Complete Guide to an Online Bachelor's Degree
Online bachelor's degrees are growing in popularity: more than 60 percent of universities offer bachelor's degree programs entirely online. Advantages of an online degree program include more flexible scheduling, the ability to learn at one's own pace, and greater interaction with other students through online message boards and in-class email.
A bachelor's degree is commonly known as an undergraduate four-year degree. However, programs can take between three to five years to complete depending on the school, the student's ambition, and the field of study. Bachelor's degrees have historically been offered at universities and private colleges, but many community colleges now offer bachelor's degrees in select programs.
It is important to select an online bachelor's degree program that is accredited by a reputable accreditation agency. Accreditation ensures that a program's curriculum meets national standards, and comes from a respected institution. A degree from an accredited school is important to ensure you are eligible to receive federal financial aid, and that any credits you complete can be transferable. Employers will also want to see that you have graduated from an accredited institution.
Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Bachelor's Degree
What is an Online Bachelor's Degree?
Like any bachelor's degree program on campuses, online bachelor's degrees also have two primary types: the Bachelor's of Arts and the Bachelor's of Science. A Bachelor's of Arts degree indicates the program specializes in qualitative research, as found in social sciences, humanities, and fine arts. A Bachelor's of Science degree indicates the program specializes in quantitative research, as found in physical sciences, engineering, and math.
One must have either a high school diploma or a GED to be admitted into a bachelor's degree program. Many schools and programs have their own requirements. These can include minimum scores on standardized tests (e.g., the SAT and ACT), a minimum grade point average in high school, specific previous coursework, a portfolio of work samples, a written essay, or recommendations from others. Checking the school and program admission requirements is highly advisable.
Bachelor's degrees typically take between three and five years to complete, depending on the program. The number of credits required to graduate with a bachelor's degree varies depending on the school, program, and course schedule. Generally, schools on the semester system require 120 credits, while those on the quarter system require 180. Almost all bachelor's degrees require students to take general education courses in communications, math, science, humanities, and a foreign language, in addition to a minimum number of classes within the student's field of study.
Online bachelor's degree programs from an accredited institution are just as rigorous as their in-person counterparts, but offer several advantages.
Many online schools make credits from an associate degree (often known as a two-year degree, such as one would receive after completing coursework at a community college) easily transferable. Some programs also consider on-the-job experience for prerequisite or even credit requirements, which is especially helpful for non-traditional students who are returning to school after years in the workforce.
Online classes offer a degree of flexibility that traditional in-classroom classes can't compete with. Students in an online class often have deadlines for readings, lectures, and assignments which allow them to complete the course within their own time frame, rather than being in the classroom during a certain part of the day. This is ideal for non-traditional students who have family or occupational obligations. Since the class meets virtually, students eliminate travel time. This opens the door to consider degree programs that would otherwise be too far away for regular travel - even degree programs in other cities or states.
Getting a bachelor's degree typically leads to job opportunities within the field the degree focused on. A bachelor's degree also indicates that the student has been given a basic secondary education, making him or her open to a wide range of job opportunities even outside of the degree major. Most companies treat a bachelor's degree as four years of experience in that industry, meaning successful students may skip over entry-level jobs in their chosen field.
Although salary after graduation is highly variable based upon degree conferred and the details of employment, the average bachelor's degree holder is earning $58,000 a year. College graduates typically make 75 percent more money than workers with only a high school diploma. Careers that require a bachelor's of science degree (including various engineering disciplines, mathematics, physics, and computer science) are more selective but typically pay higher than the average bachelor's degree holder. Careers that require a bachelor's of arts are more plentiful but typically pay less.
Popular Online Bachelor's Degree Programs
The breadth of online degrees grows every year and many different bachelor's degree programs are available entirely online. However, some of the most popular programs are engineering, pre-law and legal studies, social work, and nutrition.
