Exactly how long does it take to get an online degree? There’s no one single answer to this question. With the increasing accessibility, speed and affordability of reliable, unlimited internet access, the pursuit of a college education via remote attendance is undergoing an inevitable transition. Where long-distance learning was once seen as a fringe pursuit, today it is offered as a mainstream option, and by some of the most reputable academic institutions in the world. Many colleges offer a wide range of undergraduate programs which require no physical presence on campus. Some even lack specific scheduling requirements, allowing students to pursue their online coursework at their leisure. This allows for a Bachelor’s degree to be completed in a shorter period of time than what would once have been required. Alternatively, an undergraduate program may be pursued at a slower, more convenient pace, within a conventional time frame. So, exactly how long does it take to earn a bachelor’s degree online, and what are some of the advantages involved in doing so?
Complete Your Program in Less Time, Online
The amount of time it takes to complete an online college degree will differ depending upon a variety of factors, such as the institution you’re attending and which program you’re pursuing. Some Bachelor’s degree programs come with a more difficult course load than others. For example, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing or Engineering will likely take longer to complete than a degree in Spanish due to hands-on training and lab requirements. As a matter of general principle, however, a typical Bachelor’s degree program (from a reputable, upstanding institution) can be completed in two to three years. This assumes a four-year program, with regard to the traditional academic approach; programs which normally take only two or three years to complete can often be finished online in as little as a single year.
CLEP and AP
If you want to speed up how long it takes to get your online degree, you can take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Both testing systems let you test out of entry-level college courses by passing tests. Typically, AP exams are taken by high school students and CLEP exams are taken by students of all ages, but you can take either exam at any point. You can find free study guides at your local library, but for the most part, you can use any relevant textbook or learning material, since both the CLEP and AP exams theoretically test for a broad understanding of college-level material rather than knowledge of a specific curriculum. These exams can also help if you attended college several decades ago and can’t get your old college credits accepted towards a new degree. By passing a CLEP or AP exam, you can demonstrate that your knowledge is still intact without having to spend an entire semester sitting through a class you’ve already passed.
Reduce Stress Levels by Taking the Usual Length of Time
Alternatively, you can take a different approach to completing your undergraduate program online. As the concept of a long-distance education gains more widespread acceptance and accreditation, a growing number of students are choosing to pursue their degrees at the usual pace, completing their bachelor’s degree programs in three to four years. With the convenience of online education, which typically includes few (if any) specific scheduling obligations, this approach allows a student to much more conveniently accommodate other obligations alongside their academic requirements. The result is a degree from a reputable institution, being completed at a familiar pace, with much less stress along the way.
Earn While You Learn
Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that pay for anything from one class per semester to an entire bachelor’s degree. Depending on your company, you may be restricted to courses that build job skills or be required to sign a contract agreeing to pay back your employer if you quit your job before a certain time. Even with these restrictions, getting paid to earn your degree is a good deal. With online classes, you can easily balance your work and school schedules. Your boss might even let you work on coursework when business is slow. If your employer doesn’t offer a formal program for paying your college tuition, ask about starting one. Mention that a small investment in your future will pay big dividends for the company by ensuring your loyalty and improving your job skills.
Earn a Double Major
Some students pursue a double major to increase their career potential. For example, if you study business, a double major in computer programming could lead to work as a business analyst who uses complex software or a chief financial officer at a technology start-up. Companies appreciate employees who can move between different fields, and earning an online double major demonstrates your wide range of knowledge. The best double major will depend on your career plans, but you can’t go wrong with earning a second degree in a foreign language, computer topic or business or accounting field.
Consider a Minor
If you want to finish your degree as quickly as possible, a minor might be a better option than a dual major. With a minor, you’ll take five or six classes centered around a topic, and you can often work those extra classes into your regular course of study because most four-year degrees require you to take a certain number of elective courses. For example, if you’re earning a B.S. in Biology, you’ll already be taking a handful of chemistry classes. You can earn a minor by taking two or three more courses, and with careful planning, you can count those extra courses for both your major in biology and your minor chemistry. A minor demonstrates to employers that you have passion or expertise in a particular subject and can make you a stronger job candidate. You can choose a minor in a general subject, like English or Communication, or hone in on a topic like American Novels or Business Communications.
