3 Year Bachelor Degree Programs Online

3 Year Bachelor Degree Programs Online

A 3 year bachelor’s degree program online may be a good choice for those who wish to complete their education quickly. Some schools might offer these programs to help students complete necessary education to get into the workforce faster. Also known as an accelerated bachelor’s degree, a student may complete the necessary coursework to earn their degree within 3 years. Most often, a traditional bachelor’s degree takes 4 years to complete.

This is often a rigorous program. It typically requires a lot of focus and hard work to complete. Students do not necessarily learn less. They are typically taught the same level and type of information as a 4 year program. It is often condensed into just 3 years, though. For some, this may help them complete their studies faster.

What Are Accelerated Degree Programs?

An accelerated college degree is simply a program designed to be completed in 3 years instead of 4. Many bachelor’s degree programs often require 120 credit hours of study. This is spread across 4 years of education. How does all of that education get wrapped into a 3 year program?

Some schools may condense the education into a 3 year program by requiring a higher number of credits per semester. Others may incorporate summer studies in the program, reducing the overall length of time but creating a year-round schedule. Some may offer an internship as a way to make up some of the credit or education. Work experience may also play a role.

Another way to achieve this could be through early start programs. In some areas, high school students may earn college credit for the higher level courses they take. These transfer credits from high school may help to meet some of the curriculum credit hours necessary to earn a degree. Often, this type of program is done with the support of a community college. Students may take one or two courses in at a local community college while in high school. Other times, students may take these courses through advanced placement (AP) programs. International Baccalaureate curriculum may also help some students qualify.

Adult learners may be able to apply for transfer credits, too. This may come from military service or previous education completed. The College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, may help some students test out of  programs.

Whenever possible, courses might be available online. This is not available fully for all bachelor’s degree programs. Some programs may still require in-person clinicals or labs. However, many programs may be completed fully online. Full time learning may allow students to earn this type of degree through online learning.

The goal is to help students earn their degree sooner. Yet, it is up to the student, the school, and the course selected to determine if that is possible.

How Quickly Can I Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

Most often, online bachelor’s degree programs take 3 years to complete. Online students may be able to speed this up somewhat if they have previous education and credit hours from coursework completed prior to enrollment. However, many programs take at least three years to complete.

Keep in mind that some career positions may require more than a bachelor’s degree. Some students may need to continue their education. That may include a master’s degree. Or, if a graduate degree is not enough, a PhD or doctoral degree may be another level of education. Each of these paths could require an additional two years to complete. Degree completion programs may range widely from one school to the next. Be sure to check into what is expected at the school you are considering.

Students who wish to take a part time path may not qualify for a bachelor’s degree at the accelerated level. That’s because a 3 year program tends to include more summer studies and longer classes. Some may require full time attendance. Others may offer more flexibility to meet student needs. A short term, eight-week course, for example, may require a larger number of study hours with limited time for completion.

Admission Requirements for a 3 Year Bachelor Degree Program Online

Admission into a 3 year program often starts with an application. Students often need a high school diploma or equivalent to enroll. Some programs have prerequisites. As a bachelor’s degree, this is less common, though.

Each school sets their own admission rules. Online degree completion programs may allow for transfer credits. Students with previous higher education studies should let the school know this. Some schools may also have specific grade point average requirements. It’s a good idea to compare several schools to determine if you meet all admission requirements. Look for these areas:

  • Minimum GPA requirements
  • Completion of all prerequisite courses, if any
  • Completion of application to the program
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Letters of recommendation

A student with an associate degree may wish to share that information with the school as well. It may help with transfer credits. Any higher education study may help students reduce the coursework they take during this program. Students with life experience may also want to report this information to the school. That may include working in the field.

Cost of 3 Year Bachelor Degree Program Online

The cost of a 3 year bachelor degree program typically differs between schools. Most often, attending school for a shorter amount of time reduces the costs paid. However, this depends on multiple factors.

Does an accelerated bachelor’s degree program cost less than a traditional four-year program?

Some accelerated programs may cost less. That is because they may require fewer credit hours. They may offer more flexible schedules for students. These programs often reduce the amount of time a student needs to complete courses. That sometimes means paying less.

Not all programs are less expensive, however. Some may cost the same if they maintain the same credit hour requirement.

Also consider the options in online education. Distance education may cost less as a whole. It requires a lot of hard work. Students may spend more time on their own with less teacher direction. Yet, the costs may be significantly lower.

One key concern may be financial aid. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. However, it may also not be available. Some programs may be inaccessible if they do not meet specific requirements. Be sure to look into scholarships, too. Some may require enrollment in a 4 year program instead. That may impact costs for school, too.

Tuition rates differ between schools. Be sure to consider this alongside other qualifications for the school and program.

Choosing 3 Year Bachelors Degree Program Online

There’s a lot to think about when choosing a degree program. Start with accreditation. Be sure the school is accredited by any association in your field of study. This may be very important in areas such as nursing, for example. Not all bachelor’s degrees online have the same type of accreditation.

Think about the type of work desired. Consider the type of electives available. It may also help to choose coursework that’s interesting to you.

Also choose a delivery method. Online programs offer a range of options. This includes synchronous or asynchronous. Some programs may require students to follow along and meet deadlines throughout the year. Others may let students learn at their own pace with a target completion date. Either option may work for your situation but require a different type of learning. Invest a few minutes in comparing options in schools and programs based on this information.

Also think about the cost of tuition. Factor in the cost of books. Learning online could help reduce some costs related to living on campus or commuting to campus each day.

Most often, students should choose a bachelor’s degree program that fits with their long-term career goals. Learn as much as possible about the program. Also learn as much as possible about the school itself. Also think long term. Is an online master in your future? Look for a school that offers long term education goals after a bachelor’s degree, too.

Fast Online Degree Options

Prospective students should consider a wide range of opportunities available to them. Keep in mind these are just some examples to consider for enrollment in online bachelor’s degree programs. Prior college, professional studies, and general studies may help to make these programs more accessible to some.

Earning potential depends on many factors. College students should consider their location as well as the specific type of bachelor’s degree they take. Completing electives may change the course of some studies, too. Here is a look at some examples for prospective students. Some programs offer fully online education. Others require online with some in person learning.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers some guidance on salary in these fields.

Business Administration Programs

A Bachelor of Business Administration is typically a versatile degree that may help students work in a range of fields after completion. Some may take courses to work in the area of human resource management. Others may focus on entrepreneurship or political science. The areas of study could be numerous. Many programs are a Bachelor of Arts and allow for fully online classes or distance learning.

Positions and 2020 median annual salary:

  • Political Scientist: $125,350 per the BLS
  • Sales Managers: $132,290 per the BLS

Organizational Leadership Programs

Organizational leadership may be an opportunity for students to learn about leadership. A bachelor’s degree here may incorporate various class options. That could include human resources, corporate communications, human resources behavioral science, and sociology. This type of education may also include computer science skills. This may help a student work as a corporate development manager or human resource manager.

Positions and 2020 median annual salary:

  • Human Resource Manager: $121,220 per the BLS
  • Corporate Executive: $107,680 per the BLS

Supply Chain Management Programs

Online schools often offer a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management. This field may incorporate online courses in areas of logistics, distribution, and transportation. Some programs may provide students with the ability to complete key certifications in their coursework. Students completing a program like this may work in positions such as operations manager, supply chain manager, or logistics manager.

Positions and 2020 median annual salary:

  • Distribution manager: $96,390 per the BLS
  • Logistics manager: $76,270 per the BLS

Early Childhood Education Programs

An early childhood program may allow a student to complete a Bachelor of Science to teach children at the preschool and lower levels. Those completing this program may be eligible to work in management and leadership positions with younger children. Some states may require early education students to complete an assessment or certification after completion of the program. Others may not require licensing. Students may study child development and psychology.

Positions and 2020 median annual salary:

  • Childcare center director: $49,160 per the BLS
  • Preschool teacher: $31,930 per the BLS

Computer Information Systems Programs

Technology is another area of interest for some. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Technology may be available. This type of program aims to enable students to learn about databases, computer hardware, security, and problem solving. Cybersecurity is another potential option for study. This type of program may allow students to work in many areas of technology. That includes development, management of systems, and research.

Positions and potential salary:

  • Computer programmer: $898,190 per the BLS
  • Computer systems analyst: $93,730 per the BLS

Law Enforcement Programs

Some bachelor’s degrees completed in 3 years may fall into the area of law enforcement. Criminal justice degrees may be completed online or in a hybrid format. Many times, these programs aim to support people currently working as a police officer to further their education. The focus is often public safety. That may include more study into social justice or law. Those working as an officer may wish to complete this degree online so they do not have to stop working.

Positions and potential salary:

  • Private investigator: $53,320 per the BLS
  • Corrections officer: $47,440 per the BLS

Liberal Arts Studies

For those who want to earn a Bachelor of Liberal Studies, that’s another potential option for a 3 year program. Students may be able to complete this online. Students may study the arts as well as areas such as humanities and social sciences. Some programs may include computer science in them. This may help students qualify for careers in areas such as journalist or policy analyst. The coursework selected might play a big role in determining the type of job a person qualifies for here. There may be ample versatility.

Positions and potential salary:

  • Reporter: $49,300 per the BLS
  • Radio announcer: $41,950 per the BLS

Health Sciences Studies

Choose a bachelor’s in health sciences to study a range of topics. That may include healthcare management. Healthcare administration may fit here, too. Some nursing programs might be available for completion in 3 years. Online colleges may also offer paths for students to advance existing nursing degrees. That may include earning a BSN. Some work in social work. Others in public health. Those with undergraduate degrees, such as an associates degree, may benefit, too.

Positions and potential salary:

  • Healthcare management: $104,280 per the BLS
  • Registered nurse: $75,330 per the BLS

What is a 3 Year BSN Program?

3 Year BSN Programs

What is a 3 Year BSN Program?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) often provides students with education enabling them to sit for the state required certification exams. That often includes the NCLEX-RN exam. This may lead to licensure. Students taking this degree program from an accredited school may then be able to work in a nursing position. The 3 year BSN programs may allow student to complete this in just three years. Typically, it is a 4 year education plan.

Each school sets the rules for enrolling in this degree program. Some schools may not require pre-requisites. Students with a high school diploma or the equivalent may be able to apply. The coursework is often advanced. That means more learning in each course. It also typically focuses on more hands-on learning. Students that want to work in a nursing position may be able to do so faster through this degree program.

Accelerated BSN

An accelerated BSN is a fast paced education track. It may help students prepare for a professional nursing practice. This is an undergraduate program. That means students may not have to have a previous degree to enter into the program. However, they may also be a good option for students who have some previous education but did not finish school. Transfer credits from an associate’s degree or community college may apply depending on the school’s requirements.

Typically, a BSN enables students to gain the education they need to sit for the nursing license exam. From there, students may obtain licensure to provide nursing services in the state. The BSN’s goal is often to help prepare students to work as a Registered Nurse (RN).

Students looking to enter entry level positions may find this BSN option to be ideal because of how fast it may be.