A bachelor's degree in engineering will require specific classes depending on the type of engineering the student is pursuing. For instance, Arizona State University's online bachelor's of science in electrical engineering program includes courses on circuits, energy systems, and principles of programming. Graduates may get jobs as research engineers, who test and invent devices in labs and earn between $70,000 and $150,000 a year. Alternatively, they may become a test engineer, troubleshooting and fixing problems on electronic devices and earning between $80,000 and $160,000 a year.
Kettering University's online bachelor's of science in chemical engineering requires courses in thermodynamics, computer programming, and heat transfer. Graduates may get jobs in process control, ensuring the quality of product development in a wide array of industries and earning between $70,000 and $150,000 a year.
Programmatic accreditation is incredibly important for students seeking a degree in engineering. Engineers who graduate from programs not recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) are unlikely to find employment, and they are ineligible to apply for Professional Engineer licensure through their state.
Students looking to receive a bachelor's degree in pre-law, legal studies or paralegal studies generally have to complete at least 10 credits through in-classroom work, although this requirement can usually be met through transfer credits from a school convenient to the student. Students will complete work in legal research, writing, and litigation and are usually required to complete an internship before graduation. For instance, Eastern Kentucky University's bachelor's of arts in Paralegal Science requires courses in real estate practice, the entire litigation process, and legal administration.
Paralegals typically fill out and file legal documents with the court as well as provide litigation support to lawyers through fact-checking, research, and preparation. Depending on the firm and type of job, paralegals can earn between $40,000 and $100,000 a year.
The American Bar Association (ABA) offers accreditation to paralegal programs, legal studies, and law programs that meet its qualifications. Completion of an ABA-accredited degree is not necessary for continuation onto law school, or for employment. However in some cases preference may be given to paralegal candidates who have graduated from an accredited program.
Brandman University's online bachelor's of arts in social work requires classes in social welfare, human behavior, and diversity. Like many online social work degrees, Brandman's online program allows students to shape their degree through social work electives, ranging from domestic violence and victim advocacy to military and international social work issues.
Those with a social work degree have a range of career options. Some provide services to children in troubled families (including intervention in abuse cases or assisting with placing children in foster care), earning about $40,000 a year. Some provide clinical counseling and therapy services, earning about $60,000 a year. Others develop community or workplace wellness programs, earning about $80,000 a year.
In most states, in order to earn licensure as a social worker, you must graduate from a program accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).
Arizona State University's bachelor of science in nutrition communications requires courses in cultural aspects of health, the western diet, and an internship in the food and nutrition industry. Dietitians typically create menus for others and find work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and within local governments. The median salary for nutritionists is $50,000.
The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) is the accrediting agency for nutrition degree programs. Those seeking to become a registered dietition or dietetic technician will need to complete an ACEND-accredited program in order to be eligible to earn the credential.
The Importance of Accreditation
Verifying a school's accreditation is an important part of the research to choose an online bachelor's degree program. Accreditation is the way that you, the government, and your future employers can be sure that a certain college or university grants degrees that reflect a valuable education. Attending an accredited school ensures that your credits can be transfered to another institution and that you can apply for federal financial aid.
There are two basic types of accreditation, institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation indicates that the entire university or college as a whole delivers a valuable educational experience. Institutional accreditation can be regional or national, with regional generally being considered the most reputable. Programmatic accreditation is specific to the school or program within the institution that is granting the degree. There are dozens of programmatic accrediting agencies across the United States, and some of them may also offer institutional accreditation. The Distance Education Training Council (DETC) is an accreditation agency dedicated specifically to verifying the academic rigor and practices of schools offering online degrees.
- Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States. Online Learning Consortium. http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/publications/survey/changing_course_2012.
- College Navigator. Department of Education. http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/.
- How Much Is That Bachelor's Degree Really Worth? American Enterprise Institute. http://www.aei.org/article/education/higher-education/how-much-is-that-bachelors-degree-really-worth/.
- Occupation Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/.
- The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. U.S. Department of Education. http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/.
- Recognized Accrediting Organizations. Council for Higher Education Accreditation. http://www.chea.org/pdf/CHEA_USDE_AllAccred.pdf.
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