Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Would it be realistic for an amature programmer to obtain a CS degree in 2~2.5 years at a state university assuming time and money is available?

share|improve this question
What sort of degree? What educational background does the amateur have? –  David Thornley Jun 10 '11 at 17:43
Too localized isn't? –  user2567 Jun 10 '11 at 17:57
Depends on how much you can skip. Half of your classes will not be in CS. Anyhow, why take the fun out of college? –  Job Jun 10 '11 at 18:16
Strongly depends on your math skills. –  user1249 Jun 10 '11 at 19:47
Honestly, your ability to program means little in a computer science degree. –  Steve Evers Jun 10 '11 at 20:36

8 Answers 8

If you're talking about getting a bachelor's degree starting with no previous college education, almost certainly not. Some institutions award 2-year degrees, and by working your tail off you can very possibly finish a 4-year degree in three years (although I took the necessary courseload in precisely 1 term and found out why not to).

Assuming you're talking about a real Computer Science degree, you'll find that you're learning a whole lot of new things, because CS isn't really about programming per se. Even in some sort of Software Engineering program, you'll find amazing things that you didn't know were even things. These will help you greatly in the future, but they will take time to learn.

Moreover, even a technical degree will have additional requirements that you will have to satisfy, and there will be a minimum number of credits required, which will take time to reach.

share|improve this answer
+1, but to clarify... "even a technical degree will have additional requirements that you will have to satisfy" == [English, History, Calculus, Physics, Foreign Language, Chemistry, Philosophy, etc.] –  Mayo Jun 10 '11 at 18:18

If there's a university that offers a 2 year program and said programmer can get accepted into that program, sure, I don't see why not.

Or are you asking about somehow condensing a 4-year degree into 2 years? That would depend entirely on the rules the university imposes on that sort of thing. Some might let you take more courses per term and/or study throughout the year without taking the summer off, but for the most part, you're likely to find that it takes 4 years for a reason.

A CS program is typically focused on giving you a strong foundation in the theoretical aspects of computer science and getting a good understanding of those concepts can take time even for someone with some programming experience.

share|improve this answer
The last paragraph is pretty much what I was thinking when I read this question. There's a lot more to computer science than programming. In a CS program, you also learn mathematics (continuous and discrete), liberal arts (writing, communication), science (typically a lab science is required in my experiences), theory of computation, and then some kind of concentration in a field of computer science (operating systems, programming languages, communication and networking, databases, AI, computer vision...). –  Thomas Owens Jun 10 '11 at 17:58

No, probably not. There are often limits nowadays on how many credits you can possibly take per semester. These limits make it so the just shy of 3.5 years is the fastest the degree can be completed in. I did this recently at top speed the entire way, in 3 years and one extra part time semester. If you had an overloaded schedule, plus a full summer schedule every year, you might get it to 2.5, but that could be pretty intense (I was working throughout so I would have burnt out, personally). 2 years would be absolutely impossible at most schools. Remember, even if you could get around the restrictions, that full time is 4 years. Can you work 80 hours a week at your job? Yes. Is it a good idea? Probably not.

Edit: I am assuming you are not talking about a CS Associates degree. If that were the case, 2 years would be the norm.

Update: Also, many schools do not offer all of the required courses every semester. You might only be able to take 3 of your CS courses a semester (also because some courses require others first). I had completed my Philosophy major with a full year left, when I went to the CS department to get a minor. A minor at my school was 7 courses, so I figured I could easily complete it with an entirely wide open year (I could have fit in 14 courses if I had to). It turned out 3 of the courses had to be completed sequentially, two more could only be done after the 2nd course, a professor was on sebatical who taught the field I specialized in...to the point where I would have needed to stick around for 2 years just to get a minor. Classes also fill up, so you cannot even guarantee that there will be space once the class is available at all. I do not mean to be a stick in the mud, but people definitely tend to underestimate how long school will take. I have never known anyone to overestimate how long it will take, since most start with the most optimistic estimate, and it can only get worse from there, whether the reasons are internal or external.

share|improve this answer
If some of the credits are awarded through examination (e.g. CLEP, AP, etc) then it might be possible to shave about a year off the time. –  rjzii Jun 10 '11 at 18:08
@Rob Z - AP exams are not trivial either. 1 year of college is equal to 10 AP classes in most cases. Passing 10 AP exams is not something you can just show up for. Each AP class normally takes a full year in high school. It would be possible to study on your own and do it faster, but I would not count on passing 10 of those exams without a significant focussed time commitment. The pass rates are below 50% for many of them, even with the classes. –  Morgan Herlocker Jun 10 '11 at 20:53

It depends what you want to get out of your CS degree. If you just want a piece of paper with the words "Computer Science" and your name on it, then yes. But if you want to have a strong foundation, then I would suggest to not rush through it and take your time learning with your other peers.

share|improve this answer

Possible? Yes. Realistic? Uncertain. I've known one person in my life who did it. While working full time. Unsurprisingly she is one of the most organized people I know. Mere mortals shouldn't try.