BSN admission requirements:

  • Minimum GPA requirements
  • Completion of all prerequisite courses, if any
  • Completion of application to the program
  • High school diploma or equivalent

BSN sample classes:

Some coursework students may expect to see includes courses such as these:

  • Fundamentals of Nursing – This course may introduce students to the field of nursing. It often has a design to be broad range and covers multiple areas of the field to provide a solid foundation for the student.
  • Health Care in the Community – This course often focuses on the delivery of healthcare to the community. Students may be going out for field experience to see how the program works and what all is entailed in the profession.
  • Applied Nutrition in Health and Disease – This course may cover the nutrition aspect that nurses are going to deal with. Knowing how to understand different diet restrictions and what to allow patients to consume based on the orders from a doctor.
  • Introduction to Pharmacology – This course typically introduces students to the study of different medications. In this course, students may gain a base knowledge of different drug purposes. Items such as interactions, dosages, and administering of the drugs may all be covered.
  • Aging in Health and Illness – This course often covers dealing with patients who are advanced in age. The course may go over dealing with illnesses and health issues that affect members of this age group and how to treat them appropriately.

MSN Program

An MSN is a Master of Science in Nursing program. It’s often the next step for many students after completing a BSN. Students with an accelerated BSN may be able to apply for this program as well. MSN studies often take 2 years to complete. Some faster paced options may also be available.

The MSN post graduate plan may help students work as a Nurse Educator. It may also enable students to take on positions such as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) or a Certified Registered Nursing Anesthetist (CRNA). Some may work as a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).

MSN admission requirements:

  • Completion of a BSN program
  • Minimum GPA
  • Completion of application for program
  • Resume
  • Letters of recommendation
  • RN experience
  • GRE

MSN sample classes:

Below are some sample classes students may expect for this degree program:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology – In this course the students may analyze and apply responses to pathophysiologic mechanisms and the corresponding conditions. This may include responses that are both abnormal and normal. The student may also look at evaluations of the responses.
  • Advanced Physical Assessment – In this course, the student often gains a broader knowledge of health assessment. The student may develop techniques for assessing by using medical history and medical exams in order to make determinations.
  • Advanced Pharmacology Fundamentals – In this course, students may learn about common prescription drugs. Parts of the class may cover the analysis and application of these drugs as well expanding the student’s overall knowledge of the principles of pharmacology.
  • Population Health, Epidemiology, and Statistical Principles – In this course, students may look into population health, statistics and epidemiology. These principles may be analyzed and evaluated to help in drawing conclusions. The use of data and statistics to help with decision making and how to best treat patients are also skills taught in this class.
  • Advanced Health Care Policy – The purpose of this course is often to teach students about the American healthcare system. The class often looks at the making of policies and their effectiveness. This class may also look at how the healthcare system is affected both politically and economically.


A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a third layer of education. It typically takes 2 years to complete. It may help a student to complete education towards working in advanced leadership positions. It may also help some students to work in areas of research in the field. This advanced nursing degree often occurs after completing a MSN degree.

PhD in nursing admission requirements:

  • Completed application
  • Minimum GRE score
  • Letters of recommendation
  • College transcripts
  • Personal statement
  • Nursing license
  • Resume

PhD in nursing sample classes:

Some coursework a student in a PhD program may take include the following:

  • Transforming Nursing and Healthcare Through Technology – This course often covers topics regarding technological advances in medicine. Application, use and availability of these items as well as how to use and interpret the data provided from these advances.
  • Research Theory, Design and Methods – This course aims to prepare students fort a number of aspects of the program. Including a dissertation as well as the ability to deal with patients and or students when preparing presentations. Applying the data gathered and using it to prepare and defend the theory developed.
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis – This course often covers how to quantitatively research and present a project on the doctoral level. In this course students may design and carry out quantitative research.
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy – This course aims to cover not only what healthcare policy is but hope to apply it. Working with both patients as well as the care provider to provide the best knowledge and to protect the rights and interests of both.
  • Qualitative Reasoning and Analysis – This course often focuses on the qualitative aspect of research. Students may perform and present a qualitative research project. This course typically puts a lot of emphasis towards preparing for a dissertation.

Accelerated Nursing Online Programs

Completing a bachelor’s degree online may be an option for some students. Many BSN programs may require clinical experiences. That may mean some courses are completed locally rather than online. However, much of the general education requirements a student needs to obtain to earn a BSN degree may be available through strictly online courses.

These nursing courses may allow some students to take classes when they want to do so. It may offer more flexibility for working or other responsibilities in life. It is important to keep in mind limitations, though. An online accelerated nursing program may require a lot of dedication and time spent working towards the degree. These courses typically pack a lot of information into each class period. Students may earn everything from community health concerns to mental health, pediatric medicine, and high level patient care.

For those considering a nursing career, online programs may be a good option if a student may focus on their education and devote enough time to it. That may increase the difficulty in the program. Mentorship from fellow students and professors may be a bit harder to obtain, too. Before enrollment, consider how well this type of course fits into your daily life. Still, for many, it could be optimal.

How long does an Accelerated Nursing Program Take?

The goal of this type of program is to get through the education sooner. An accelerated BSN typically takes 2 years to complete. Students enrolling part time may spend more time completing the program. These programs typically have a set number of credit hours a student must complete to earn the BSN degree. However, the college of nursing may choose to speed up the process through an accelerated program. To do this, more is often packed into the courses. The courses may require more extensive hands-on experience. Students completing an accelerated course should still learn the core information and skills necessary to do well in the field.

Accreditation for Accelerated Nursing Programs

When obtaining a bachelor’s degree, going to a school with accreditation may be important, no matter the degree. An accredited school is one that meets specific requirements set by the accrediting organization. Accreditation applies for bachelor’s programs, master’s degree programs, and other areas of education.

Several organizations may provide accreditation. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is one of them. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is another. These are the two most common organizations providing accreditation for students in the nursing field.

The National Council Licensure Exam, NCLEX) is a critical tool in the nursing field. The NCLEX is a licensure test. It aims to determine a person’s nursing competence against a set of skills and demonstrations of education. This exam is critical in most states. Students may need to complete it to obtain their nursing license. That license is critical for working in the state in a nursing field, such as a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

A school of nursing may aim to teach material to help students do well on this exam. When choosing a college to attend, then, many students may want to ensure the school is accredited. That may help ensure BSN students have access to the information they need to do well on the NCLEX exam.

Scholarships for Accelerated Nursing Programs

For many students attending a BSN degree program, costs may be a factor. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

Some students may also qualify for scholarships. Many organizations may offer scholarships for nursing programs. Here is a small number of them. Consider doing some additional work to find options for nursing programs.

WiseGeek Nurse Appreciation Scholarship

Value: This is a $500 one time non renewable scholarship.
Deadline: December 31

  • Application form
  • Official transcript
  • Personal statement

This scholarship is for current or prospective nursing students. This is open to all levels of secondary students. The purpose of this scholarship is to help offset loans and tuition.

CastleBranch – GNSA Scholarship

Value: There are four scholarships awarded per your in increments of $2,500 per semester. This scholarship is non renewable.
Deadline: December 30

  • Application form
  • Letter of recommendation
  • Essay

This scholarship is for students in a graduate nursing program that is an AACN member institution. In order to be eligible the student must have at least a 3.5 GPA. If not a member already winners must join the AACN Graduate Student Nursing Academy (GNSA) and make a post summarizing their essay.

ENA Foundation Graduate Scholarship Program

Value: $3,909
Deadline: April 28

  • Acceptance letter
  • Statement of goals
  • Copy of nursing license
  • Official transcript
  • Verification of tuition costs
  • Application form
  • Two letters of recommendation

This award is for students who are in good standing as a member of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). Students must be pursuing an MSN and have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA as well.

Tylenol Future Care Scholarship

Value: There are a total of 40 scholarships that are awarded. There are ten for $10,000 and 30 for $5,000. These scholarships are for one year, and they are non renewable.
Deadline: June 27

  • Two essays
  • Application form

This scholarship program is designed to help those students who have already completed at least one year of school in a healthcare program. The primary basis for this award is the  demonstration of leadership as well as academic performance.

A Nurse I Am Scholarship

Value: This is a $2,000 non renewable scholarship. There may be up to seven recipients for this award.
Deadline: March 31

  • Application form
  • Essay

This award is for any student who is in nursing school anywhere in the US. The applicant for the award needs to watch the “A Nurse I Am” documentary in either the 32 or 62 minute version. It is recommended that the applicant watch both videos.

Children’s National Hospital Pediatric Nursing Student Scholarship

Value: This is a $500 one time non renewable scholarship
Deadline: June 30

  • Minimum of 3.0 GPA
  • Pursuing career in pediatrics

This scholarship is for nursing students working towards a BSN. The student should have an interest in pediatrics and a minimum of 3.0 GPA.

Barbara Rhomberg Excellence in Nursing Scholarship

Value: This is a $5,000 scholarship. It is non renewable.
Deadline: April 30

  • US student
  • US citizen or resident
  • Full time student
  • Non traditional student
  • Current undergraduate
  • Major in Nursing
  • Essay
  • Application
  • Two letters of recommendation

This is a scholarship designed for students who did not immediately enroll in college after high school. It is a one time scholarship and requires the completion of a 500 word essay in order to qualify.

Are Online Degrees Worth It?

College can be a serious investment, and students should be sure they’re getting the most for their money. The rise of online learning has presented both students and schools with a cost-effective alternative to traditional degree programs, but are online degrees worth the money and time they entail? Below, we explore the cost and potential ROI of an online degree program , as well as additional ways students can save on their education.

  1. What is the cost of an online degree?
  2. How much does an online master’s degree cost?
  3. Are online degrees worth it?
  4. Are online graduate degrees worth it?
  5. Is there financial aid or scholarships for online degrees?

Online education certainly has its advantages, especially where program availability and convenience are concerned. Do these perks cost more? Not necessarily. Online schools tend to be just as diverse (in cost and scope) as traditional programs, and in some cases, schools offer the same courses, online and off, with little to no surcharge. Even when an online degree is priced a bit more steeply, students tend to save money in other areas, like gas and fees. They may also be able to work — and, therefore, earn — more, thanks to the flexibility of Web-based classes. In other words, there are few absolutes when it comes to comparing the cost of online degrees and those earned in a classroom, and each student’s situation is wholly unique. Nonetheless, there are some general trends when it comes to education costs. Here are a few to consider.

Online vs. traditional degrees: A cost comparison

Online education is growing in popularity, both among students and colleges. According to a 2014 survey entitled “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” published by the Online Learning Consortium (formerly the Sloan Consortium) in partnership with Babson College, over 90 percent of participating college and university leaders said online education is “critical” to their institutions’ long-term strategy. This accounts for a diversity of public, private, and for-profit colleges of all sizes and prestige, including two-year, four-year, and graduate institutions. That means that many of the schools offering online degrees also host traditional, campus-based programs. For reasons we will discuss below, these online courses often cost less than traditional classes.

So, how much does an online degree cost? The following is a breakdown of just a few generally well-known schools offering both online and traditional degrees. For simplicity’s sake, we have chosen to focus on public, four-year universities. Please note that figures may not include all applicable fees. Tuition schedules can and do change, so students should always consult institutions directly for current costs.

Institution Degree or Student Type Online Cost, 2014 Traditional Cost, 2014 Online Savings
Penn State UniversityFull-time undergraduate$13,012/year$16,992/year in-state; $29,556 out-of-state$3,980 in-state; $16,544 out-of-state
University of California BerkeleyFull-time undergraduateVariable, but ~$300/unit, or $7,200 for 24 full-time units/year$12,972/year$5,772, depending on courses and course load
University of Texas ArlingtonFull-time undergraduate$4,439 for 12 units/semester$2,972 for four three-unit courses (12 units), depending on program$1,467 in-state, depending on program

Students should remember that when it comes to college costs, institution types matter. It is not uncommon for two-year community colleges to offer at least some online courses, often at the same rate or less as it would cost to take the same courses in a classroom, and far less than a comparable course at an Ivy League school. The chart above shows that when it comes to public four-year schools, online bachelor’s degree costs are often lower than those of traditional degrees. Note that in the case of private nonprofit and for-profit institutions, tuition and fees are less predictable, so it pays for students to do their research before applying to any program.

