Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs
Earning a bachelor's degree can lead to increased career opportunities and higher salaries for graduates. Many learners are interested in these advantages, with almost 8 million college students pursuing a bachelor's degree in the U.S. in spring 2022.Online bachelor's degree options are also increasing in popularity, providing greater access to a college education.
According to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data from 2019-2020, the most popular bachelor's degree subject is business, followed by health professions and related programs and social sciences and history. Engineering, biological and biomedical sciences, and psychology round out the six most popular fields.
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Overall, the average tuition and fees for a bachelor's program in 2020-2021 totaled $19,020. However, costs vary depending on the institution type and location. For example, the average annual tuition and fees at an in-state public school came out to $9,375 — significantly less than the average cost at a private nonprofit school ($35,852). Students may also be able to save money by attending an online college.
Types of Bachelor's Degrees
There are three main types of bachelor's degrees: bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of fine arts. Students pursuing any of these degree types complete general education courses in areas like writing, mathematics, history, and social sciences. However, depending on their career aspirations, a BA, BS, or BFA might be the best option. Students can also earn less common bachelor's degrees, including a bachelor of business administration or bachelor of applied science.
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Bachelor of arts degrees are classic liberal arts degrees. BA programs cover subjects that fall under the humanities, social sciences, languages, and arts. A bachelor of arts curriculum provides a strong general education foundation. Common subjects for a BA degree include English, sociology, history, psychology, and economics. Graduates can work in diverse fields, including business, education, the arts, and healthcare administration.
Bachelor of Science (BS)
A bachelor of science degree is conferred to undergraduates who have completed ample science and/or technology coursework. This includes natural, biological, and life sciences; math; engineering; information technology; computer science; and pre-medicine courses. Graduates often find careers in STEM or pursue related graduate studies.
Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)
A bachelor of fine arts is the standard degree for students in visual, performing, or fine arts programs. A BFA includes more practical studio components than a BA. Common BFA specializations include acting, architecture, creative writing, dance, drawing, painting, photography, and visual arts.
Explore Subject-Specific Bachelor's Degrees
Accelerated and Degree Completion Programs
A typical bachelor's degree requires 120 credits and takes four years of full-time study. However, accelerated degrees reduce the total time required to earn a bachelor's degree. Accelerated bachelor's degrees may combine a larger course load, condensed courses, and summer semesters to cover the same material faster.
In addition to accelerated degree programs, many colleges award credit for AP courses or work experience. Accelerated degree programs and previously earned credits can reduce degree costs and expedite graduation.
Degree completion programs offer students with previous college experience a pathway to finish a bachelor's degree. These programs may have flexible and/or accelerated schedules. Some degree completion programs allow students to transfer up to 90 college credits towards a bachelor's degree, enabling learners to complete their degree in one year.
Do I Need a Bachelor's Degree?
Many professions, including careers in business, education, science, and healthcare, require a bachelor's degree or higher to enter the workforce. A bachelor's degree can also lead to a higher median salary and greater lifetime earnings.
According to a 2021 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, adults with a bachelor's degree earn about $2.8 million during their careers, while workers who only hold a high school diploma earn about $1.6 million. In this scenario, a bachelor's degree increases a worker's lifetime earnings by 75%.
The overall cost of a degree and the educational requirements needed to enter a profession are important considerations when deciding whether to pursue a bachelor's degree. High-paying professions that don't require a bachelor's include web developer, radiation therapist, and dental hygienist.
Associate vs. Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree requires a minimum of 120 credits and usually takes full-time students four years to complete. This degree option aims to give professionals a well-rounded education before entering the workforce. An associate degree is shorter and can be a first step toward a bachelor's degree.
An associate degree program features about 60 credits and takes two years of full-time study. Many associate degrees provide specialized training, preparing graduates to enter the workforce after two years. Associate programs can also help students complete general education requirements, which can be applied toward a bachelor's degree.
Many schools offer 2+2 programs, where students complete a two-year associate degree at a community college before transferring to a partnering four-year institution. Following this pathway can help students save thousands of dollars on education costs.
|Associate Degree||Bachelor's Degree|
|Program Length||2 years||4 years|
|Number of Credits||60 credits||120 credits|
|Average Annual Tuition and Fees (NCES, 2020-2021)||$4,289||$19,020|
|Median Annual Salary for Degree-Holders (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021)||$59,280||$78,560|
How Much Does A Bachelor's Degree Cost?
Total tuition costs vary widely depending on a school's location and type (e.g., private vs. public). According to NCES data, the average cost of tuition and fees for a year of college at a four-year institution was $19,020 in 2020-21. However, at some public schools, online learners can avoid out-of-state tuition rates. Additionally, distance learners can save money on transportation, on-campus housing, and some student fees.
Students should also keep in mind that the total cost of college is more than just tuition. The true cost of college includes expenses related to room and board, tuition and fees, transportation, and books and other supplies. According to NCES, the average cost of room and board for undergraduates during the 2019-2020 academic year was $11,686.