Universities have bureaucracies that like to limit how many courses you can take, like to require courses out of your major, some of which may have dependencies and are only offered at certain times. In particular summer time has fewer course options. This could easily pose a fatal block in your plans.

Let me compare two examples. I did my undergrad at a local Canadian school. The rules then were that a full load was 5 courses (and that really was a full load), and you needed 40 to graduate. You were allowed to take a max of 6/semester. Summer could be used as a semester, and was reasonably well populated in certain subjects thanks to the need to support the co-op system. Plus you could get transfer credit from other universities, some of which offered correspondence courses. (But you could not exceed 6 courses per semester.)

Thus it was theoretically possible to finish in 7 semesters, which could be fit in 2 1/3 years. I knew several people who initially hoped to do something like that, but none succeeded. (Most people actually took 5 years to graduate.)

I went to grad school at Dartmouth College. They operate on a quarter system, and run at capacity in all 4 quarters. To make sure that they are balanced, they offer a bunch of your required second year courses only in the summer, so you have to go to school in the summer. I'm pretty sure that it is impossible to squeeze everything else in in close to 2 years. You might be able to graduate in 3 but it would be very hard because everything is so synchronized for people who are on track.

share|improve this answer

From my own experience: the first 3 semesters you'll be bogged down trying to finish idiot requirements which are all prerequisites for challenging classes, and the final two semesters you'll be considering suicide due to the pressure of trying to complete the "core" classes two or three at a time (which is nearly impossible, due to the massive programming load).

And then you'll end up one course short, and it'll be a really stupid course, which won't be offered in the summer.

share|improve this answer

It could be done. Start by getting as much credit by examination as possible. Contact your prospective college to find out what you can do there. You may be able to get 30 or more hours of credit through AP exams. The AP exams aren't easy, but you can prepare on your own schedule.

Then plan to attend three terms per year. The University of Texas requires 130 credit hours to graduate; divided by 8 terms that is 16.25 hours per term on the four year plan. If you can get 30 hours CBE you have saved a whole year. That leaves 100 hours needed to graduate. You can do that in 4 terms x 17 hours plus 2 terms x 16 hours. Attend summers and you are done in two years. Good luck.

share|improve this answer

Probably, if they took full (or more than full) course loads every summer, and got permission to take a heavier-than-standard course load for the rest of the year. Even more likely if they had advance credit from some other program. More detail is needed for a better answer.

share|improve this answer
2 years would be much more than "more than full course load". It would be double the full course load. Your answer seems a bit unlikely. –  Morgan Herlocker Jun 10 '11 at 17:50
@ironcode: When I was in school, I saw a guy do it in about 2 and 2/3 years. He was between 5 and 7 courses each semester (probably 7 more often than not), including the summer term. Depending on the OP's school's program requirements, 2 - 2.5 years might be possible. I doubt it would be enjoyable though... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 10 '11 at 17:56
Anyone care to explain the downvote? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 10 '11 at 18:26
Eh, still does not seem to add up. Even with 7 classes the entire time, the fastest you could get out is still 3 years at any standard program, and thats ignoring the load reastrictions the entire time, which in itself is unlikely. I didn't downvote, but I do disagree. I added it up and you would have to do 7-8 classes a semester (8 every semester with no summer would not even make it). 8 classes goes beyond workaholic into the realm of totally impossible, assuming the classes are not a joke. –  Morgan Herlocker Jun 10 '11 at 20:45
@ironcode: 7 classes the whole time (including summers) for 3 years gives 63 single-term courses. If the schools require 40 single-term courses for a Bachelor's degree (normally 4 years, at 10 courses each year, 5 per term and summers not in school), so it's very possible to cram 40 single-term courses into 2.5 years. 2 years might only be possible with advanced standing, but still possible. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 10 '11 at 20:54

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.