For adults who have work or family demands — or, often, both! — adding earning a bachelor's degree to the mix isn't always realistic. But if you consider distance learning through an online bachelor's program, the seemingly impossible can suddenly become possible, thanks to flexible schedules, courses you can take at your own pace, and, of course, all the materials and lectures you need just a click away.
Online bachelor's degree programs cater to many needs, whether you're looking to finally finish a degree that's just a few credits shy of completion, improve your skill set to advance your career or earn more pay, or even switch careers entirely. This is because, despite work experience, some jobs simply require a bachelor's degree to be considered, while for others, such as nursing or accounting, a bachelor's program can provide the knowledge and experience necessary to prepare for a professional licensing exam. In addition, for some students, a bachelor's degree could be a stepping stone towards more advanced education, such as a master's or doctorate degree.
When starting from scratch, most bachelor's degrees take four years to complete and require 120 semester credits, but this requirement may vary depending on your previous education and specific program. Those who already hold an associate degree may only need two years of schooling, as their degree would fulfill many general education requirements at a four-year school. You can find online programs through for-profit schools, which can exist wholly online or also have multiple campuses; public four-year schools; and private four-year colleges and universities. Some programs are fully online, while others may only have a few courses available for a hybrid approach, so make sure to find one that works best for you. There are more options now for online learning than ever before, too, so when you are applying, make sure it's to an accredited program.
Cost of an Online Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree earned online is not necessarily cheaper than one earned traditionally on-campus, though students do save on commuting, as well as pricey room and board plans when they go the e-learning route. The cost of an online degree will vary greatly by program, the number of credits required to graduate in a degree track, and your specialty. However, the average published tuition and fees at for-profit institutions — which are most online schools — were $13,256, according to CollegeBoard's Trends in College Pricing 2010 report. Compare that to $24,206 for a four-year private school, and $19,595 for out-of-state students at four-year public schools. You also can get an idea of how much a degree costs at a four-year public, four-year private not-for-profit, or four-year private for-profit cost through the U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center.
Most Popular Bachelor's Programs
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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the most bachelor's degrees awarded in 2008-09 were in the fields of business; social sciences and history; health professions and related clinical science; education; and psychology. Combined, these fields represent more than 50% of degrees awarded during that time period. Online search results also show that business administration, criminal justice, health-care fields, and information technology are popular options for online learners. These degrees often have accelerated tracks, so you can complete them sooner, and are tailored to give students the skills necessary to work in high-demand, career-related fields upon graduation.
Online bachelor's degree can lead to any number of careers, depending on your skills and interests. The degree is often a requirement to start in many professions, such as accounting, nursing, engineering, graphic design, and financial analysis, to name just a few. These jobs are also in demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for accountants and auditors, as well as registered nurses, is expected to increase 22% between 2008 and 2018. During that same time period, engineering careers are expected to grow 11% overall, with biomedical engineers expected to grow a whopping 72%; graphic designer jobs are expected to increase by 13%; and financial analyst jobs by 20%.
In addition to working towards a promising field, it's a commonly acknowledged statistic that a bachelor's degree may also lead to more money. Specifically, according to CollegeBoard, the median earnings of bachelor's degree recipients working full-time year-round in 2008 was $55,700, compared to $42,000 for associate degree earners and $33,800 for high school graduates. The exact pay for bachelor's degree earners will, of course, vary greatly by occupation, and the BLS provides an idea of the kinds of wages you can make in professions that require a bachelor's degree. According to the BLS' most-recent figures from May 2010, the average yearly salary for accountants and auditors was $68,960; for registered nurses, it was $67,720; for biomedical engineers, $84,780; for graphic designers, $48,140; and for financial analysts, $86,040. As you can see, no two numbers are alike.
Evaluating Online Colleges
To evaluate the quality of online programs, the Online Education Database has compiled a ranking of about 80 online colleges. The rankings compare the acceptance rate, financial aid, graduation rate, retention rate, scholarly citations, student-faculty ratios, and years accredited. The graduation rate, for example, shows the percentage of students who complete degree programs. The acceptance rate is the percentage of applicants that are admitted into the online program. A lower percentage means a college maintains higher academic standards for admissions. The quality of academic work at traditional colleges often is judged by the number of citations by scholars in research papers.
In addition, look up your program or college of choice's accreditation status. Accreditation is a voluntary procedure schools can apply for and is run by private accrediting agencies, such as the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Schools that are accredited have been verified as having met a standard of education and faculty quality, which is set by individual accrediting agencies. Check with the U.S. Department of Education's database to verify whether your preferred school or program has been accredited by a recognized agency. However, even if it hasn't, keep in mind that not all unaccredited schools are bad. Some faith-based schools and newer programs may not have accreditation, but still offer high-quality education. Do more research into the faculty's credentials and experiences of graduates to further evaluate a school.