing to settle

Don’t expect too great of a job when you’re just on the first rung of the ladder. Oftentimes, the best opportunities come along when you’re hard at work in the trenches in a job you don’t particularly like.

What to do instead: Don’t be afraid to “settle” for a job that doesn’t appear to be the perfect fight. But always look for new opportunities to advance into the job of your dreams.

Wrapping up

As a homeschool graduate, hunting for your first job is an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared today will help you in your search. Good luck!

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Rejected by a college? Here’s what to do next

It’s a scenario no family wants to face. You and your high school student have done the right thing and applied to a variety of colleges. Next comes the waiting game. And when the letters do eventually trickle in, there is nothing quite like that sinking feeling of getting rejected by one of your top-choice schools.

Ouch!

It can be tempting to fight back. One North Carolina teen went so far as to pen her own rejection letter after Duke University turned her down. While that might be somewhat therapeutic, let me share a few more practical suggestions with you that you can apply immediately if your student is rejected by a school.

1. Don’t take it personally

In-demand institutions receive tens of thousands of applications each year. For example, the University of California Los Angeles received 86,548 applications for the fall 2014 semester and admitted only 16,059 of these students. A lot of times, your student might be right up there with the top performers, but there simply isn’t enough room to accommodate everyone. And with admission rates for many highly competitive schools in the 10% or lower range, chances are that your student will likely be rejected—or perhaps waitlisted—from at least one school where he or she applies.

2. Embrace feelings of disappointment

The truth is, rejection hurts. And if your student has been rejected by one of your top picks for a school, it hurts even more. But while the truth is we will all face disappointment at different points in life, the key is learning how to deal with rejection in healthy ways and be better prepared for real-life ups and downs. So as a family, go ahead and process your disappointment, but be prepared to move forward.

3. Realize it might not be because of your student’s academics

Often times, colleges are striving to put together a diverse student body, and that doesn’t mean that academics alone are the deciding factor for admissions. In fact, admission rates can vary widely depending on your student’s gender, race, age, disability, veteran’s status, income, state residency, nationality, and other non-merit factors. While there have been legal challenges to affirmative action quotas for some non-merit factors, courts have generally determined that the goal of achieving a level of student body diversity can overrule strictly merit-based criteria.

4. Look for weaknesses in your transcript

Rejection can be a good time to reflect on the strength of your high-school transcript. Are standardized test scores as good as they could be? Does your student have strong recommendation letters? Has he or she proven to be a varied student with lots of extracurricular activities? Don’t overthink it, but take an honest look at your transcript identify any weak points.

Once you’ve identified weaknesses, take steps to correct them. This may mean retaking a standardized test to raise a score. Or it might be a great opportunity to accept a summer internship or volunteer to broaden your student’s background.

5. Try applying for a later term

Sometimes a temporary setback can be the best thing that ever happened. And what often distinguishes successful people from others is dogged determination in the face of rejection and disappointment. When it comes to getting into college, this may mean re-applying to a school that rejected your student for a later term. Sometimes, admissions rates vary from fall to spring to summer semesters. While your student waits, he or she could get a job or internship to gain valuable work experience that will make a subsequent application even stronger.

6. Consider alternative options

Turn lemons into lemonade and remember that your family has other options. With their open enrollment policies, community colleges can be a good way to earn college credit and then later transfer to a four-year school. The good news is that going this route will likely mean big cost savings because community colleges are generally significantly less expensive than their four-year public and private counterparts. (Learn about 10 of the top-ranked community colleges in the U.S.)

Another option to consider is the military. Depending on your student’s field of interest, careers in the military often involve high-level training that can equal or exceed that of a college degree. And depending on the skill set acquired, men and women entering the workforce following a stint in the military are often highly sought after by private sector employers.  

Finally, some students may want to consider taking a gap year. While gap years have traditionally been more widely embraced by Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, more Americans in recent years are choosing to take a break between high school and college to stretch themselves with some type of transformative cultural immersion—typically abroad, but perhaps even in the U.S.

With a gap year, your student can experience a variety of exciting and fulfilling experiences tailored to individual interests, including language immersion, non-profit volunteering, or even just travelling to broaden horizons and meet people from all over the world. For many students, gap years provide clarity and focus—enabling them to pursue their education goals with passion and enthusiasm upon returning home. Learn more about gap years here.

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5 ways to use 2021 to become a lifelong learner

The primary purpose of education isn’t to impart knowledge. Instead, its purpose is to teach you how to learn.

Does that concept sound like the utterings of a ninja master to his young apprentice? 

For sure!

And at first look, it may even sound nonsensical. After all, when we think of K-12 schooling or a college education, our thoughts immediately turn to mastering grammar or memorizing equations in mathematics.

But particularly in our modern economy that is so knowledge-based and rapidly changing, the ability to be a lifelong learner is crucial. Graduating from school with mastery of a set of information is important, but what’s more crucial is leaving with a toolbox of resources for ongoing learning.