Enhance Your Degree with a Thesis, Capstone Project or Portfolio
One factor that makes it hard to calculate how much time you need for an online degree is the increasing interest in capstone projects, theses and practicum experiences. Adding an extra challenge to your degree program may help you land your dream job or be admitted into a graduate program, but the boost to your resume comes at a slight cost. While motivated students can quickly complete online coursework, an internship or project-based learning experience requires a substantial time investment over several months. Many students begin planning their final year of school two to three years in advance to allow time to find the ideal internship or project mentor and to make arrangements in other areas of life. For example, if you work full-time, you may need to temporarily use paid time off to complete an internship during standard business hours. Likewise, a capstone project or thesis may require you to conduct research for several months, and you’ll need to work hard to find space in your schedule for an intensive learning experience. Luckily, as online coursework has become more widely accepted, both universities and partnering organizations have become more understanding of the unique needs of online students. If you’re willing to make a few sacrifices, you’ll be able to complete an internship or conduct a research study as part of your online degree.
Consider Summer Courses
A six-week or eight-week summer course can help you graduate quickly, but if you’re working, it can be hard to squeeze summer classes into your schedule. With an in-person summer class, you’ll need to head to campus three or four days per week for multiple hours at a time. By taking an online summer class, you’re still committing to a fast-paced schedule, but you gain more control over when you put in the work. You might be wondering why you should even consider taking a short summer class instead of waiting for a more leisurely semester-long version. If you want to graduate as quickly as possible, summer classes can help you meet your goal.
Take Trimester-Based Classes
In addition to summer classes, many online universities offer trimester-based schedules. Instead of the traditional 16-week spring and fall semesters, you’ll take 12-week-long classes during three distinct calendar periods. This approach combines the quicker pace of summer classes with the in-depth learning of longer, spring or fall classes. For many adult students, the trimester schedule is a useful way to finish a degree online fast without becoming overwhelmed.
Greater Ease in Transferring Existing Credits
A few years ago, it was almost impossible to transfer credits to, from or between online college courses. The industry as a whole was hesitant about the future of online education, particularly given the notoriety of a range of for-profit universities (some of which dealt almost exclusively in long-distance programs). Today, this is a much less common problem, thanks in part to the broad range of schools offering online degrees. The ability to transfer existing college credits to an online program can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to complete said program, potentially reducing the obligations of a standard Bachelor’s degree to a single year’s worth of online classes.
Online courses give you increased flexibility, especially now that you can easily transfer credits between universities. You can take a specialty class that’s only offered at a handful of schools and apply it to your degree. You can also consider online community college classes to save money on your general education requirements. Because you’re no longer limited to schools in your geographic area, you’re able to create a customized study plan tailored to your budget and interests.
Can You Use Financial Aid for Online Classes?
Online coursework is just as valid as in-person coursework, so you can use the same financial aid no matter how you choose to complete your degree. This means you can use Pell grants, federally backed student loans and scholarships to help pay for the cost of your college degree, including the cost of textbooks and online study guides. Many online universities offer grants and scholarships for students of all backgrounds. It’s always worth talking to a financial aid officer and asking about any potential help with paying for college.
Special Considerations for Veterans
If you’ve served in the armed forces, you may be able to get extra assistance with your online degree. First, the knowledge you built while serving might translate into college credit. The military can provide you with a Joint Services Transcript that documents any military courses you completed as well as your occupation in the military; the Joint Services Transcript also recommends how universities should translate your service into college credit. Depending on your service background, you can transfer up to half the credits you need to complete your degree, so you may be able to earn a four-year degree in two years or even faster. Second, veterans are eligible for special forms of financial aid from the VA, including the GI Bill. Many schools have a dedicated office for veterans returning to college that can help you with every step of the process.
Can You Take Laboratory Classes Online?
Can you study nursing online? What about pre-med classes and other programs that require laboratory classes? As online learning grows, so too do the types of classes you can study online. Today, laboratory classes like Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry and Biology are available online. Depending on your professor, you may work on at-home experiments using common ingredients or a laboratory kit that you can purchase through your school’s bookstore. If you have children, these virtual experiments can be a fun family activity. Some schools offer online experiments that you conduct through a computer simulation. Options for online laboratory-based classes have rapidly grown due to the COVID-19 pandemic as medical and nursing schools have been forced to offer online-only classes. Now, students can watch pre-recorded dissections, observe professors perform chemistry experiments and explore virtual anatomical models.
As opportunities relating to the pursuit of an online education continue to increase, continuing innovation will doubtless find new ways to reduce the constraints placed upon long-distance students, without reducing the quality of the education that they receive. In the meantime, the possibility of remote learning makes the pursuit of a college degree more convenient, as well as more affordable, placing Bachelor’s degrees within the reach of many who previously didn’t have the opportunity to pursue them. As you can see, to answer the question of exactly how long does it take to get an online degree, you must first understand your unique strengths and challenges as a student and create the right plan for obtaining your bachelor’s degree.
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