Buyer beware: Tuition variation and fees

The tuition comparisons listed above can give students a general sense for how much online degrees cost, but these figures vary significantly from one institution or region to the next, and some programs — even at public institutions — can cost well above the national average. Fortunately, there are a few tools that can help make price-shopping colleges easier. The U.S. Education Department’s College Affordability and Transparency Center ranks U.S. schools by both tuition and total cost of attendance. Though the tool does not allow students to compare online programs specifically, it does give them the option to sort institutions by type, meaning public, private, or for-profit schools at the two-, four-, and graduate levels. Another helpful tool is CollegeMeasures.org, which allows students to research and compare a number of variables across a range of institutions, including cost, first-year retention rates, and overall completion rates.

Tools such as these are helpful when getting a general sense of college costs, but they are no substitute for independent research. Most colleges publish their fee and tuition schedules online; those that do not will typically mail them at students’ request. Remember that tuition is just one part of the overall college cost equation: Health, lab, and technology fees can quickly add up, too, as can book costs. When comparing schools, students should aim to weigh total costs with fees — not tuition rates alone.

The hidden value of online degrees

There are a number of reasons online degree programs are often less expensive than classroom-based programs. For starters, online degrees require no classrooms and desks. No walls means instructors are often able to lecture to far more students, too, which can reduce cost overall. In classes that rely on video lectures, which can be used time and again, savings stretch even further. Another major advantage: Online degrees allow students to shop around without regard for geography. If an institution two states over is more affordable than the college down the road, there is no need to move.

Some of the potential savings of online degrees, however, are indirect and easy to overlook. Students attending online classes do not need to shell out gas money to get to school, and parking and other facility fees are unnecessary. Some schools have begun to experiment with online, open-source textbooks, saving students hundreds of dollars a year. Another advantage of online courses is that they are often nonsynchronous, which means students can view lectures and materials on their own schedules. This allows some students to continue work full-time when they would otherwise have had to reduce or eliminate their work hours altogether. These earnings offset college costs, making higher education more affordable.

More ways to save

One final point to consider when comparing any two degrees (online or otherwise) is that there are programs designed to help students manage their education costs. Financial aid — including subsidized and unsubsidized student loans, grants, and work-study programs — can be a budget-saver for students who need a little help paying for school. Students can usually begin the process by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online. Scholarships are another way to curb college costs, and may be awarded based on student need, academic or athletic merit, or even for meeting certain social or cultural criteria. In many cases, these scholarships are available to students attending campus-based or online schools. We recommend reviewing the print before applying for any award to discern eligibility.

Online education has shaken its experimental roots and moved squarely into the mainstream. According to a recent survey by the Online Learning Consortium (formerly the Sloan Consortium) in partnership with Babson College, about one-third of college students took at least one online course in 2013. At the same time, 90 percent of participating college and university leaders said online education is “critical” to their institutions’ long-term strategy. Many of these institutions are graduate schools. This makes sense, since one of the many benefits of online learning is flexibility — a perk working professionals can appreciate. Still, graduate school — however it is completed — is an investment. How much does an online master’s degree cost? This is a tricky question to answer since graduate school tuition varies not just by region and institution, but discipline and specialty as well. There are a few common trends, however, like the fact that online degrees can be cheaper than traditional programs (especially for out-of-state students), or that online programs offer additional, less obvious savings when compared to classroom-based degrees.

Cost of graduate programs: Online vs. traditional degrees

Online degrees have earned their respectability stripes: Even some of the most prestigious public and private universities now offer graduate degrees online. Part of this growth is driven by growing student demand, but there are plenty of advantages to Web-based learning for the institutions themselves. Online courses require no classrooms, desks, or lab equipment. They save on heating and electrical costs, and — especially when videos and other materials can be reused each semester — instructors’ time. These programs also allow schools to cater to a much wider audience, boosting enrollment overall. Thanks to online education, graduate schools can save money without sacrificing quality. In many cases, those savings are passed on to students.

The following is a brief comparison of the cost of graduate programs, online and traditional, at a small sampling of universities. We have chosen to focus on MBA programs for consistency’s sake. Note that the numbers provided do not cover additional fees or other expenses, like books. Tuition schedules can and do change, so it is always wise to contact specific schools directly for the most up-to-date figures.

Institution Online MBA Tuition, 2014 (total program cost) Traditional MBA Cost, 2014 Online Savings
University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School $96,775 $74,180 (resident) to $111,092 (nonresident) for two-year, full-time students Up to $14,317
Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business $59,312 $46,160 (resident) to $73,924 (nonresident) for two-year, full-time students Up to $14,612
Washington State University’s College of Business $29,250 $19,200 (resident) to $36,400 (nonresident) for one-year program Up to $7,150

Non-tuition fees and other costs

As the chart above illustrates, the cost of graduate programs can vary wildly from one institution to the next, online or otherwise, and in most cases, finding the most affordable option is not as simple as reviewing a tuition schedule. For instance, it is not uncommon for campus-based programs to be slightly less expensive for in-state residents attending public universities, but the same is rarely true for out-of-state students or those attending private colleges. Prospective students should also factor in any additional fees. For campus-based students, these may include student health, facility, and parking fees; online students may be asked to pay information technology fees.

Those mulling over online graduate schools would be wise to take advantage of the fact that in most cases, geography is not a cost factor. That means that if the school down the street costs significantly more than another program across the country, students can attend the more affordable program. This could translate to major savings since the cost of graduate schools vary tremendously, no matter how students attend class. The U.S. Education Department’s College Affordability and Transparency Center ranks U.S. schools by both tuition and total cost of attendance. The tool does not allow students to compare online programs specifically, but offers some baseline for comparing multiple institutions. Remember that online tools, however helpful, are no substitute for independent research. We suggest contacting prospective graduate schools directly for current tuition and fee data.

The hidden savings of online graduate degrees

When researching graduate school costs, it is easy to get hung up on the cost of tuition and other fees, but in the case of online programs, this figure represents only part of the story. That is because there are several often-overlooked savings associated with Web-based learning that can offset or widen tuition disparities. Among them:

  • No parking fees
  • Gas and transportation savings
  • Freedom to skip the college town cost-of-living premium
  • Ability to work (often full-time) due to online flexibility

These are just a few of the savings associated with online learning. Keep in mind that some programs are beginning to experiment with other cost-saving measures, like web-based, open source textbooks. As always, students should contact schools directly to get the full picture.

Financial aid and other cost-cutting programs

Graduate school may be a major investment, but students are rarely without help. Many schools — online or off — have financial aid offices that can help students determine if they are eligible for grants, loans, or scholarships, and assist them with the applications process. Graduate students who are able to keep their day jobs can also contact their employer to find out if any special scholarships or cost-saving programs apply, such as tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement for job-related courses. Some organizations, like the National Science Foundation or the American Psychological Association, offer additional grants and scholarships for graduate students conducting qualifying research. Students should always read the fine print to discern eligibility before applying to such programs.

While there are no guarantees that any financial investment will result in a good return, a college education, online or even the old-fashioned way, generally leads to a positive rate of return over a person’s lifetime. Students with an associate or bachelor’s degree can simply compare weekly and lifetime earnings with those who only have a high school education to discern the potential financial advantages. Job prospects also generally improve with attainment of postsecondary education.

“The possibilities are endless for students who choose to earn an associate degree versus no degree at all,” says La’Kendra Higgs, registrar for Dallas Colleges Online, the “virtual” campus of the Dallas County Community College District.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of wages based on education level and shows that people with a bachelor’s degree have the highest median weekly earnings compared to those with an associate degree or a high school education. As well, they have the lowest unemployment rate compared to people with an associate degree or high school education, a factor to take into consideration given the lay-offs and jobs losses that have occurred in recent years and continue to occur even into 2014.

Median weekly earnings Unemployment rate
Bachelor’s degree $1,108 4.0%
Associate degree $777 5.4%
High school education $651 7.5%

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Other data showing an advantage in pay for people who have an associate or bachelor’s degree over that of a high school education comes from the “Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates” report, which is released by the U.S. Census every 10 years. This report breaks down lifetime earnings by race and gender as well as education level. The lifetime earnings in millions for full-time male and female workers are listed below, with the male earnings listed first in each box.

High School Graduate Associate Degree Bachelor’s Degree
Hispanic $1.30m; $1.02m $1.83m; $1.44m $2.08m; $1.70m
White $1.69m; $1.18m $2.08m; $1.60m $2.85m; $2.02m
African-American $1.34m; $1.07m $1.72m; $1.46m $2.10m; $1.85m
Asian $1.29m; $1.05m $1.84m; $1.60m $2.43m; $2.06m

*Source: U.S. Census

How do the lifetime financial benefits compare to the cost of an education? Consider that the average tuition and fees for a public two-year in-state school were $3,265 in 2013-14 and for a public four-year in-state school were $8,893. And often the cost of online education and degrees are similar at public schools and institutions across the country or very close in cost. This is true in the Dallas County Community College District, where no cost differential exists between students pursing an online degree and students pursuing a degree on campus, according to Higgs, and the average cost of a two-year degree for area residents is $5,920. Prices at other institutions can vary and the list below provides a sample of several online undergraduate degrees and various associated costs.

  • New England College of Business: Associate of Science degree in Business Administration, tuition and fees: $26,050
  • Kaplan University: Bachelor of Science in Nursing, tuition $30,077
  • Arizona State University: Bachelor of Arts in Business, Global Leadership, tuition $57,600

With the average college debt at graduation reaching $29,400, investing in a degree that yields a difference in hundreds of thousands over a lifetime may make pursuing an online education or campus-based program very much worth it. Plus, there are many other advantages to online education.

Like with campus-based programming, the credits from many online degrees at two-year schools can be transferred to state or university programs, and they also provide a good way for returning adult students to adapt. “With online programs, students can ease their way back into the educational environment while in the comfort of their own home or office,” Higgs says. “Not to mention, with work and families, commuting to campus can be difficult. I often hear comments that the time and money saved in gas by not having to commute, find sitters, and even change schedules is an incentive to students who really want and need to complete a degree or gain certification.”

Flexibility and new skills in online education

Online education also gives students the opportunity to have a full-time career and keep up with their studying and homework in the evenings, on weekends, or even on a lunch break. This simple ability to keep working may be why some students decide to enroll in an online program or even return to school at all.

Students may also feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts or comments on a discussion board, common to many online education programs, instead of speaking up in a class that is full of classmates or that has a time limitation of 60 or 90 minutes, thereby limiting discussion or follow-up reflection. “Not to mention, students are acquiring additional skill sets through the mastery of educational technologies as they navigate the online classroom and environment,” Higgs adds. “This is undoubtedly very beneficial in the evolving job market.”

Growing approval of online degrees

Success Stories

How did professionals choose their online degrees and start a successful career?