“The most critical role for K-12 educators … will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education,” writes columnist Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. Or, as business expert Peter Drucker put it, “The most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”

An advantage for distance learners

Lifelong learning is mandatory for high school graduates if you want to be successful in your career and your life. Most areas of our economy change rapidly—often from year to year, but definitely from decade to decade. This is particularly true of technical occupations. So in this way, how far you go in your career is dependent on how well you learn new skills and concepts along the way, not just in school.

The great news is that distance learners are accustomed to taking responsibility for their own learning, especially in the high school years. You already have a strong foundation for becoming a lifelong learner. 

To help you cultivate that ability even more, here are 5 tips to put into practice for 2021.

1. Stay curious

Curiosity is the foundation of lifelong learning. To cultivate curiosity, ask plenty of questions and listen carefully to the answers. Aim to read two books a month, and keep a running list of books you would like to read in the near future. Step out of your comfort zone and seek to solve complicated, even thorny problems.

2. Be humble and teachable

It goes without saying that teachability ranks high on the list of attributes of genuine lifelong learners. Understand that no matter how advanced you get in a given area of life, you’ve never fully arrived. You can always learn more. That level of humility will serve you well.

3. Accept responsibility for your own learning

Distance learners have a big advantage in this area. Self-directed learning is a hallmark of distance learning for high school students. The flexibility of online learning—existing outside the rigid structure of a traditional classroom environment—helps students more easily own their educational outcomes and not rely on teachers to learn everything. As a distance learning graduate, take that same sense of responsibility for your own learning with you as you launch into adult life.

4. Launch a major project

Personally, I find this one of the best ways to practice the art of lifelong learning. Envisioning and launching a larger scale project—it could be a business, a personal hobby, or something entirely different—is an excellent way to keep your mental faculties sharp and to stretch the boundaries of what you think is possible.

5. Schedule time in your week for ongoing learning

I set a goal in 2021 to read 10 self-improvement books. Creating a benchmark like this is a good place to start, but lifelong learning will look different for each person. Maybe for you it means mastering a new hobby, earning a certification online, or attending a workshop. Remember, as the great inspirational writer and speaker Dale Carnegie said, “Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.”

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How to work your way through college like a boss

Google the phrase “pay your way through college,” and you’ll be bombarded with a lineup of articles, news stories, and blog posts bemoaning that, in today’s economy, it’s simply impossible. But is it really?

The idea of working your way to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree harkens back to a time when tuition was comparatively cheap matched against median salaries. There’s no doubt about it—the cost of college has risen astronomically. In 1971, a year at Harvard would set you back $2,600. Today, it costs $45,278. If that figure had merely kept pace with inflation, the cost would be only $15,189. Clearly, tuition costs have spiraled out of control.

While college is nowhere near as inexpensive as it used to be, working your way through school isn’t as impossible as pundits would have you believe. Of course, it all depends on how you define “working your way.” It’s true that you can’t work 15 hours a week at minimum wage and expect to cover all your tuition, materials, and living expenses for school. But there are other options.

Here are four tips that can make working your way through school a reality:

1. Public, in-state schools are your best friend

In most cases, you’ll need to stick with a community college or a local state university. Unless you have a job from Daddy Warbucks, you won’t be able to make a private school work.

The numbers are straightforward. Working full-time year-round at the federal minimum wage, you’ll take in $15,080 per year before taxes. That won’t cover the cost of a private school, but it will at state-run schools. Average tuition at a public two-year community college is $3,347; at a four-year college, in-state tuition is $9,139.

Granted, working a full-time schedule while in school is seldom feasible, and you’ll probably need a lot more financial margin than minimum wage allows. But as we’ll explore below, there are other ways to keep costs in line.

2. Stay local, buy cheap

To effectively work your way through school, you’ll probably have to live at home (preferably rent free) and be selective in how you purchase school materials. If you simply can’t live at home, take on two or three roommates and split the rent. In many areas of the country, you’ll be able to live quite cheaply this way.

Another must: purchase your textbooks used, and look for good deals on school supplies and equipment. Don’t be afraid to buy a used laptop—Craiglist is full of them at significant discounts.

Remember, to make this plan work, you’ll have to live like a college student—or at least, how college students used to live! That means keeping your costs low and forgoing luxuries and perks. For some ideas on how to keep costs down, click here.

3. Go online

The popularity of online learning and distance education has exploded during the past decade. Tens of thousands of students are earning degrees exclusively online, while the vast majority of all college students regularly take online classes as part of their degree plan.

Pursuing your degree through distance education can be one of the best ways to make working through school feasible. Online learning allows for expanded schedule flexibility during the day. Even if you work a traditional nine-to-five job, you can get in your classwork in the evenings and on the weekends. How cool is that?

4. Pick up financial aid and scholarships

Don’t just work on the income part of the equation. Also consider ways to reduce your overall tuition costs, either through financial aid or hard-won scholarships. If you can, begin that process in high school. Apply, apply, apply. It just might carve a significant chunk off your tuition bill.

