Earn an Online Bachelors Degree

Online education is a rapidly growing field. These days, students are logging on for more than just their general education requirements. More and more online students are earning their bachelor's degree online.

As the industry has expanded and gained recognition, so has the quality of the programs being offered. Thousands of public and private institutions are now offering bachelors, masters and PhD's online.

If you've found yourself considering an online bachelor's degree, here are some basic criteria to help you make your decision.

Is an Online Bachelor's Degree Right for Me?

There are two major demographics in online education: high school graduates and older career professionals. For high school graduates, getting your bachelor's degree online may be the most efficient and affordable route to prepare you for graduate school or a career. If you've already entered the workforce, an online degree is a great way to expand on your qualifications and increase your earnings potential.

An online degree will be more affordable than traditional education. You will save money on tuition, housing, transportation, textbooks and…chances are, school memorabilia. As an online student, you will still be eligible for financial aid, including student loans and scholarships.

Many online courses follow a traditional structure and schedule, but some allow you to work at a more independent pace. If you're anxious to enter grad school or start your career, you may be able to complete your online bachelors in less than four years. Or you may already have a career and/or family and need to work at a slower pace. Either way, there are many online programs out there with flexible schedules.

One important thing is to know what kind of student you are. Online students need to be self-motivated and disciplined. If you know that you need a more structured environment to thrive, look for online programs that have set class hours and steady deadlines.

What Type of Bachelor's Degree Should I Study?

Whether you're studying online or walking into a classroom, most colleges and universities offer three basic types of bachelor's degrees: Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA).

Bachelor of Science degrees are geared toward scientific and technical fields of study. Most BS degrees require about 120 semester credits, most of which focus on the major. BS programs are generally designed to prepare students for employment, and most BS graduates immediately pursue careers in their field. Depending on the field of study, an online BS degree may require significant time in a physical classroom or lab.

Bachelor of Arts degrees cover subjects that are more academic in nature. Because they tend to involve more reading and writing, BA degrees are well-suited for the online environment. Most BA degrees also require about 120 semester credits, which are composed of major requirement and general education requirements, such as math, social sciences and foreign language.

Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees involve visual or performance art, such as painting, film, music or dance. A BFA degree is for someone who knows they want to pursue a career in their field of the arts. BFA program requirements are also about 120 semester credits. Most classes will be hands-on, requiring studio or lab time. This can make BFA degrees a little trickier in online education.

Make Sure the School is Accredited

You can learn a great deal studying for your online bachelor's degree, but it won't be worth much if the school isn't properly accredited. If this is the case, other schools and employers may not recognize your online degree.

Go online to the Department of Education, where you will find a list of approved regional accrediting boards. This is the best way to ensure that your online school adheres to high academic standards.

Some online colleges are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is recognized by most employers, but you may have trouble transferring credits to four-year universities.

Quality of Academics

Okay, so you've checked out an online college and it is fully accredited by a regional association. That's great, but you'll still want to dig a little deeper and find out more about the quality of the education you will be receiving.

If you know what kind of online bachelor's degree you'd like to pursue, start investigating it. Compare it to similar programs at other online colleges. Learn more about the faculty-their experience and qualifications.

Check how long the program has existed. Online education is still pretty new, so it's a good sign if a program has been around for at least five or six years. That means it's good enough to survive in a very competitive industry. It also gives you the opportunity to speak with graduates of the program and gain their perspective.

Also look at the class requirements for your particular bachelor's degree. If you're a career professional, you should be able to judge whether or not these classes are relevant to what you want to do. If you're in high school, it's a good idea to compare major requirements from school to school. This will help you judge which online bachelor's program is right for you.

Academic Counseling

Just as in traditional college, if you're studying bachelor's degree online, you're going to need the help of an academic counselor. Make sure the online college you're investigating offers academic counseling. Not all of them do. Having one will make it much easier to navigate all the degree requirements and build an academic plan of attack that fulfills your needs.

Also find out if your online college provides career counseling. Especially if you are pursuing an online Bachelor of Science degree, a career counselor can be invaluable in helping you find internships and employment.

Testing for Credit

If you're an experienced career professional, you may have valuable training in a particular field that translates to classroom knowledge. More and more online colleges are awarding college credit through proficiency testing.

Keep in mind that these exams are challenging, since they waive the requirement for a semester class. Even if you have real-world experience, you will need to make sure you understand the subject in an academic context. If you're successful in this route, you can complete your online bachelor's degree in much less than four years.

Using Credits From Multiple Schools

If you've taken online classes in the past, you may be able to combine your credits. Many online colleges are more liberal transferring credits, allowing you to bundle credits from multiple schools into one transcript.

You can also use a credit bank, which analyzes your educational history, test scores and career experience and combines them into a single report. This is especially valuable if you have multiple points of experience or training.

Online or Traditional?

Getting a bachelor's degree online is becoming more and more popular, and as the industry expands, so will the opportunities for quality, affordability and academic success.

But be aware that online education is different from traditional college. Depending on what kind of student you are, one may suit you better than the other. It's important that you research your options and choose your school carefully. Speak with as many different people as you can so you can make an informed decision. If you do that, you'll find a school that's right for you.

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