If you’ve previously earned college credits but didn’t graduate, you may consider returning to school online to finish your bachelor’s degree. The good news is that you have options, including degree completion programs and traditional four-year bachelor’s programs.
However, there are a few factors to consider when deciding if completing a bachelor’s degree online is the right step for you. In addition to reviewing these factors, this article also discusses the nuts-and-bolts of transfer credits, program duration, and the pros and cons of online bachelor’s programs.
If you decide that finishing your bachelor’s online is your best option, you can find more information on the top-rated online bachelor’s programs of 2023.
Should I Finish My Bachelor’s Degree Online?
Before doing in-depth research and applying to online bachelor’s programs, it’s important to reflect on why you didn’t complete your bachelor’s degree and how you can better set yourself up for success now.
There are dozens of reasons students don’t finish their bachelor’s degrees. Perhaps your life circumstances changed, and you needed to address personal health issues, raise children, or take care of family members. Maybe you couldn’t afford the program you were enrolled in, or you didn’t like your chosen field of study. Or perhaps you weren’t mentally or emotionally ready for higher education.
Getting clarity on why you paused your education will help you make a better-informed decision when choosing when and how to return to college. If you have many personal responsibilities, find a flexible program to fit your schedule. If finances were an issue previously, choose a more affordable program, or find out if employer tuition assistance benefits can help you pay for school.
Ultimately, it’s important to take the time to address any concerns or possible obstacles before you start to give yourself the best chance of finishing this time around.
What Is a Degree Completion Program?
In your research, you’ve likely come across the term “degree completion program.” But what exactly is a degree completion program? How does it differ from a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program?
Degree completion programs are explicitly designed to help students finish their bachelor’s degrees in as little time as possible. Their curriculums are built to maximize the number of credits students can transfer into the program. Some degree completion programs will accept up to 75% of the credits toward a bachelor’s. Other programs target individuals who already have an associate’s degree in their area of study, allowing them to complete the remaining 60 credits worth of coursework in two years or less.
Meanwhile, students with only a few college credits may find that a traditional four-year bachelor’s program is the best option. This can mean returning to the program you previously attended or transferring to a new college. A traditional four-year online program allows students to enroll at the level they were at in their previous degree program.
To determine which program is best for you, consider how many college credits you’ve already earned. How many will transfer to a new program (more on that below)? What is your level of satisfaction with your previous school and program? And are you continuing in the same field or switching majors?
Pros and Cons of an Online Degree Completion Program
Faster completion time
Degree completion programs are designed to help students finish their degrees as quickly as possible. While this may mean taking a rigorous full-time course load, it’s an ideal option if you have the required number of credits, want to complete your degree as soon as possible, and are motivated and committed.
For individuals who work, care for family, or manage other responsibilities, the flexible nature of online bachelor’s programs makes it easier to fit coursework into daily life. When researching programs, note whether classes are synchronous or asynchronous, which can impact how the program fits into your schedule.
These programs also give more students access to more educational opportunities. Students don’t have to choose between the programs offered at nearby colleges or moving to a new location to get the degree they want. Additionally, virtually attending classes may be easier for students with physical disabilities or different learning styles.
Students must meet credit requirements
Most degree completion programs require that students have a minimum number of transferable credits to be eligible. Students who don’t meet these requirements can still complete their bachelor’s online but may have to do so through a traditional four-year program.
Not compatible with all learning styles
Online learning can present unique challenges to students, especially those who previously attended college in a traditional in-person setting. These include managing time, staying motivated and focused, and connecting with faculty and classmates. Before committing to an online bachelor’s program, assessing your learning style is a good way to ensure this is the right path for you.
Requires technology skills
Another challenge online students sometimes face is handling the technical aspects of online learning. While most programs offer tech support, students need to be adept at setting up equipment, troubleshooting issues, and communicating via email, video calls, and discussion forums.
Where Should I Complete My Online Bachelor’s Degree?
A key decision students must make is whether to complete their online bachelor’s degree at the same school where they previously studied or to transfer to a new institution.
In some cases, the decision may be made for you. For example, if you previously attended a two-year community college, you’ll have to transfer to a four-year institution to get a bachelor’s degree. Or maybe the school you previously attended doesn’t offer an online program in your area of study, so you have to find an institution that meets your current needs.
If you were previously enrolled in a bachelor’s program and left, you’ll want to consider why. Perhaps tuition was too expensive, or you weren’t satisfied with the quality of your program. In these cases, you might be better off looking for a program at a school that’s a better fit.