The credibility of online education has been growing, true for both students interested in advancing their education and college level academia. Schools across the country are expanding their offerings as students sign up to complete an online degree, hybrid program, or even just take a class or two online. At the Dallas County Community College District, with seven community colleges, growth in online programming continues each year, with a significant enrollment increase of 48 percent occurring from 2008 to 2009, according to Higgs. Some of this growth comes from students who want to complete a full degree or certificate online while others take classes as part of a campus-based program, she says. Indeed, the report “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,” shows that 6.7 million students had taken at least one online course by 2012.

Academic leaders are also describing online education as more and more viable. The “Changing Course” study shows that as of 2002, only 57.2 percent of academic leaders ranked the learning outcomes of online learning as the same or superior to campus-based learning, but by 2012, that number had increased to 77 percent. Students trying to find an answer to the question ‘Are Online Degrees Worth It?’ will want to take this evidence into consideration and be sure to check on the accreditation of a program when making a decision to enroll. Accreditation is typically granted through a regional accrediting agency, a professional accrediting body, or even the Distance Education Training Council. Many times, graduation from an accredited program is necessary to apply for related certification or licensing or is needed to transfer credits to an upper-level program. Also, it helps ensure that the quality of the program meets specific standards and promotes competency outcomes among enrolled students.

While it is difficult to predict the return on any investment, graduate level education is generally worth the financial and time commitment, whether the coursework is completed online or done in an actual classroom. Numerous studies show that people with advanced degrees earn more over their lifetime than those with an undergraduate education. Better career opportunities, a more rewarding career, and increase chances for advancement can be other benefits.

In fact, the median earnings of employees with a master’s, professional, or doctoral degree exceeds those with a bachelor’s degree on a weekly basis. By definition, professional degrees are those that prepare students for a particular profession, and include law degrees as well as credentials such as the Master of Fine Arts, Master of Engineering, and Master of Public Administration. When it comes to careers, people with advanced degrees are less likely to be unemployed, too, another advantage in a market that is just reaching an unemployment rate around a low six percent for the first time in several years. Take a look at the chart below.

Median weekly earnings Unemployment rate
Doctoral degree $1,623 2.2%
Professional degree $1,714 2.3%
Master’s degree $1,329 3.4%
Bachelor’s degree $1,108 4.0%

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Other evidence supporting this difference in pay comes from the “Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates” report issued by the U.S. Census every 10 years, which breaks down lifetime earnings on race and gender as well as education level. The lifetime earnings in millions for males and females are listed below, with male earnings listed first.

Bachelor’s Master’s Professional Doctoral
Hispanic $1.87m; $1.44m $2.50m; $2.02m $2.68m; $1.83m $2.77m; $2.29m
White $2.58m; $1.61m $2.95m; $2.00m $4.44m; $2.56m $3.40m; $2.54m
African-American $1.92m; $1.66m $2.32m; $2.10m $3.11m; $2.51m $2.58m; $2.62m
Asian $2.07m; $1.52m $3.12m; $2.16m $4.42m; $3.09m $3.35m; $2.64m

*Source: U.S. Census

More support for the advantage in pay comes from the Pew Research Center. This Washington, D.C.-based think tank shows that the median monthly income for those ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degrees grew by 13 percent from 1982 to 2009, while those of the same age with master’s degrees saw an increase of 23 percent. During that same period, the median monthly income for those with professional or doctoral degrees grew by an astonishing 34 percent, reaching roughly $5,799 a month. Still not sure that graduate level education can pay? Read on.

Cost savings and other benefits of online programs

At many schools and universities, online degrees cost about the same as campus-based learning, although there may be savings that are accrued in other ways. For example, at Seton Hall University, in South Orange, New Jersey, which has offered both an online and campus-based Master in Healthcare Administration since 1997, there is a slight financial advantage for students enrolled in the online program. “The graduate tuition ($1,099 per credit) is identical for both formats, however the fees are slightly lower for online students,” says Anne Hewitt, PhD, and graduate director of the school’s program.

That said, there are additional ways that students in graduate programs save when choosing online degrees over campus-based coursework. According to Hewitt, calculating these factors can be done by applying what she calls the opportunity costs concept. “If a student selects the on-campus option, that opportunity will cost them in many ways: 1) transportation costs, 2) time away from home and family responsibilities, 3) time away from their job, and 4) additional stress of managing the logistics, such as poor weather, parking, etc.” she adds. “The opportunity costs for online learning is much lower and the student retains the convenience of learning at their time and speed.”

Online learning may come with other advantages as well. As Hewitt points out, online education allows students to continue to work full-time, which can help make school more affordable. Also, students can do their coursework in the evening or on weekends, options that may be precluded by campus-based learning. Learning formats of online instruction can be beneficial, also.

For example, discussion boards, which mimic teacher-to-student and student-to-student dialogue in a physical classroom, and are a component in many online programs, give students the opportunity to access posts and review and reflect upon them later. Hewitt says that in some of her courses, a single topic in a unit can result in 350 or more posts, meaning that more students can contribute than during a limited class time. Another feature of online learning mimicking the classroom is webinars that allow students and faculty to meet synchronously. “Fortunately, even synchronous webinars can now be recorded, for those students who need to go back to review or who happened to miss a particular session,” Hewitt adds.

Growing acceptance of online graduate degrees

The reason that many students at the graduate level are selecting online education is that they have had success with it as an undergraduate. “This is especially true of the returning student to undergraduate and the student who maintains a part-time job to pay for their education,” Hewitt says. “It’s not a new experience for them. The number of students who are entering our MHA online program with prior online coursework has probably increased 50 percent in the last five years.”

Additionally, both students and employers are finding online degrees more credible, and this is occurring at a time when interest in graduate-level education is increasing. In fact, according to “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,” 6.7 million students had taken at least one online course by 2012. The acceptance of the online learning format by academic leaders has continued to grow as well. In 2002, just 57.2 percent of academic leaders rated learning outcomes as the same or superior to campus-based learning. By 2012, that number reached 77 percent. Similar growth can be seen at individual schools. For example, the MHA program at Seton Hall University has had a high retention rate and a graduation rate of over 95 percent, according to Hewitt.

Interest in graduate degree programs is also growing, although modestly. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of applications to graduate schools increased at an annual average rate of 4.5 percent, with many of the increases occurring in the health sciences. It’s important to evaluate these programs in advance, and as Hewitt points out, this can be done by looking at a school’s curriculum, faculty, residency options, and technology expertise. Students will also want to ensure that a graduate-level program has received accreditation either through a professional accrediting body, the Council for Higher Education, or the Distance Education Training Council. These bodies have studied the offerings of a school and verified that programs provide the quality and scope of education that they claim.

Online education can be quite economical. Not only do students save on gas money, parking fees, facility fees, and more, but the flexibility of online degrees also allows many to continue working full-time, offsetting much of their education costs. Still, higher education is an investment, however it is completed, and some students need help managing their costs. Thankfully, most online students are eligible for the same types of financial aid and scholarships available to those who report to a classroom, not to mention other ways to save.

Financial aid for online degrees

Financial aid can be an excellent way to lower education costs. This is true for both online and traditional students — but only if they know how it works (and where to find it). Here is a breakdown of some of the most common forms of financial aid for online degrees:

  • Grants. Grants are money that can be applied toward tuition, fees, books, and other eligible education costs. Some grants, like Pell Grants, are funded by the federal government; others, like California’s Cal Grants, are state managed. Students usually apply for these types of grants by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA (more on this below). Some students can also apply for discipline specific grants, particularly at the graduate level. The National Science Foundation, for instance, grants funds for eligible students pursuing certain types of research. Students should always read the fine print to determine if they are eligible for any type of grant.
  • Student loans. Unlike grants, student loans typically must be repaid once students have graduated, but usually at a fair interest rate. Both the government and private lenders offer student loans. Some federal loans are subsidized, which means the government pays students’ interest while they are in school. Subsidized loan eligibility depends on financial need. Many government loans are reserved for certain types of students. For instance, Stafford loans are reserved exclusively for undergraduate students, while PLUS loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. Students can apply for government loans by filling out a FAFSA. Private loans tend to vary, both in terms and interest, so it pays for students to do their research before applying.
  • Work-study plans. Work-study arrangements allow students to offset some of their education costs by working on campus. For online students attending schools headquartered very far away, work-study arrangements are impractical (if not downright impossible). For students earning online degrees from area colleges and universities, however, work-study arrangements may just work, though reporting to a campus might undermine many of the advantages of online learning.

How to apply for financial aid

For most students, the first step in applying for any kind of federal grant or loan is filling out a FAFSA. The process is relatively painless, and in most cases, students can submit their FAFSA applications online. Students should be prepared to accurately report their earnings and other personal information, such as their social security number. Unmarried students under the age of 23 (and who are not wards of the court) must typically provide this information for their parents, too. Once submitted, the government will determine the type and extent of aid for which students are eligible, then relay this data to students’ schools for processing. It is important to note all deadlines, since students who submit their FAFSAs late often lose aid. Errors can also be costly, to it pays to double- or triple-check applications before submitting them.

Note that some types of financial aid, like private loans or special grants (like NSF grants), have their own application processes. Students can learn more by contacting their schools’ financial aid offices (even with online schools), and by conducting their own research online.

Scholarships for online degrees

Scholarships can also reduce or even eliminate education costs. Unlike grants, scholarships are not typically government-tied, and are not always tied to financial need. The following are just a few common types of scholarships:

  • Need-based scholarships . Need-based scholarships are tied to financial need, but earnings thresholds may be more generous than those of grants and other types of need-based aid.
  • Merit-based scholarships. Merit-based scholarships award students money based on some type of achievement rather than demonstrated financial need. These can include athletic, artistic, and academic achievements, among others. Some schools and organizations even offer “full ride” scholarships for students who demonstrate exceptional talent, which means they will cover all of a student’s tuition and fees, and, often, most other educational costs.
  • Special interest scholarships. Some scholarships are reserved for students who meet a certain profile. They may be dependent on race, religion, or geographical region, for instance. Scholarships for first-generation college students are also popular, as are those reserved for students pursuing a certain type of discipline. Some organizations also offer scholarships for students whose families work in certain industries or for certain companies. Some scholarships are even reserved specifically for online students.

How to find scholarships

Many different types of organizations can offer scholarships for online degrees, including schools, private companies, nonprofit organizations, and more. Because scholarships, and their grantors, are so diverse, there is no simple application process like the FAFSA (though some organizations ask students to submit their FAFSA applications along with their scholarship applications, especially when funds depend on financial need). School financial aid offices are an excellent place to begin one’s search for scholarships, particularly online degree scholarships. There are also several online scholarship search tools, like FastWeb or Scholarships.com.