In general, public colleges cost less than private colleges, and in-state tuition at public schools is less than out-of-state tuition. Students can search for scholarships to help reduce out-of-pocket costs.
Financial Aid for Online Students
Scholarships and other types of financial aid may be used to pay for tuition and cover living expenses. Some scholarships are paid directly to the college, while others are paid to the student.
Some types of financial aid (e.g., student loans) must be repaid, while others do not (e.g., scholarships and grants). Students should prioritize aid that does not have to be repaid to reduce their debt after graduation.
Grants are typically awarded based on need, while scholarships may be merit-based or need-based awards. Merit-based scholarships consider a student's performance in academics, the arts, sports, or other criteria. Need-based awards target students who meet income-related criteria, although they may also consider other variables.
Financial aid and scholarships for online students are similar to those for on-campus students. When comparing financial aid from public vs. private colleges, private colleges may offer larger overall award packages than public institutions because they often have larger endowments and higher costs.
Many students receive a combination of institutional scholarships, private loans, federal financial aid, and work-study funding to help pay for college. Students can also check online scholarship databases, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses for additional aid opportunities.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a simple application that students can fill out to see if they qualify for scholarships, grants, and financial aid funded by the U.S. Department of Education. There is no application fee for the FAFSA, and students can choose to accept or reject any financial aid they are qualified to receive.
FAFSA applications open on October 1 each year, and students should apply as soon as possible to increase their chances of securing aid. To qualify for FAFSA funding, students must be U.S. citizens with a social security number. International students and undocumented students cannot qualify for federal aid.
There are thousands of scholarships available for all types of students. In addition to general scholarships, some scholarships target students from historically excluded groups, women, nontraditional students, and learners pursuing degrees in specific subjects. Scholarships and grants may be funded by colleges, nonprofit foundations, businesses, private individuals, and government agencies.
Students can find scholarships by contacting their school's financial aid office, federal and state agencies, and other online resources. They can also use the U.S. Department of Labor's scholarship search tool.
Online vs. On-Campus Bachelor's Degrees
Online education options are on the rise. Online degrees from accredited colleges are comparably valuable to degrees earned on campus. Students who are self-motivated and work well on their own may prefer earning an online degree. In contrast, learners who work best in groups or have difficulty managing deadlines independently may not be well-suited for online learning.
Benefits of online programs include the flexibility to learn from home and asynchronous classes that can be adapted to a student's schedule. Online bachelor's programs may appeal to students who want to work while earning a degree.
Access to on-campus resources and support services
In-person social interaction and networking
Classroom learning environment with fewer distractions
Access to extracurricular clubs and activities
May be more expensive than online programs
Set class times with less flexibility
Flexibility to learn on your schedule
Learn from anywhere
Network with people around the world
Save time/money on commuting
May be more affordable than on-campus programs
Access to online tutoring and career services
Requires more self-discipline
Not all programs are available online
More technical requirements
Potential social isolation and loneliness
How to Choose an Online Program
Choosing the right college is an important decision for students. When researching online programs, distance learners should look for an option that aligns with their career and academic goals, budget, schedule, and learning style. However, students choosing an online college may care less about campus facilities and in-person benefits.
Students can begin their search by using BestCollege's degree finder. To get answers to specific questions, consult a high school or college counselor or contact a college's admissions office directly.
Cost is often a major deciding factor that influences where students go to school. However, cost and program quality are not always correlated. For example, many in-state public institutions offer excellent academic options at a relatively low cost.
Students should remember that the true cost of college includes expenses related to room and board, transportation, books and supplies, and tuition and fees. In many cases, online students can save on housing and transportation costs.
Additionally, thinking about their expected salary after graduation can help students decide how much debt they are willing to take on when looking at programs.
College accreditation is awarded by a third-party accrediting body that holds recognition from the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. If a school is accredited, that means it meets certain educational standards. Students should look for an accredited college when applying to schools. In some fields, programs can also be accredited by professional governing bodies, such as organizations overseeing nurses, teachers, or business professionals.
Employers look to hire candidates with degrees from accredited institutions because these credentials demonstrate professional readiness. In most cases, students should avoid for-profit colleges as they are usually not accredited by a reputable organization. They also tend to have low graduation rates.
Choosing a Major
Students can choose a major based on their strengths, interests, and career goals. Not all colleges offer all majors. Within a broad major like business, some colleges offer additional specializations like accounting or human resources.
Popular online bachelor's degrees include options in business, computer science, marketing, and management. With the increase in online education, more degree programs offer online or hybrid options.
Online Learning Format
Online bachelor's programs may be offered in a synchronous or asynchronous format. Asynchronous scheduling allows students to complete coursework largely at their own pace. This option offers greater flexibility for students who are working or have other personal responsibilities. In contrast, a synchronous format features live virtual classes that follow a schedule. This format offers more opportunities for peer and faculty interaction, group projects, and networking.
Additionally, many programs have a hybrid option that combines occasional in-person courses with asynchronous online coursework. Learners who can attend some classes on campus may find this option appealing.