Conclusion

While working your way through school is certainly feasible, remember to keep first things first—your academics are crucial, and you don’t want them to suffer because you’re worn out from burning the candle at both ends working a job.

In fact, the best path might be to work a part-time schedule during the school year (15 to 20 hours per week) and then reorient to a full-time schedule during the summers. Better, if you can find work that is academically and vocationally relevant to your field of study, you’ll come out better prepared for your career.

For more reading on this topic, check out Georgetown University’s report Learning While Earning: The New Normal.

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You don’t have to be a genius to speed through college

In 2017, Raven Osborne was one of thousands of students who graduated from Purdue University in Indiana. But something about Raven made her a little bit different—she graduated from Purdue two weeks before she also graduated from high school.

How’d she do it?

Raven began taking dual enrollment classes in eighth grade, eventually moving from her local community college to Purdue. By the time she reached her senior year in high school, she was on track to earn her degree, too. In the fall, she returned to her high school—but this time as a teacher. 

As Raven proved, with persistence and careful planning, it’s possible to earn your college degree in tandem with your high school diploma, saving time and money in the process. Even better, you can start while you’re still in high school. 

If you love the idea of speeding your way through college, here are a few unconventional ideas to help you along the way.

1. Dual enroll in college courses during high school

Generally, high school students may begin dual-enrolling in community college courses during their sophomore year of high school. This allows you to earn both high school and college-level credit on your transcript that may then be transferred to your university of choice. This approach can save you up to a year or more of introductory courses that you won’t have to complete during your freshman year of college.

2. Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams

Challenging and rigorous, AP exams could give you the opportunity to skip remedial college courses and move on to more advanced classes. This could save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run. The main downside to AP exams is that they’re only offered once every year. You’ll have to plan and schedule carefully to make sure you don’t miss the sign-up deadline and the testing date.

3. “CLEP” out of courses

CLEP exams are another method of testing out of certain college courses—and earning class credit in the process. Bear in mind that some colleges don’t accept passing CLEP scores. There are also certain majors and study concentrations that do not offer the option to CLEP out. It’s important to note that CLEPs can render you ineligible for certain scholarships, but the money you save when you test out of classes could be worth the loss.

4. Choose a college that has flexible policies regarding testing out of courses

Not every college accepts exam scores in place of sitting through an actual course. If you’re interested in testing out of some of your classes, do your research beforehand to find out whether it’s allowed at your school of choice. In addition to AP and CLEP exams, there are other tests like the DSST®TECEP®, and UExcel®, which also allow you to essentially build a DIY degree for a fraction of the time and money (you can find a list of additional exams here).

5. Enroll in a college where you can follow a competency-based curriculum

Competency-based higher education has been gaining traction over the past several years, offering college students more flexible options for accelerating their educational experience. The concept of competency-based education is simple: If you’re already familiar with the material in a particular course, you should have the option to test out of it. As an added bonus, many of these degree programs are offered online. Before applying, research the degree requirements and the cost. Some colleges charge a “subscription fee” that could be costly if you don’t complete your course work in a timely manner.

6. Plan your course load carefully and far in advance

If you’re attending a traditional college, take a careful look at the course catalog and make notes regarding what classes are required for your degree, and when they’re offered. Some courses are only offered every other year (and sometimes, only odd- or even-numbered years!), so you’ll want to carefully consider where those classes fit in. One or two poorly-planned course enrollments could cost unnecessary time and money, so consult your catalog and your advisor to make long-term plans for accelerating your degree progress.

7. Take as many classes as possible per semester

Another way to shorten the total amount of time you spend in college is by taking a heavier course load than the average recommended load (12 credit hours, or four courses). Try your hand at taking five or six courses (15 or 18 credits) instead. Be cautious not to overload and burn yourself out—only you know what will work best for you as a student.

8. Participate in a portfolio review

As you build a portfolio of work samples in college (particularly in design, fine arts, architecture, etc.), add them to your digital portfolio and plan to attend at least one portfolio review session. Some colleges offer portfolio review days—a day similar to a job fair, where employers meet with students for short interviews and rapid-fire portfolio review. When you participate in portfolio review, you’ll sharpen your professional-level interview skills, as well as share your work samples and resume with potential employers. With viable work samples and interview experience under your belt, you might decide to accept a job offer before you’ve completed your degree.

9. Opt for an alternate route

One size does not fit all. Some students may not wish to attend college and opt to build their careers in a different way. Programs like UnCollege provide students with the opportunity to explore their passions and interests, build a skill set that compliments those passions, and gain experience where they put their skills to work in an internship environment. Other students may enter the workforce after high school based on their experience and work samples alone.

The bottom line

Accelerating the college experience is definitely possible, and any combination of the above methods could be right for you. As you choose your path, research carefully to avoid any of the potential pitfalls of each option. With cautious consideration, strategy, and meticulous planning, you can fast-track your way to a degree and move on to build your dream career.