Overview of Online College Degrees

Online education, also referred to as distance or virtual learning, is the process of taking educational courses remotely via the internet. Many students are attracted to the online format because of its convenience and self-directed nature, and in some cases, because of its lower cost when all factors are taken into consideration.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a rising popularity in online learning, with enrollment in virtual learning programs increasing even as enrollment in college programs overall has declined. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2010 and 2018, total college enrollment decreased by about 1.5 million students, while enrollment in virtual learning courses increased, also by about 1.5 million students. As of 2019, 14.8% of undergraduate college students and 32.6% of graduate students were earning their degrees exclusively online.

Is It Possible to Get a Degree Entirely Online?

Although many students are aware they can take select classes online, some wonder if they can earn their entire degree online. The answer is yes. Hundreds of highly regarded colleges and universities offer 100% online degree programs that enable students to take every class online.

Programs are available from traditional schools, research institutions, and specialty schools, such as religious colleges. The curriculum and coursework for these degrees are comparable to those of on-campus degrees, and the courses are often taught by the same instructors.

If you think you might prefer virtual learning, you might consider earning one of the most popular online bachelor’s degrees, such as business, nursing, health science, history, psychology, biology, and communications.


Choosing and Applying to an Online Program

Once you’ve determined the subject and degree you would like to pursue, you’ll need to decide which online program to enroll in. There are several important factors to consider when selecting the specific program that will best meet your needs, such as the reputation of the school for teaching that subject, any options for adding a concentration or area of emphasis, and the degree to which you can customize your program through the choice of electives.

Another important factor is your return on investment, meaning the cost of the program as compared to your increased earning potential over the course of your career.

What you Need before to Answer before Enrolling on any Program

  • As you conduct your school search, you might also want to investigate the school’s virtual learning environment before making your final choice. Some useful questions to ask are:
  • Are the courses entirely asynchronous, allowing you to complete work on your own time, or are elements of the courses synchronous, requiring you to be online with the instructor at specific days and times?
  • Does the school require you to come to campus for any live learning events, and will you have the time and resources to attend these sessions?
  • Will you be able to meet the expected demands of the courses in addition to your other time commitments?
  • Will you have access to financial aid and student support services if enrolled online?

Once you’ve settled on one or more programs, you’re ready to apply. Prospective students use the same process to apply for online programs as they do for traditional programs, and they must meet the same admissions standards.

To submit an application for an online degree program, start by visiting the school’s website. You may be directed to submit an online application directly to the school, or you may be asked to submit your application through one of the communal college application portals, such as the Common App.

If you are applying to an associate or bachelor’s degree program, you will probably also be asked for:

  • Transcripts from your high school or GED program
  • One to three letters of recommendation
  • personal essay or statement

Some schools may also request test scores from college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT. If you are a transfer student continuing with a bachelor’s program or applying to an online master’s or doctoral program, you will most likely be asked for additional materials, such as transcripts of your previous college coursework and a resume or curriculum vitae.



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