How to walk away with your bachelor’s degree in 14 months…debt-free. 

In 2017, I traveled on 19 airplanes, visited 23 cities in 8 different countries, started my own business with 3 additional internships, and graduated debt-free with my bachelor’s degree.

None of it would have been possible without Western Governors University (WGU), a self-paced program that offers ultimate flexibility and affordability to pursue a college degree.

The traditional four-year college isn’t for everyone. It’s costly and time-consuming, but it’s the most common path to take, so do you have to jump on the bandwagon?

No, you don’t.

It’s difficult to be the small fish in a big pond, not to mention the part where you drown in a massive pile of debt. For those of you who are like me — restless, poor, and constantly looking for ways to “beat” the system, this post is for you.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I was able to finish my degree in this unconventional way, so I’m going to highlight some of my go-to strategies:

How I walked away with my bachelors degree in 14 months

Credits – Find a university that accepts credits from AP classes, CLEP exams, and DSST exams. 

  • AP Exams: My work in high school (quite literally) paid off when I found a school that accepts AP credits. I managed to transfer in 33 credits from AP classes into WGU. 
  • CLEP Exams: Once I realized that WGU accepts CLEP credits, I started “CLEPing” out of the generic freshman classes. Each test costs between $80-$100 and you walk away with 3 college credits after studying for 1 – 2 weeks.

By the time I was accepted into WGU, I entered as a second semester sophomore, thanks to those AP and CLEP exams.

Already a great way to save money and time in college.

Starting a business

Time Management – Starting my own business gave me the ultimate flexibility while gaining teaching experience. 

  • I started my own piano teaching business for ultimate work flexibility. It also gave me a steady income while gaining business and teaching experience. I ran my piano business from 3:00 – 8:00pm, leaving plenty of time before and after work for studying.
  • WGU’s tuition is based on a 6 month flat-rate tuition. This means I can take as many classes as I want during a 6-month period and pay the same amount. The moment I realized I could compete against myself, I knew that this was the perfect school for me. A constant competition to win against myself!
  • Each class was self-paced, which means I could take a class for a week and pass the exam or stretch it out over 6 weeks. I mapped out a plan to crank out the easy classes quickly so I could prioritize the more difficult ones.

Setting Goals

  • WGU is a reasonable school and with their flat rate tuition, you can make it as cheap or as expensive as you want. It all depends on how quickly you can get through the classes. So be sure to set some solid goals!
  • I also jumped on the opportunity to find random scholarships and was awarded a couple of them. Those small $500 per semester scholarships add up!
    Running my own business helped pay my way through school and save up for traveling.
  • To graduate debt-free, I decided to move back in with my parents to cut costs on living expenses. This was a lifesaver as I am not tied down by any debt and can take off whenever I want. Plus, they were always there to pick me up from the airport at odd hours of the night.
Sophie Skips Town in Morocco

Traveling – Online school can get lonely very quickly. Without classmates, it was difficult to find community and friends. Luckily, with the flexibility of online school, I was able to travel quite frequently and meet people along the way while keeping up with classes.

  • Traveling not only helped me meet incredible people, but it also motivated me to study and finish school even faster (so I can travel more, of course).
  • Online school gave me the flexibility to take classes wherever I wanted — coffee shops, libraries, airports, buses, etc.


  • The major reason why people don’t choose online school is because they feel like they’re treated as a number and cannot establish a personal relationship with their professors.
  • My experience was quite the opposite. WGU is known for its personalized one-on-one faculty support designed to fit the modern life.
  • I had an incredible student mentor who called me once a week to discuss my progress, goals, and study habits. She would answer my emails and phone calls at anytime of the day, even on the weekends. The only time she didn’t call me was when I was in Nepal and had no service.
  • When I would send in a paper to a course professor, they would call me up and walk me through the paper, sentence-by-sentence, to ensure that I had the highest success. That kind of one-on-one attention doesn’t happen in a typical state college.
    WGU has gone above and beyond to ensure that their services are accessible for students at anytime.

Study Less, Exercise More

  • In high school, I locked myself in my room and studied all day long. On snow days, weekends, and holidays — all I did was study. I decided to approach college in a different way, creating a new philosophy: Study less, exercise more.
  • I spent my mornings running up mountains instead of doing last minute cram sessions before exams. I started trying out new activities – Freeletics, trail running, rock climbing, kickboxing, yoga, etc.
  • I was able to think and perform more effectively in school and noticed a substantial increase in my exam grades. Now I realize that my parents were right the whole time…exercise really does change everything. Who knew?!

Staying Motivated — This is the #1 reason why people drop out of online school. It’s hard to stay motivated, especially when you don’t have a brick and mortar learning environment.

  • I was able to stay motivated by setting specific goals, travel plans, and weekly routines. A lot of people need the structure of a brick and mortar school to stay motivated and meet deadlines. With online school, I created my own deadlines and set my own exam dates. It worked out great for me, but online school isn’t for everyone.
  • If you are considering an online program, make sure you can create a system where you will stay motivated by setting specific deadlines.
Sophie Danielson | Western Governors University

Conclusion — I didn’t know anyone to approach college the way I did, so I was extremely hesitant to try it out. I decided to take a chance and try it out. Luckily it worked! If you’re interested in taking this approach to college, now you know that it is possible and quite accessible.

While online school isn’t for everyone, it’s a perfect alternative for those interested in pursuing a degree in a quick, affordable, and flexible manner. With the rise of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) and schools like WGU, there are now options for individuals who choose to forgo the traditional 4-year college experience. I can confidently say that it was the best decision I made.