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What is a Bachelor's Degree?
Nearly 7 million college students enrolled in online classes in 2018. Thanks to the many benefits of an online bachelor's program, distance learning has only grown in popularity in recent years. An online bachelor's degree prioritizes flexibility and convenience. Distance learners complete their graduation requirements in an accessible format, suitable for working professionals and busy students.
This page ranks the top 10 online bachelor's programs to help students find the school that best fits their needs. It also explores how to pay for online college and career opportunities for individuals with online bachelor's degrees.
What Are the Types of Bachelor's Degrees?
Colleges offer several different types of bachelor's degrees depending on the major. Degree type often shapes graduation requirements and career opportunities. Bachelor's degrees differ in some key ways and provide specific benefits. Make sure to research the different types of degrees before enrolling in an online program.
Bachelor of Arts
Colleges and universities generally offer bachelor of arts (BA) degrees in humanities and social science majors. Popular majors like English, history, and political science often grant BAs. At some schools, students can also earn a BA in psychology or the natural sciences.
Like other bachelor's degrees, a BA requires 120 credits and comes with specific general education requirements. BA students often take more humanities and social science courses, and typically need one year of a foreign language to graduate.
Bachelor of Science
Natural science and engineering programs typically grant bachelor of science (BS) degrees. BS students typically take more math and science general education requirements than BA learners and are usually not required to complete foreign language requirements.
In majors like psychology with both BA and BS options, undergraduates often complete the same major coursework while meeting different general education requirements.
Bachelor of Fine Arts
A bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree recognizes mastery in the visual or performing arts. Students can earn BFAs in subjects such as photography, painting, creative writing, graphic design, or game design. These programs blend creative and technical skills in the context of fine arts.
Instead of the general education requirements for a BA or BS degree, BFA students complete a core art curriculum. They must complete 120 credits.
Can You Get a Bachelor's Degree All Online?
In 2018, more than three million college students enrolled in fully online programs. However, before signing up for an online bachelor's degree, consider the type of program you plan to pursue and whether an online format will affect the program requirements. For example, nursing students in online programs complete clinical practicum requirements in local settings. Online business students also complete in-person internships.
Research program options, such as academic advising, online student services, and whether the program features synchronous or asynchronous classes. Online degree-seekers attending local schools often benefit from campus resources like university libraries.
Many online graduates walk in their college commencement along with in-person graduates or attend virtual commencements to celebrate their achievement.
Featured Online Bachelor's Degrees
How to Choose an Online Degree
If choosing a major has left you feeling stuck, consider your interests, strengths, and career goals. Students should narrow in on a major by asking themselves what classes interest them most and what career they plan on pursuing after earning a degree. Some students love reading and writing papers, while others prefer analyzing numbers. Courses on education and social services appeal to some undergrads, while others want to study how machines work.
Online colleges offer degrees in business, education, social work, the liberal arts, and engineering. Learn more about the many online bachelor's programs available to students below.
Online Bachelor's Degree vs. a Traditional Degree
In many cases, the only difference between an online bachelor's degree and an in-person degree is the delivery of instruction. Some programs offer the same curriculum and graduation requirements for in-person and online majors.
In an online program, however, learners benefit from flexible schedules. Working students often prefer online courses to complete coursework around their other responsibilities and save time by not commuting to campus.
Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs
Accredited colleges and universities meet high standards for educating students and granting degrees. Like brick-and-mortar schools, online colleges should hold regional accreditation. The same accrediting agencies review on-campus and online programs.
How Long Does It Take To Get an Online Bachelor's Degree?
Earning an online bachelor's degree generally takes full-time students four years to complete. However, several factors influence program length. Some colleges offer accelerated programs or credit for work experience. Self-paced programs may alter degree timelines.
Program options like synchronous or asynchronous classes, internships, and cohort programs also affect program length. Consider researching the fastest online bachelor's programs to earn a degree in under four years.
How Much Does an Online Bachelor's Degree Cost?
Across the country, college costs continue to rise, and the same holds true for online degrees. According to 2020 data from U.S. News and World Report, online undergraduates spend between $38,500 to $60,500 on their bachelor's degree.
In general, public schools charge lower tuition rates, and private colleges cost the most. Distance learners may benefit from tuition discounts for fully online students. In addition to tuition, students should make sure to budget for textbooks, fees, and any other expenses.
Paying for Online College
Students can pay for online college by researching and applying for scholarships, grants, and loans. Fortunately, accredited online schools meet the requirements for most forms of financial aid. Distance learners also benefit from flexible schedules, making it easier to work while in school.
When budgeting for college, consider the following options:
- Research programs that offer in-state tuition discounts.
- Start at a community college and transfer into a bachelor's program.
- Work while in school to maintain your income.
- Apply for financial aid for your online bachelor's degree.
Financial Aid for Online College
Distance learners at accredited online colleges apply the same forms of financial aid as in-person students.
Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). College students should submit FAFSA forms every year to receive grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. Many scholarship applications also ask for the FAFSA as proof of financial need, so plan to fill it out — even if you do not plan to take out loans.