More ways to save on online degrees

There are a number of ways to reduce costs regardless of a program’s price tag. Grants, loans, and scholarships are among the best-known sources of financial aid, but there are many other, often overlooked programs that can help, too. The following are just a few of them:

  • Military education benefits. There are a number of programs designed to help active military service members, veterans, and military family members manage their education costs. Some of the best known programs are the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and Tuition Assistance, but there are plenty of schools and organizations that fund additional grants and scholarships for military service. Service members and veterans can learn more about their options by visiting their Department of Veterans Affairs regional office, or by visiting their schools’ financial aid offices, which can usually counsel students through the process.
  • Employer tuition assistance and reimbursement. One of the perks of attending school online is its flexibility — especially if that flexibility allows students to continue to work while completing their educations. This is doubly true for students who work for companies offering education benefits, like tuition assistance or reimbursement. Employer-sponsored programs vary, but often require students to pursue a discipline related to their field of work, and to maintain a certain grade point average. Students should contact their companies’ human resources departments to learn more about potential benefits (and the fine print surrounding them).
  • Residency matters. Another key benefit of online degrees is students’ ability to study what they want, from whatever institution they want, without regard for geography. Indeed, many online schools charge students the same tuition regardless of their state residency status — but not all of them. Some schools charge in-state students less, especially in the case of campus-based universities that offer both online and traditional degrees. It can be helpful to keep this in mind when price-shopping potential schools, online or otherwise.
  • Tuition variation. Sometimes a school’s type and location can drive costs, regardless of where its students live. Private institutions often charge more than public schools, for instance, but costs can vary tremendously even among public institutions. Tools like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center, The National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator, and CollegeMeasures.org can make price-shopping various schools a snap, though not all of them allow students to compare online degree programs specifically. There really is no substitute for independent research.

Need financial aid help?

Finding and applying for financial aid can be a challenge, but it’s worthwhile. Thankfully there is no shortage of help for those who need it. Most colleges — including online schools — have entire financial aid offices staffed with professionals dedicated to helping students identify different types of aid and discern eligibility, making this an excellent place to get started. Students looking for employer-sponsored programs can consult their human resource representatives, and military service members and veterans can turn to their regional VA offices for assistance.

  • Average Published Undergraduate Charges by Sector, 2013-14, The College Board, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-published-undergraduate-charges-sector-2013-14
  • Associate of science in business administration, New England College of Business, http://www.necb.edu/associates-degree-business-administration-online.cfm
  • Business, Global Leadership, Arizona State University, http://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/undergraduate/bachelor-arts-business-global-leadership “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,” Babson Survey Research Group, the Sloan Consortium, Pearson, 2012, http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf
  • College Affordability and Transparency Center, U.S. Department of Education, http://collegecost.ed.gov/
  • College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  • CollegeMeasures.org, American Institutes for Research, Matrix Knowledge Group, http://collegemeasures.org/
  • Course Catalog, UC Berkeley Extension, Univeristy of California Berkeley, http://extension.berkeley.edu/search/publicCourseAdvancedSearch.do?method=load
  • Cost and Financial Aid. Online Consortium, University of Texas System, http://www.utcoursesonline.org/enrollmentservices/costandfinancialaid/
  • Cost of Attendance, University of California Berkeley, http://admissions.berkeley.edu/costofattendance
  • Costs – Master of Business Administration, World Campus, Penn State University, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificates/penn-state-online-mba-degree-program/costs
  • E-mail interview. Anne Hewitt, PhD, graduate director of Master in Healthcare Administration Program, Seton Hall University
  • E-mail interview. La’Kendra Higgs, registrar, Dallas County Community College District
  • Earnings and Unemployment Rate by Educational Attainment, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
  • Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates , U.S. Census, 2011, http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acs-14.pdf
  • Education and Training, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/
  • Find Funding, National Science Foundation, http://www.nsf.gov/funding/
  • “For Millennials, a bachelor’s degree continues to pay off, but a master’s earns even more,” Pew Research Center, 2014, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/28/for-millennials-a-bachelors-degree-continues-to-pay-off-but-a-masters-earns-even-more/
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, https://fafsa.ed.gov/
  • “Grade Change: Tracking Online education in the United States,” Online Learning Survey, January, 2014, I. Elaine Allen, Jeff Seaman, http://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/gradechange.pdf
  • “Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2002 to 2012,” Council of Graduate Schools, 2013, http://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/GEDReport_2012.pdf
  • Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina, 2014, http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/admissions/mba/tuition-financial-aid
  • MBA Costs: Pullman, Carson College of Business, Washington State University, 2014, http://mba.wsu.edu/Pages/Costs.aspx
  • Professional Degrees, Cornell University Graduate School, http://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/requirements/professional-degrees
  • The Project on Student Debt, http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-data.php
  • Scholarships, FastWeb, http://www.fastweb.com/college-scholarships
  • Scholarship Search, Scholarships.com, https://www.scholarships.com/scholarship-search.aspx
  • Tuition, Office of Business Affairs, University of Texas Arlington, x https://www.scholarships.com/scholarship-search.aspx
  • Tuition and Expenses, SMEAL College of Business, Penn State University, 2014, http://www.smeal.psu.edu/mba/admission/tuition-and-financial-support
  • Tuition and Fees, Kaplan University, http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/paying-school/tuition-fees.aspx
  • Tuition & Fees, Online MBA, College of Business, Washington State University, 2014, http://omba.wsu.edu/docs/WSU_MBA_Tuition_Supplement.pdf
  • Tuition & Financial Aid, MBA@UNC, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina, 2014, http://onlinemba.unc.edu/admissions/tuition-financial-aid/
  • Tuition Estimator, Penn State Online, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/tuition-and-financial-aid/tuition-estimator
  • U.S Unemployment Rate, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

Succeeding With An Online Degree

Online degrees have come a long way in the last decade. Today, many of the nation’s universities have jumped on the e-learning bandwagon, offering students the opportunity to earn a prestigious degree from the comfort and convenience of their own home. But even with this growing acceptance in academia, many students still worry if an online degree program can hold as much weight in the job market as a traditional one. For those interested in pursuing an online credential, but unsure of how it will look to potential employers, we’ve answered a few of the common questions concerning online degrees in the workplace.

  1. Are online degrees accepted and respected by employers?
  2. Can I get a job with an online degree? How do I prepare?
  3. What is a virtual internship?

Online degrees have made a lot of progress in the last several years, both in terms of the education they provide and the reputation they carry in the workforce. Today’s employers view most online degrees the same way they view degrees that are earned in the traditional way, in that the school that issued the degree tends to matter more than whether or not it was earned in a brick-and-mortar classroom.

Naturally, there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure that an individual online degree is worth pursuing. Here are a few vital details about reputable online colleges, as well as some insight into the general standing of certain online degrees in the real world.

How online education can enhance careers

Workforce statistics are pretty clear: education pays. According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals with a bachelor’s degree earned around 70 percent more than those with just a high school diploma in 2013. Here’s how the rest of the year’s median annual salary figures break down by education level:

  • High school diploma: $33,852
  • Some college, no degree: $37,804
  • Associate degree: $40,404
  • Bachelor’s degree: $57,616
  • Master’s degree: $69,108
  • Professional degree: $89,128

The numbers speak for themselves. With the improving reputation of online degrees in the workforce, it makes more sense than ever for students to continue their education online.

Online master’s degrees are particularly good for professionals already working in their chosen career field. Continuous work experience can look good on a resume, and certain online degrees — online MBAs, for example — have been in workforce rotation for so long that employers hardly notice whether the degree was earned online or in person.

Are online degrees respected by all employers?

Employers have brightened considerably toward online degrees in the last decade or so, but that unfortunately doesn’t mean that the attitude of acceptance is present in every human resources department. A 2014 story by US News and World Report indicates that negative perceptions of online degrees may still exist in about 25 percent of companies.

A few academic reviews of online learning literature have discovered employers with negative opinions of online degrees tend to harbor the same few conventional stigmas. Here are a few of the most common ones, along with some helpful details about the online education experience that might help debunk these misconceptions:

Common stigma #1: “Online students don’t interact with classmates or professors and never learn how to communicate professionally.”

The truth is that dedicated students in online courses find themselves in nearly constant communication with professors and classmates, whether over email, on message boards, via telephone, or with videoconferencing software. Sure, an online degree might be accomplished without a high level of connectivity, but the same could also be said for most types of degrees earned on campus.

Common stigma #2: “Students don’t learn discipline in online programs because it’s so easy to cheat.”

It’s actually far from easy to cheat in online courses. “Distance learning institutions verify the identity of students when they access the learning management system,” says Dr. Patrick Jones, vice provost at Excelsior College, “and have implemented a host of fraud detection capabilities in recent years, such as keystroke speed, eye-tracking software, and plagiarism detection technology. The sheer number of assessment events within an online course provide ample opportunity for an instructor to detect anomalies.”

Common stigma #3: “Courses that lead to online degrees are less rigorous than those in traditional programs.”

Academic rigor is the same sort of spectrum for online universities as it is for traditional schools. “Specialized and regional accreditation agencies evaluate the rigor and quality of online and traditional degree programs based on the same standards,” Dr. Jones says. Accreditation is an important point to cover, so here’s some more about it and how it can help students identify reputable online programs.

Accreditation: The true academic standard

At least a portion of employers’ negative attitudes toward online degrees probably stems from the “diploma mill” institutes that soiled the reputation of distance learning long before online school came on the scene. Predatory pseudo-schools do still exist, but the Web makes it possible to double-check an institution’s credentials before you get caught in a trap.

Higher education accreditation in the U.S. is typically overseen by regional organizations, although some institutions are accredited by national or specialized accrediting bodies. Here are a few sources students can use for more info on the accreditation process, or to verify that a certain school is legitimately accredited:

  • U.S. Department of Education’s Overview of Accreditation
  • Council for Higher Education Accreditation Database
  • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs

In addition to the school being accredited, it also tends to be important to employers that the degree-granting institution has a name they recognize. Plenty of respected traditional institutions are offering online degrees, these days; make sure to do plenty of research and the right decision should make itself clear.

People are sometimes hesitant to pursue an online degree because of the misconception that these credentials may not be accepted or respected by employers. The truth is that perceptions of online degrees have been changing in the last several years, and employers are coming to understand that the virtual classroom can provide just as valuable an education as a traditional campus.

Not only are perceptions changing, but more and more established universities are jumping on the online degree bandwagon. Here’s some detailed info about today’s offerings in online education and the changing perspectives on their value in the workplace.

Knowledge is high priority

For most employers, a candidate’s knowledge areas and skill proficiencies far outweigh the details of their degree. Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at digital marketing agency Blue Fountain Media, echoes this sentiment.

“As a general rule of thumb,” says Lambert, “I focus on the skillset and experience the prospect communicates to me before even looking to see what they got their degree in and where.”

What’s more, the numbers show that Ms. Lambert is not alone. A 2013 survey by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation indicates that 84 percent of business leaders polled put more emphasis on the knowledge a candidate possesses than on such details as whether a degree was earned online or on campus.

The Gallup/Lumina survey also uncovered an encouraging statistic about getting a job with an online degree. Poll results showed that 54 percent of employers and business leaders report that they’re actually more likely to hire candidates with online degrees than those who went to traditional schools, all else being equal.

Why perceptions are changing

Some students may remember the media frenzy over massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that took hold of the national education consciousness in 2012. All the press coverage about MOOCs and how they were set to change the face of education helped spread awareness of online education among academics, employers, and the public alike.

Some well-regarded traditional universities were offering online degrees before the MOOC blitz, and even more got into the game afterward. With the growing number of respected institutions offering online degrees, the respectability of online degrees themselves continues to rise.

Employers gaining direct experience with hard-working online graduates doesn’t hurt either. “Individuals with online degrees get tasks done faster,” says Lambert, “and are less affected by distractions.”

Overcoming workforce challenges

Improving perceptions aside, an online degree is no more of a ticket to an automatic job after graduation than a traditional degree. Here’s a rundown of some of the common challenges that online degree holders might face when entering the workforce.

How do I display my degree on my resume?

There’s no need to put an asterisk after the name of your alma mater if you earned your degree online. List the degree just as it appears on the certificate you received at graduation, and make sure to include any specific skills or knowledge areas studied in the same way you would if you’d attended brick-and-mortar classes.