However, if you can return to the school where you previously earned credits, this is typically the easiest way to complete your bachelor’s degree. Depending on the school’s policies, you might be able to re-enroll simply by filling out some paperwork and paying a fee. Academically, you’ll likely pick up right where you left off without needing to apply or go through a transfer credit review process. However, confirming all the requirements for re-enrollment with your institution is best.
Will My Credits Transfer to a New School?
For students who are transferring to a different school to finish their bachelor’s degrees, one of the biggest considerations is whether the new college will accept their credits.
As with many other aspects of this process, the answer is that it depends.. Each institution has its own policies and procedures regarding transfer credits. However, there are a few basic factors that influence whether a school will accept credits.
- Accreditation status of institution(s) where you previously earned credits: Colleges in the U.S. typically have either regional or national accreditation. Generally, regionally-accredited institutions only accept transfer credits from other regionally-accredited schools. Meanwhile, nationally-accredited schools will usually accept credits from both types of institutions. This is important to keep in mind if you’re currently looking for a school to transfer to a different institution to finish your degree.
- Articulation agreements: Does the school you previously attended have articulation agreements with any four-year institutions? If so, you may want to consider those schools first, as an articulation agreement means the new school will accept all credits you earned in your previous program. Applying to a school without an articulation agreement may impact how many transfer credits are accepted.
- Minimum grade requirements: Each school sets its own policies for minimum grade requirements. Generally, you must have at least passed a course to get credit for it from your new school. However, some schools or programs may have minimum letter grades or GPA score requirements in order to transfer credits. Schools may or may not give credit for pass/fail or audited courses.
- When you earned your credits: The length of time that’s passed since you acquired your credits is also a factor. Most schools will only accept credits earned within a specific time frame, typically within the last 5-10 years. This ensures that a student’s knowledge is still relevant and accurate based on new developments in their field of study.
- What type of coursework you’ve completed: Another key part of the transfer credit evaluation process is determining how previously earned coursework aligns with your new program of study’s requirements. That’s why general education requirements, like English, math, and humanities courses, are usually the easiest to transfer. The process can be trickier when it comes to specialized coursework, especially if you’re completing your degree in a different major.
Review the information available for transfer students on the school’s website to get clarity on these questions. Many schools offer tools to help students estimate how many credits will transfer and if they’re eligible for degree completion programs. You can also contact the school’s admissions office or transfer counselors directly for more information.
As part of the application process, you’ll submit your official college transcripts, which the school will evaluate. With your acceptance, you should receive an official transfer credit evaluation confirming how many transfer credits are being accepted and what courses in the new program you’re receiving credit for.
If you have questions or concerns about your transfer credit evaluation, discuss them with your admissions counselor. You want to ensure you receive the maximum amount of credit possible from your new bachelor’s program.
How Long Will It Take to Complete My Bachelor’s Degree Online?
Once again, the answer to this question varies by student based on individual experience and needs.
What remains the same in all situations is that a standard bachelor’s degree requires 120 college credits. Most bachelor’s degree programs are designed to be completed in four years of full-time study, with students taking 30 credits each academic year.
However, many factors can impact the specific length of time it takes students to earn their 120 credits, and it’s not uncommon for students to take more than four years to complete their degrees.
Some key factors that will impact how long it takes to finish your bachelor’s include:
- How many credits you’ve already earned: The more credits you’ve already earned towards your bachelor’s degree, the sooner you’ll be able to complete the rest of the requirements and graduate. That’s why, if you’re applying to a new program, it’s important to submit transcripts from all schools you attended with your application. Even if you only took one or two classes at a community college, you may get credit for them, bringing you that much closer to your bachelor’s.
- How many credits your new school accepts: This is only a consideration for students applying to a different college, but it’s important. Each school has its own policy for accepting transfer credits, but schools may deny students credit for courses they failed, aren’t current enough, or don’t apply to the student’s new program of study. This will affect how many classes you need to complete at your new institution.
- Pace of the program: Once you enroll in a new program, how quickly you complete classes will impact when you graduate. Full-time students will finish sooner than part-time students. You can expedite the degree completion process by enrolling in an accelerated program, taking the maximum number of credits allowed each term, or enrolling in summer classes.
The Best Online Bachelor’s Programs
Learn more about online bachelor’s degree programs with Intelligent.com’s list of the best online bachelor’s degree programs of 2023.