Scholarships and grants help millions of students afford their degrees. These forms of free money offer merit-based and need-based financial aid. Research scholarship opportunities early in the process and look into scholarships based on your state, major, and career plans. Many professional organizations and private foundations offer scholarships.
Online learners can also research student loans. Federal loans offer lower interest rates and more repayment options, so students should exhaust federal loan opportunities before turning to private loans.
When Should You Begin Applying for College?
Many online colleges have rolling admissions and offer multiple start dates throughout the year. Others admit students for fall and spring semesters only. When students should start their college applications depends on the school.
Research each institution's admissions policy and application deadlines. Plan to spend several weeks researching schools, collecting application materials, getting letters of recommendation, and writing a personal statement. It is best if students submit their applications as soon as possible instead of waiting until the deadline.
Applying to Online Colleges
The following checklist walks through how to apply to college. Make sure to carefully review the requirements and deadlines at any prospective schools.
- Visit college websites and request more information: College websites offer admission requirements and information about program options. Reach out to admissions departments for more information or answers to specific questions.
- Understand and meet entrance requirements: Most online colleges set entrance requirements, such as minimum GPA ranges. Some programs also include a minimum number of transfer credits.
- Request and receive letters of recommendation: If you need letters of recommendation, reach out to your letter-writers at least three weeks before the deadline. Review the process to make sure writers correctly submit letters.
- Draft and revise your personal statement: Online bachelor's programs often require personal statements. Set aside time to write and revise your statement. Ask a friend or family member to read it before turning in your application.
Applying to College During COVID
College enrollment numbers dropped during the pandemic, but did COVID-19 make it easier to get into college? The pandemic certainly changed how students apply.
Many schools eliminated their standardized test score requirements. Instead of submitting SAT or ACT scores, applicants provided high school and college transcripts, personal statements, and letters of recommendation. Always carefully review application requirements, particularly any changes, before applying.
What Can You Do With an Online Bachelor's Degree?
Earning a bachelor's degree prepares graduates for rewarding and lucrative career paths. Many entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree, and the critical thinking skills learned during an undergraduate program serve professionals in many fields.
In addition to analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills, online degree-seekers demonstrate their ability to manage time and organize effectively. Because students complete tasks in a self-directed environment, enrolling in an online program requires strong executive functioning.
An online bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university meets the same educational requirements as an in-person degree. Similarly, graduates with online degrees qualify for professional certifications and licenses. Online bachelor's programs also prepare students for graduate-level programs.
What Online Degrees Pay the Most?
The highest-paying online bachelor's programs include STEM and business degrees. For example, computer science, finance, mathematics, and electrical engineering all lead to high-paying careers after graduation.
Even outside of these majors, professionals with bachelor's degrees earn above-average salaries. While the median weekly wage slightly exceeds $1,000 per week, professionals with an undergraduate degree make over $1,300 per week. Individuals with bachelor's degrees earn a median salary $27,000 more than the median salary of a high school graduate.
What Jobs Can You Get With an Online Degree?
An online bachelor's degree prepares graduates for many different career paths. Graduates with a degree in business work in marketing, accounting, finance, and management. A computer science or information technology degree leads to opportunities in the tech sector as a software developer or information security analyst. Social work majors pursue careers in the nonprofit and public sectors.
Versatile online degrees in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences lead to opportunities in education, research laboratories, public policy, and other growing fields.
Business careers draw on analytical and problem-solving skills. Many business and financial occupations require a bachelor's degree. For example, budget analysts, market research analysts, and financial analysts must hold bachelor's degrees.
This industry hires professionals with strong technical and problem-solving abilities. Computer and information science careers, such as software developer, computer network architect, database administrator, and information security analyst, require a bachelor's degree.
Social workers help clients manage problems in their daily lives. Along with other community and social service occupations, social workers, behavioral health counselors, and correctional treatment specialists all need to possess bachelor's degrees.
The following information includes the median annual salaries and projected job growth rates for careers that require a bachelor's degree. Salaries vary widely depending on the career path, but professionals with bachelor's degrees typically earn above-average salaries. These careers report the most job openings for professionals with a bachelor's degree.
|Career||Median Annual Salary (2019)||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)|
|General and Operations Managers||$103,650||6%|
|Project Management Specialists||$77,420||6%|
|Market Research Analysts||$65,810||18%|
|Elementary School Teachers||$60,940||4%|
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Get Financial Aid for Online Classes?
Yes. Financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and loans, can pay for online classes. Financial aid recipients typically need to attend accredited institutions.
Do Online Degrees Say Online on the Diploma?
No. Most colleges that offer online and in-person degrees provide the same diplomas to graduates, regardless of their enrollment status.
Can You Transfer Credits Into an Online Bachelor's Degree Program?
Yes. Online colleges accept transfer credits toward bachelor's degrees. Each school sets specific transfer credit requirements, which may include a requirement that course credit come from an accredited institution.
How Long Do Online Degrees Take Compared to Traditional Degrees?
Earning an online bachelor's degree takes around four years for full-time students, much like an in-person degree. Online learners can complete their degrees in less time if they choose accelerated options or transfer credits toward their degrees.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.
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