How can I supplement my degree with “hands-on” work?

Some online degree programs at colleges and universities offer hybrid classes, wherein a portion of the coursework is completed at a nearby campus or another associated learning facility. Current or former online students can also seek out internships, either traditional or virtual, or apply for volunteer work at an agency in their chosen field.

How do I prove my degree is “real”?

Employers today understand that your degree is a “real” degree if it comes from an accredited institution. Accreditation is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing an online school. If a school doesn’t show up on the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, it might be what’s known as a “diploma mill” and should be avoided.

Career services at online schools

A potential lack of career services may also warn some students off of online education, but those services are becoming more and more available every day. At many online schools, students can now access job portals, career coaching, resume assistance, job interview training, recruiter partnerships, and other related resources.

Penn Foster Career School is one example of an online institution that provides job services to its students and alumni. According to Penn Foster’s website, nearly 80 percent of their graduates who found work in their field of study did so in three months or less.

The last word on getting a job with an online degree

This is perhaps the most important thing for online students to remember: if your online school is accredited and you dedicate yourself to your education, there’s no reason employers won’t be interested.

It’s a point that HR Director Lambert went out of her way to stress: “Again, I strongly believe that it is not where or how you got your degree but what you did and do with it that matters most. What you took away from your learning experience and how you applied it to your career and skillset is what employers look for.”

To see the supervisor at her last internship, Kendall Murtha had to go hang out on her Google+ account. It was either that or wait until their monthly dinner appointment.

It wasn’t that Murtha’s supervisor was AWOL or negligent. Instead, it was because Murtha is one of a new breed of virtual interns. Rather than head to an office or job site, virtual interns connect with employers either online, via Skype, or on the phone, and then complete their assigned duties on their own.

Online internships are an increasingly popular way for college students to conveniently gain professional experience. A 2013 report from Internships.com found 33 percent of employers had hired virtual interns, an increase of 20 percent from the year before. In addition, 71 percent of students said they would consider a virtual internship.

Murtha, a senior at Colgate University, says she has this advice for students considering virtual internships: “Absolutely take advantage of these opportunities.”

Online internships connect students and businesses

Just as there are many different types of regular internships, there are also many varieties of online internships. For Murtha, her three virtual internships involved monitoring social media accounts, drafting correspondence, and conducting research. Other companies may bring on interns for tasks related to web development, sales, and public relations.

Of course, it isn’t just interns who benefit from the opportunity to work virtually. Angela Hood, the founder and CEO of ThisWay Global, a startup being incubated at ideaSpace – University of Cambridge, says her company has benefited from having a larger pool of talent from which to pull interns.

“We want input from talented people from all over the world, and virtual internships allow us access to people we would not have been able to reach otherwise,” she says.

Recent interns for ThisWay Global have done branding work and coordinated voiceovers, among other things.

Only self-starters need apply

However, having a virtual internship may not be for everyone. With no on-site accountability, individuals must have the self-discipline to stay on task and on schedule.

“Self-reliant students who are looking for opportunities to work independently and are comfortable communicating through email and phone calls should consider virtual internships,” says Yair Riemer, Chief Marketing Officer with CareerArc Group, which includes Internships.com.

Hood adds that even self-reliant students need clear direction to be successful. Her company relies on Skype to communicate regularly with their virtual interns and establishes up front what is acceptable and unacceptable in terms of product delivery. Ultimately, online internships do an excellent job of weeding out poor candidates quickly.

“This format lets you quickly determine which people are self-starters and self-motivated, and which people are not,” explains Hood.

Murtha adds that regular communication is vital to a successful internship, “One of the best tips my old boss gave me was that status updates, even if you don’t hear back, are always appreciated.”

Where to find virtual internships

Internships.com has an extensive listing of virtual internships, which is where Murtha found all three of her online positions. However, opportunities can also be found on a number of other internship and job websites. Of these, InternMatch.com may be among the most prominent.

Students shouldn’t get discouraged if there are limited opportunities for virtual internships in their particular field. The number of companies offering online internships for college students is increasing dramatically.

“Employers are now realizing the potential they have to work with students all across the country and are becoming more comfortable with the many ways that are available to communicate with them,” says Riemer. “That, combined with the flexibility inherent for both students and employers, has led to a surge.”

Questions to ask first

Since every virtual internship is different, it is critical students understand what is expected both of them and of the company before they start.

Riemer suggests students ask the following questions before signing up for an online internship:

  • Who is the point of contact?
  • What is the preferred method of communication?
  • Is the work schedule flexible or are interns expected to be working at specific times?
  • What type of work will be assigned?
  • Will feedback be provided and how will be that be conveyed?

“The more questions you ask and have answered up front, the better your internship experience will be,” says Riemer.

When successful, a virtual internship is a win-win for employers and students alike. Businesses get access to fresh talent while students have the opportunity to gain professional experience for their resume. Riemer suggests a virtual internship can also be a great way for college seniors to extend their summer internship into the fall and keep in touch with potential future employers.

Murtha, with three virtual internships under her belt and plans to graduate next spring, undoubtedly hopes Riemer is right. But either way, the college senior says her experiences have been worth it.

“Every virtual internship I took on helped me gain skills relevant to my ideal career path,” she notes, which may be why virtual internships should make the short list of experiences every college student should consider having before graduation.

2014 Virtual Internships, InternMatch.com, https://www.internmatch.com/s/virtual-internships

Angela Hood, Founder/CEO of ThisWay Global, Interview with the author on July 30, 2014
Career Services, Penn Foster Career School, http://www.pennfoster.edu/career-school/career-services
“Earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment,” Employment Projections, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
Email interview, Dr. Patrick Jones, June 26, 2014
Email interview, Samantha Lambert, July 30, 2014
“Employer Perceptions of Online Degrees: A Literature Review,” Online Journal of Distance Learning, Norina L. Columbaro and Catherine H. Monaghan, www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring121/columbaro121/
“How Employers View Your Online Bachelor’s Degree,” U.S. News & World Report, Devon Haynie, March 4, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/articles/2014/02/28/what-employers-really-think-about-your-online-bachelors-degree
Internships Survey and 2013 Internship Trend, Internships.com, http://www.internships.com/eyeoftheintern/news/idc-news/internships-survey-2013-internship-trends/
Kendall Murtha, Interview with the author on July 30, 2014
“Today’s business leaders say ‘It’s what you know, not where you go’ when making hiring decisions, new study shows,” Lumina Foundation, February 25, 2014, http://www.luminafoundation.org/newsroom/news_releases/2014-02-25/
Yair Riemer, Chief Marketing Officer, CareerArc Group, Interview with the author on July 30, 2014

How To Earn Your General Education Requirements Online

Most college degree programs typically have certain general course requirements. These courses may include life and physical sciences, history, humanities, math and English, and foreign language. Known as general education or core requirements, these courses can take two to three years to complete.

Can I Take General Education Courses Online?

If you’re working full time and/or have a family, this might discourage you from getting your degree — but don’t let it. Online general education courses make it possible to take these courses without having to attend college.

Because of the flexibility associated with online programs, taking your general education courses online can help you finish them at your own pace, in the convenience of your own home, allowing you to balance work, life and family commitments.

Purdue University Global

  • Experience world-class education online with more than 175 programs at associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.
  • Apply eligible work experience and prior college credits toward up to 75% of your undergraduate degree.
  • You have the option of trying out a Purdue Global undergraduate program for an introductory 3-week period. There’s no cost beyond the application fee.
  • Competency-based ExcelTrack™ programs may allow you to earn your degree faster and for less money

What Are General Education Courses?

The curriculum for undergraduate programs is typically divided into two parts:

  • General education courses
  • The major field of study

General education courses can be further divided into two components:

  • Core classes, which are mandatory for all undergraduate students. The core curriculum is usually designed to ensure students receive a basic education in foundational topics like math and English.
  • Electives from a specified list that usually includes an assortment of subjects like art appreciation, science and social sciences. The number of electives you need to choose can depend on your degree program.

If you haven’t decided on a major, you may want to look at choosing general education courses that allow you to explore these subjects. For example, you may be interested in psychology as well as English literature. General education courses on those topics may help you decide if you want to major in English or psychology.

If you have decided on your major, you may want to choose electives that complement your major or might enhance your employability in the career you wish to pursue. For example, if you are studying engineering and want to work in academia, a technical writing course may be a good fit. Learning a foreign language may complement a travel and tourism degree.

What Is The Purpose of General Education Courses?

General education courses are designed to provide a broad interdisciplinary education that can help students develop life skills, improve employability and become an informed citizen. In the words of Harvard philosophy professor Sean Kelly, general education courses can help students be “prepared to enter the broader world and to aspire to live a good life in it.”

Apart from giving students a well-rounded education, general education courses can provide students with skills employers want. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 82 percent of employers looked for candidates with problem-solving skills — something that can be learned through general education courses. And these courses can also help you develop other skills employers usually desire, such as communication and interpersonal skills along with analytical, creative, and technical abilities.

Another benefit: You may discover new interests through your online general education courses.

What Factors Should I Consider When Choosing General Education Courses?

Whether or not you’ve decided on a degree program, here are a few factors that are important to consider:

Credit Transfers

If you intend to transfer or apply your credits toward a formal degree program, it’s important that you take your online general education courses from an accredited school. You may find that some state universities actually have cooperative programs with community colleges making it easier to transfer credits earned. While credits for general education core courses that meet certain criteria are generally transferable, schools may not accept elective credits toward a specific degree program. Be sure to explore their transferability before you enroll.

Online Course Format

Many general education courses offered online are asynchronous, which means you can access the course material at any time that is convenient to you. Synchronous classes require you to be available at a certain time online to participate in a live class. Blended or hybrid programs require you to attend some classes in-person and others online. Look for a format that works best with your schedule.

GPA Boost

Selecting a lighter elective can add a little fun to your college experience and alleviate some of the stress of a busy semester. It may also be a somewhat easier to earn a good grade in the class – something that could boost your GPA. However, be aware that not all schools accept transfer credits for all types of courses, so choose wisely.

How Many General Education Courses Do I Need To Take?

The number of general education courses required can vary depending on your college or university and degree. However, you can expect them to cover a third or even half of the credits (typically between 42-60 semester-based college credits of the total 130 – 180 credits) required for your undergraduate degree.

For example, a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree may require more liberal arts and humanities electives compared to a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree, which may require fewer electives and a concentration or specialization instead of general electives. Some highly technical degrees may require fewer general education courses.

Non-credit general education courses

If you want to learn new skills or pursue an interest that falls out of the scope of your degree program and electives offered, you might consider taking non-credit courses online for your personal development – something that could culminate in a certificate of completion. It is important to remember, however, that non-credit courses do not count toward your degree requirements and are not eligible for federal financial aid.

When Do I Need To Complete My General Education Courses?

Typically, colleges allow students to complete their general education course requirements any time throughout the degree program. To make it easier for students, some colleges offer them online with multiple starting dates throughout the year. For example, Penn State University offers online general education courses at a discount during the summer sessions to help students stay on track for their degree requirements.

Students can complete these courses online before they enroll in a degree program or after they finish their specific major requirements. Some states like Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma have concurrent enrollment schemes that allow you to earn college credits for your general education courses while still finishing high school.

