Online education is no longer just an option for many students – it has become the norm. Out of necessity, virtual learning has grown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as institutions plan to resume on-campus instruction, experts say colleges are poised to offer more online degree programs and develop new ones to boost enrollment. Advancements in technology, course design, high-speed internet availability and more are moving online learning forward.
One reason students enroll in online degree programs is for the flexibility to study from anywhere. Students with family responsibilities or full-time jobs may also be able to work around their own schedules. Online students need to have good time management skills and be able to overcome distractions in their environment.
Though online formats still present students with unique challenges, accredited institutions usually offer tailored support for students to adjust to online courses and plan their academic futures however they learn.
Online Degree Programs
Earning a bachelor’s degree – in person or online – can open doors to employment opportunities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the employment rate among 25- to 34-year-olds in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree or higher was at 86% in 2020. Compare that with the 69% employment rate for those with only a high school diploma.
In fall 2019, about 7.3 million undergraduate students were enrolled in any distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, and more than 3.4 million were enrolled exclusively in online classes, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students in online programs usually earn the same degree as on-campus students.
The curriculum for an online bachelor’s degree typically matches the on-campus curriculum at the same school, and the diploma usually doesn’t state whether that specific degree was earned online or in person. This can help ease fears that employers won’t accept applicants with online undergraduate degrees.
Many online bachelor’s programs require students to complete general education requirements in the arts, humanities and sciences if they haven’t already done so at another college or university. Prospective students will likely need to decide between a liberal arts major and one that is more career-focused, with the latter being the route many take to change career fields or advance professionally.
Still, experts say it may make sense for some online students to major in a liberal arts discipline if it’s a subject they are truly passionate about. Academic advisers can offer guidance on which route is best for you.
Pros and Cons of Online Degrees
- Students can take classes virtually, allowing them to learn anywhere.
- Students can pursue the best program for their field of study, even if the school is far from home.
- Students can plan around busy schedules to complete their coursework.
- Students need greater self-motivation, time management skills and discipline to complete coursework.
- There’s no face-to-face interaction with an instructor.
- Networking with classmates may be difficult.
An online bachelor’s degree can be a great choice for students who want to continue their education and have either an associate degree or no postsecondary education. A variety of online bachelor’s programs exist, so prospective students should explore all options before enrolling.
Students who want to earn their online degree as quickly as possible may wish to pursue a competency-based program or one with an accelerated schedule. The majority of incoming online undergraduates have previously earned some college credits.
Individuals in this group should check early in the process whether the prospective online program will accept those credits. Students with an undergraduate degree also can earn a master’s degree completely online. This path is a great choice for working professionals who want to advance in their career or change fields completely.
How to Avoid Online College Scams
Beware of diploma mills, which award illegitimate degrees to students on the internet. Among the most important steps a prospective student can take is to ensure an online degree program is accredited by an organization recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
It’s also essential to look for red flags on a program’s website. Anything that seems too good to be true – earning a degree in a very short time period, for instance, or at an extremely low cost – is a warning sign. The opposite is also true: If a program seems abnormally expensive, conduct further research.
Other red flags include a program not listing a campus or business address online, the website having a lot of grammatical or spelling errors or lacking a “.edu” URL, and the school failing to post information about student support services.