General Education Course Topics

The university or degree program usually has a set of goals or learning outcomes they expect their students to achieve through taking general education classes. Broadly, most universities expect their students to cultivate the following basic skills through general education:

  • Analytical reading and elucidative writing: Students learn to read and understand complex subjects and describe them
  • Critical thinking: Students learn to understand the nuances of reasoning and distinguish logical reasoning from defective
  • Mathematics: Students understand mathematical ideas and quantifiable reasoning
  • Oral communication: Students can verbally communicate their ideas and thoughts clearly

Typical subject areas and courses are:


Many degree programs require up to six credits in English. Courses is this broad area may help you develop your presentation skills, be able to clearly convey your ideas and defend them, and be able to plan, outline, write and edit your work. Some potential classes are:

  • Contemporary literature
  • Poetry appreciation
  • Academic or technical writing
  • College composition


General education math requirements can vary depending on your major. Math courses may help you interpret statistical data and graphs and use the information from them in your work. You can also gain an understanding of the mathematical process and prove simple results using them. Some examples of math courses are:

  • College algebra
  • Principles of mathematics
  • Statistics


General electives in science can give you an understanding of how the materials in the world around you interact and they can even help you in your daily life. A basic understanding of biology, for example, may help you explain your symptoms to a doctor clearly. Some courses you might take are:

  • Principles of scientific thought
  • Earth science
  • Biology

Social Sciences

Social sciences can help you gain an insight into human relationships and help you apply your learnings in your daily interactions with other people. You may also learn how social interactions have changed over time and their diversity in different cultures. Courses may cover:

  • Sociology
  • History
  • Political science

Arts and Humanities

General education classes in this subject area are designed to help students appreciate human history and knowledge as well as how ideas are expressed through art, literature, music and philosophy. You may find courses such as:

  • Modern film
  • Introduction to music
  • Fine art appreciation
  • Religion
  • Philosophy

Apart from these main categories, you may also find general education courses online in covering topics like theology, personal wellness, foreign languages, gender studies and technology.


  • Benefits Of Concurrent Enrollment, Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/12/concurrent-enrollment.asp, accessed September 2018 Dual Enrollment In Your State, LetsHomeSchoolHighSchool.com, 2017, https://letshomeschoolhighschool.com/2012/07/15/dual-enrollment-in-your-state/
  • General Education, Concordia University Irvine, https://online.cui.edu/degrees/general-education, accessed August 2018 General Education Student Learning Outcomes, California State University Northridge, https://catalog.csun.edu/general-education/student-learning-outcomes/, accessed August 2018
  • Select online General Education courses offered at special rate for summer 2017, 2017, Penn State News, https://news.psu.edu/story/459610/2017/03/31/select-online-general-education-courses-offered-special-rate-summer-2017
  • The Key Attributes Employers Seek on Students’ Resumes, 2017, https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/press/2017/the-key-attributes-employers-seek-on-students-resumes/, National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
  • What is the Difference between a BA and a BS?, Grand Canyon University, https://blogs.gcu.edu/blog/what-is-the-difference-between-a-ba-and-a-bs/ What Is the Purpose of Taking General Classes for a College Degree?, Seattle Pi, https://education.seattlepi.com/purpose-taking-general-classes-college-degree-1876/, accessed August 2018

Earning a Degree Online

Earning-a-degree-online Better technology tools, improved online learning curriculum and professors better trained to deliver successful experiences to online students — all of which are paving the way to make it easier for students who want to earn a degree online. The popularity of online degree programs is set to boom with colleges and universities across the country introducing more online versions of traditional, on-campus programs. There are thousands of quality degree program choices for those thinking of earning a degree online. A study by Quality Matters, a nationally-recognized nonprofit organization that assures online program quality, states that “online enrollment has continued to outpace overall enrollment in U.S. higher education, fueling greater student and institutional interest”. According to findings from Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, 64 percent of higher education administrators chose to increase degree program accessibility by creating online programs on par with their existing on-campus programs. College administrators are also adding new features to their online offerings and implementing marketing strategies to attract more online students, according to a 2018 survey by the Learning House. The increasing popularity of online degree programs along with improvements in their quality has opened access to higher education to a variety of people for whom attending a campus-program would have been nigh impossible. These include:

  • Working professionals looking to earn an online degree for career advancement
  • Career changers looking to switch to a career that has better earning potential
  • Those with family or other commitments have greater flexibility to balance their commitments and earn their degree online

No matter what the motivation to enroll in an online degree program might be, we are sure you have plenty of questions. How do these online degree programs stack up to their on-campus counterparts? And what options are available to online students today? Here you can find the answers to these and more frequently asked questions.

What are the advantages of an online degree program?

There are numerous advantages of studying online. Some of them are:

  • Flexibility: Most online degree programs allow students to study when it is most convenient to them as long as assignments are submitted on time. This means you can still adhere to work, family or other commitments while earning a degree.
  • No commute: Online degree programs do away with commuting to a class allowing you to study from wherever you might be — as long as you have access to the Internet, of course. Students not only save time by avoiding the commute, but the cost of gas, and parking fees. Additional wear and tear on a car is eliminated, and those who are parents can circumvent costs for childcare. Imagine never needing to brave bad weather driving to your campus!
  • Learn without distractions: Online classes allow you to learn at your own pace without distractions and go over coursework as many times as you need to before moving on.
  • Demonstrate your commitment to your field: Earning your degree despite other commitments can show potential employers you are serious about your field and have the dedication necessary to acquire the knowledge you need to succeed.
  • Demonstrate technical skills: Online degree programs may require you to develop new computer skills. This may show potential employers that you are comfortable with technology and are not afraid to learn new skills in general.
  • Advance your career: Earning an online degree may help working professionals make a career change or move up the career ladder in their own field.
  • Increase earning potential: Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows median earnings increase with higher educational attainment, as does the likelihood of working in management or other professional job roles. For example, weekly earnings of an associate degree holder in 2018 was reported to $862, while those who possessed a bachelor’s degree was $1,198; while weekly earnings of those with a master’s degree were $1,434.

Apart from the benefits mentioned above, online degree programs may let you work full-time, transfer credits, use your work experience toward your degree, which may work toward potential savings in time and money. We discuss these benefits in more detail in the sections below.

Can I still work a full-time job while studying for my online degree?

As crazy as it sounds, it is possible to work full-time and study full-time simultaneously. Possible — but not necessarily easy. Studying for your degree while working full-time requires dedication and a clear view of what you want to achieve. Online degree programs typically allow you to access your classes in your free time so you may utilize your lunch breaks, evenings, weekends and even travel-time to catch up with your education. A few tips for students earning an online degree to help you balance work, family and education:

  • Draw up a study schedule and stick to it. Make sure your family and friends know your study hours so you aren’t disturbed.
  • Schedule your vacation time from work around your exam times or when you know you have a major assignment due to help reduce stress.
  • Keep your employer in the loop — you might just be pleasantly surprised about how encouraging they are.
  • Use every spare minute possible — listen to audio lectures while working out or catch up on reading material on the train.

It may also be important to stay in touch with your online college as they may be able to help you reschedule coursework or take a mini break if work commitments put too much of a strain on you.

What kinds of degree programs are offered online?

You can find a wide range of online programs including art and design , business and management , hospitality and culinary arts , liberal arts and humanities , engineering and architecture , healthcare and nursing , law and criminal justice , computer and technology , as well as education and teaching . According to Schools.com there are 2,325 colleges offering numerous online degree programs. Online programs can usually be found as:

  • Online certificate programs: Not to be confused with professional certifications, these certificate programs are non-degree programs that typically take up to a year to complete. They can act as an introduction to a particular subject and can allow you to apply the skills you learn directly to the workplace.
  • Online associate degrees : Associate degree programs typically consist of general education courses as well as classes specific to your major. Associate degree programs may be terminal degree programs or designed to prepare you to transfer to a four-year college to complete a bachelor’s degree.
  • Online bachelor’s degrees : Bachelor’s degree programs typically build on the topics in an associate degree program to delve in-depth into your chosen field of study. The BLS estimates that about a fourth of the labor force in the country hold a bachelor’s degree only. Additionally, it projects that the employment in occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry-level roles is expected to grow at 10 percent which is faster than the seven percent for others.
  • Online master’s degrees : Master’s degree programs typically focus on advanced topics in your field of study. The BLS predicts that occupations that require a master’s degree are projected to grow by almost 17 percent from 2016 to 2026.
  • Online doctoral degrees : These are typically the highest academic degrees awarded. Of the 101 occupations typically requiring a graduate degree, 63 are likely to require a doctoral or professional degree for entry-level positions.

What are some of the best degrees to earn online?

This is a rather subjective question. Naturally, the “best” online degree would be the one most suited to your needs and interests. That being said, there are some degree programs that lend themselves well to online study. According to a 2018 report by the Learning House, business degree programs are the most popular among online students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Popular undergraduate online degree programs included psychology and computer science while popular graduate degree program choices included the fields of nursing, education, computer science and social work. Additionally, any good online degree program should be accredited or offered by an accredited online college. If you want to explore online degree programs in more depth, have a look at our article on the Best Online Degrees for 2019 where we’ve ranked online degree programs by looking at factors like accessible education, strong job prospects and earning potential.

What are some of the easiest degrees to earn online?

Answering this question might require reviewing the definition of the word “easy” and in what context it is used. It is hard to list the easiest degrees to earn online because: What is easy for some may not be easy for others: A popular view is that liberal arts degree programs are “easy” while STEM-based majors are difficult. However, the ease of earning a degree is completely subjective and can vary from individual to individual. For example, someone with an aptitude for math may not find a degree program in English easy. Some degree programs are conducive to online learning: Some fields are easier to study online because the curriculum contains subjects that may not need practical or in-person instruction, so you may not need to travel to a brick-and-mortar facility at any point during your study. “Easy” can mean a reduced load of coursework: Another aspect that might make earning a degree online easier is being able to transfer credits from any previous college program you may have taken toward completing you current degree. According to the Online Learning Consortium, many online degree programs also evaluate “alternative credentials” for college credit, so you can make your life experience count. This may make your course load lighter and therefore make it easier to earn your degree online.

How long does it take to get a degree online?

The time taken to earn a degree online may depend on several factors like whether you are studying full-time or part-time, the number of transferable credits you may be able to apply to your degree program which can generally help to reduce the time to degree completion. Time toward degree completion can vary for part-time online students depending on the individual situation and capacities. Usually, those who are studying full-time, take as long to complete an online degree program as their on-campus counterparts:

  • An online associate degree program may take you two years
  • An online bachelor’s degree program may take you four years
  • An online master’s program may take up to two years
  • An online doctoral program can usually take between three to seven years of full-time study

Some online colleges also offer accelerated degree options that may help you complete the required curriculum within a shorter time frame.

What’s the difference between an online and a hybrid degree program?

The only difference between an online degree program and a hybrid program is that hybrid programs require on-campus attendance for certain practical components of the program; whereas online degree programs are 100% online — students need not step on-campus at all. Hybrid degree programs are also known as blended programs and are normally used for degree programs that require practical instruction. Students in blended or hybrid programs usually study theory-based topics online and attend classes on campus for discussions, seminars or practical study. Many science-based, medical and teaching degree programs incorporate this model. Some online colleges may allow you to complete the practical aspects of your degree program at an approved center close to your place of residence, while others may require you to attend short residencies on-campus. Both online and hybrid programs involve interactions with professors and peers through discussion boards, emails and Skype sessions. Online formats may be:

  • Asynchronous: In this format students can access lectures, discussion boards and forums at times that are most convenient to them. Research by Quality Matters shows that online courses are overwhelmingly asynchronous.
  • Synchronous: Synchronous classes are classes that are held at a fixed time. So while students still access their classes remotely, they still need to be present at a particular time to attend the class virtually.

Online learning versus traditional: Which is better?

Deciding whether to earn a degree online or in a more traditional brick-and-mortar setting may pose quite a problem for some. In terms of the quality of instruction you receive, online degree programs are on par with traditional programs. According to a survey of online students conducted by the Learning House, 85 percent of online students (who had previously attended face-to-face classes) felt that their experience in an online course was actually better than their experience in a more traditional setting and 86 percent felt that the value of education they received met or exceeded the cost. Other advantages of an online degree program lie in the flexibility they allow you in terms of study-time and accessibility. Online degree programs may work well if you are self-driven and have the dedication to see your program through to completion. If you work better in a structured environment and are able to commit to a specific schedule, then perhaps a traditional degree program may work better for you. Additionally, online degree programs allow you to focus on your program without the various distractions present in a classroom. However, they still allow you to interact with your peers through group discussions. Some food for thought: The Learning House survey revealed that 60 percent of students who had a choice between online programs and more traditional ones actively chose online learning.

The short answer is no. In fact, some individuals may find them slightly harder as there is no set schedule. When it comes to time management and dedication toward your degree, the ball is in your court. Many online degree programs are nearly identical to their campus-based counterparts in terms of rigor and curriculum, but simply delivered in a different manner so the workload and the required credits for a degree program rarely varies, whether it’s online or on-campus. Additionally, the online nature of your studies doesn’t mean you’ll be exempt from group assignments. In fact, group assignments completed remotely may be viewed as a strong point by potential employers in today’s digitally connected world.

Are online degrees offered by reputable colleges?

Yes. Many reputed brick-and-mortar schools now offer online programs. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Labor Economics proposes that one of the advantages of an online degree program from a reputable institute is that it expands access to education and increases educational attainment by opening opportunities for individuals who might not have otherwise chosen to pursue higher education. Employers and college registrars tend to pay more attention to an institution’s name than whether a degree was earned online or traditionally. In short, reputable institutions give respected degrees.

What factors should I consider while choosing an online degree program?

As with choosing any educational program, there are plenty of factors to consider while choosing an online degree program. The Learning House Survey of online students published in 2018 stated that the cost of tuitions and fees was at the top of the list when it came to factors students considered before enrolling in a program. Other factors included the reputation of the program and school, its location, the faculty involved and the study formats used. Some other factors to look at include:

  • Accreditation: This ensures that an institution meets national standards of quality and accountability. Accreditation helps to ensure students that a program or school has been thoroughly assessed for its offerings, faculty members, and curriculum. This may be done through a regional institution, a programmatic institution, or both. Accreditation ensures that an institution meets national standards of quality and accountability. The U.S. Department of Education helps to set standards to assure quality education and any institution can undergo third-party review by an accrediting agency.
  • Student services: Many online colleges offer career support and financial aid services
  • Ability to transfer credits: Being able to transfer credits from work experience and previous college education may mean your workload reduces along with your fees
  • Alumni: Seeing what kind of jobs graduates of the program have been able to secure may demonstrate the outcomes of the program

Numerous colleges offer online degree programs in a wide variety of subjects. Many of these degree programs are entirely online, available to anyone who can meet the admissions requirements of the university. Theoretical subjects like business and accounting lend themselves well to online degree programs as your entire coursework may be studied in an online format. However, programs like nursing, teaching and engineering which may require hands-on learning can require you to attend face-to-face instruction on-campus at scheduled intervals or at a facility approved by your college. Some colleges even include the cost of an on-campus residency in their tuition fees. Additionally, you may need to complete an internship in order to earn bachelor’s degree online. According to a 2018 report tracking distance education in the United States just under half of students enrolled in distance education are taking exclusively online programs. That’s nearly 3 million students!

Are online programs cheaper than on-campus ones?

Not really. The fees you pay for an online degree program can often be comparable to an on-campus program. While the 2018 Learning House survey of online students found that tuition and fees was the top consideration for online students while selecting a program, students also factored in features like the institute’s reputation and convenience of the program to calculate if they received value for money. The survey also found that at the undergraduate level, the common tuition rates were between $300 and $600 per credit. The 2018 Quality Matters Report found that 74 percent of online programs charge the same tuition per course or credit hour as the on-campus rate. While the tuition may often be similar to on-campus programs, there are other factors that may help you save money.

  • Quite a few online degree programs use Open Educational Resources instead of textbooks, allowing you to save money.
  • Transferring previously earned college credits may also help you save on tuition costs.
  • You may also be able to save on living and commuting costs by not having to pay residential fees by living at home.

As Maria Hanson, an online degree student puts it, “I did not have to sacrifice my responsibilities. There is no set time to be in class, no worrying about gas money, traffic or finding a parking space. I simply sit at my computer when I am able and ready and go to work.”

V.J. Sleight gives a great example of one of the biggest advantages of an online degree program, “I had just finished at a brick-and-mortar school and I found it very constrictive. For example, in one of the advanced classes, we had to do a group PowerPoint project — “because it would look good on our resume” — but at my age, I had already delivered PowerPoint presentations at national conferences.” She went on to further state why choosing an online degree program made better sense to her, “I didn’t want to spend countless hours on the freeway commuting, and, locally, the program options didn’t fit into my career path.” The 2018 Learning House survey of online students states that online degree programs offer many services that traditional on-campus facilities lack. In fact, 85 percent of online students surveyed had prior college credit they could transfer. Colleges that cater to adult learners often have prior learning evaluation procedures in place. A 2017 study of six online colleges commissioned by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission demonstrated that online learning institutions have rigorous prior learning assessment (PLA) measures in place and take into account both formal learning such as corporate training, American Council on Education (ACE) credits and college transcripts as well as informal learning from volunteering and work experience. One issue the study uncovered was that many colleges do not make their PLA measure clear on their websites so it can be a good idea to contact the college you are considering to find out what benefits you can avail of. This may help save on the number of modules you have to take, reduce the time taken toward your degree and also tuition costs. It is important to remember that most colleges only accept college credits from accredited colleges and programs. Bridge degree programs operate in a similar fashion allowing eligible students from a two-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree online using their credits from their associate degree.

Are online students eligible for scholarships, grants and other financial aid?

As with traditional students, online students are eligible for federal financial aid. Similarly, the financial aid you are eligible for can vary depending on whether you are enrolled in a full-time or part-time program. The opportunities for scholarships may also vary with some grant-making bodies providing scholarships to both online and traditional students. There are also various scholarships available that cater exclusively to eligible students of online degree programs. However, most financial aid and scholarship programs are only available for students enrolled in accredited online degree programs, so it is important that you check your school or program’s accreditation status before enrolling. According to the Learning House, scholarships offered by colleges and online degree programs have a strong draw for online students and even a relatively small amount could sway their decision to choose one school over another. Tuition reimbursement can also be an important benefit you may be able to use if you work full-time. As college finance may be complicated, especially if you are planning on taking a break while studying or in case of an emergency, it is important to speak to your college’s financial aid office to navigate through it. Any good college may have competent advisors who are happy to help.

Are online degrees accepted by employers?

It is perhaps best to get one thing clear right from the start — your degree is not the only criteria employers are looking at when they are thinking of hiring you. They may want to know how good a fit you are with their company and what you can bring to the table. Having said that, they typically also want to know where you received your education. As online degree programs have gained in popularity, employers too are becoming more comfortable with hiring students who have earned their degree online. As with any degree, employers may want to know if the program you attended was accredited. Regionally accredited degree programs generally have greater standing with employers. The school you attended can also play a big role. Again, as with traditional on-campus degree programs, a reputed institution may have a higher standing. An online degree can also demonstrate:

  • That you have excellent time-management skills
  • You can communicate and manage projects remotely
  • That you have the dedication to learn more and advance in your chosen field

Older students may feel that one of the biggest barriers they have to cross is learning to use the technology needed to study online. However, this is one area where you can set your mind at ease. One of the many advantages of online degree programs is that you don’t need to be a millennial or a computer whiz. A decent internet connection, a laptop that can support programs like Word, PowerPoint and Excel and the ability to use email and navigate the internet using a browser are pretty much the skills and tech you need. Most online colleges deliver their classes through Learning Management Systems that you access using your Internet browser. And if this still sounds a bit daunting, there is usually tech support on-hand to help you whenever you need it.

Can I still interact with my professors and classmates? How does it work?

As many online degree programs are asynchronous in nature, the question of how much interaction you may have with your professors and classmates may cross your mind. The 2018 Learning House survey found that 57 percent of current and past online students found that being able to interact with their peers was extremely important. Interactions can occur through group discussions, group assignments, email and skype. In fact, many online students that we have spoken to over the years have stated how pleasantly surprised they were about how responsive professors were to any questions and how fast they responded. As Linda Rich, who earned two online degrees, puts it “You actually forget that you’re not sitting there and talking to people. The discussion boards can get lively. It depends on the instructors.”

How do I get the practical experience I need for my degree?

Hands-on lab work can be an important part of your degree program, especially if you are studying subjects like biology or chemistry. Online degree programs tackle this through a number of different ways — from virtual labs to having kits delivered to your home. For experiments that require sophisticated equipment or the supervision of your professor, online colleges may either set up a schedule for you to attend laboratory courses on-campus at specific intervals or during short residencies. Online degree programs like nursing or teaching, which require extensive practical experience throughout, may allow you to obtain your experience at an approved center near your place of residence. It can be useful, in that sense, to enroll in an online college with a physical campus near you. In fact, over two thirds of online students live within a hundred miles of their college according to the 2018 Learning House survey of online students. You may also need to complete internships in order to earn your associate degree online or your bachelor’s. This can help you gain a sense of what working in your chosen field is actually like.

Do I need to purchase textbooks?

Whether you need to purchase textbooks can depend entirely on your program. Many schools offering online degree programs may provide you with a list of textbooks and reading material you may require before the start of any program. You may also have the option to rent your textbooks through your university. It can also be a good idea to get in touch with your professors to see if the edition of the textbook matters for your program as the price difference for these can be quite high. According to the Learning House Survey, Open Educational Resources (OERs) can lower your textbook costs significantly. Many online degree programs use these along with providing their students access to virtual libraries.

Short answer? Yes. Assignments still need to be turned in on time and you may need to sit for proctored examinations depending on your online degree program. Additionally, you may still have to complete group assignments where you collaborate with other students virtually to get them finished. While coordinating across different time-zones can be difficult, the fact that you managed to get a good grade on your group assignment can look great on your CV in today’s digital world. Contrary to what one might think, it can be difficult to cheat on online assignments as most universities have anti-plagiarism systems in place.

What kind of career support services do colleges offer online students?

The support systems colleges offer their online students may vary. Career services are a popular feature offered with over 75 percent of online students surveyed by the Learning House stating that their college offered these services. Some colleges allow alumni to continue to access these services long after they have graduated. As graphic design alumnus Cassandra Allen has experienced, “The school provided student job placement. I continue to have the opportunity to utilize the online job board.” Career services can also include resume building, interview workshops, job fairs, networking events and more. The Learning House reports that two thirds of the students who did not have access to career services stated that they wished their colleges offered them.


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