Most degree programs also offer the choice of part-time or full-time programs. Students are considered full-time learners at most colleges if they take at least 12 credits per semester. Part-time students may have additional scheduling flexibility, but they will take longer to graduate.
Alternatively, accelerated bachelor's degrees allow students to graduate in three years or less. Some schools also offer accelerated bridge programs that let students earn a bachelor's and master's in 4-5 years.
The right program for each student depends on their individual goals and strengths. However, online degree options typically offer significantly more flexibility than on-campus courses.
Strong student services can improve learning outcomes and student success. Student support services for online students can help learners navigate courses, find internship and mentorship opportunities, and access counseling, networking opportunities, and academic support.
Prospective online students should check with colleges to find out what services they offer for distance learners. Mentorship and tutoring can be very important for student success — especially online students. Colleges that offer professional internships can give students industry connections before or after graduation.
How to Apply to an Online Bachelor's Program
Prospective students should be sure to keep track of deadlines for their college applications. Each college should have a list of its deadlines online. Basic application requirements for online programs include a high school diploma or GED certificate and official transcripts. Colleges may also ask for standardized test scores, essays, and reference letters.
As a general rule, students should apply to 5-8 colleges. To save time on the application process, online students should look into filling out the Common App, which is accepted at over 900 colleges. Students should also fill out the FAFSA each year.
1. Choose programs and check application requirements
The first step is choosing potential programs based on your area of interest and a program's format and cost. Students can find specific program requirements on college websites or by contacting admissions offices.
To organize application materials, students can keep folders with essays, personal statements, standardized test scores, AP exam results, and other materials needed for applications. Marking important application deadlines on a digital calendar and setting reminders for a month, week, and day before the deadline can ensure everything is submitted on time.
2. Take necessary standardized tests
Some online bachelor's degree programs don't require standardized tests. However, colleges that do require entrance exams typically accept both SAT and ACT scores. It can be useful to check out what is a good SAT or ACT score for each of your target programs.
3. Ask for letters of recommendation
Some colleges ask applicants to submit letters of recommendation. These documents should speak to a student's goals and academic readiness for college coursework. Students can ask teachers, counselors, or work supervisors to write these recommendations.
A letter of recommendation is a chance to highlight a student's unique strengths. Consider asking someone who can give insight into your strengths and past accomplishments. And also make sure they have time to meet college deadlines.
4. Request official transcripts
Official transcripts are academic records produced by high schools and colleges. Transcripts include a list of coursework and grades. They are required by virtually all on-campus and online bachelor's degree programs.
School counselors usually submit official transcripts to a college admissions office directly. By forwarding official transcripts, students can often transfer community college credits to a university.
5. Write your application essay
College application essays are a chance for students to showcase their individuality and written communication skills. Keep in mind that essays tend to be especially important for programs that don't require test scores. Students should start working on their essays early to have time to brainstorm, edit, and refine the essay.
Common essay prompts include questions about:
- Personal growth and accomplishments
- Lessons learned from setbacks, failures, or other challenges
- How gratitude affects a student's life
- Passions or interests that appeal to a student
6. Fill out your application
Filling out the undergraduate college application is relatively straightforward. Applications ask for personal information like an applicant's name, address, date of birth, high school, and graduation date. The application may also ask for your high school GPA, SAT or ACT scores, extracurricular activities, awards, or work experience.
7. Submit your application
After all your preparation, the final step is simple: submit the application and wait. Students usually hear back from colleges with rolling admissions within 4-6 weeks. For other online programs, admissions decisions may take a couple of months. Some colleges have a set date to announce admissions decisions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's Degrees
How long does it take to earn a bachelor's degree online?
With so many program formats, the time required for each student to complete a bachelor's degree will vary. However, a standard curriculum features 120 credits and takes four years of full-time study. Accelerated programs can be completed in less time.
Students can also graduate more quickly by enrolling in courses during the summer semester or taking more than 15 credits per semester. Students can also get credit for high scores on AP tests or work experience. Part-time students can expect to take five years or longer to graduate.
How fast can I get a bachelor's degree online?
Regular online bachelor's degrees take four years of standard, full-time study. For students who want to graduate quickly, accelerated degree programs can reduce the time of a bachelor's degree by a year or more.
Students can get a bachelor's degree faster by taking a larger course load, studying year-round, or getting credit for previously completed coursework or certain life experiences. Students who enroll in an accelerated degree program can join the workforce sooner and lower their overall program costs.
Are online bachelor's degrees worth it?
An online bachelor's degree can provide the same career advantages as an on-campus degree. Accredited online bachelor's programs feature the same curriculum and adhere to the same standards as on-campus programs.
Compared to workers with only a high school diploma, bachelor's degree-holders earn a median salary that is almost $40,000 more per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics). And 2021 data from Georgetown University shows that the median lifetime earnings of bachelor's degree-holders are $1.2 million more than professionals who only hold a high school diploma. As a result, many professionals who earn an online bachelor's degree find it worth their time.
Is an online degree a real degree?
Yes, an online degree from an accredited college is a real degree accepted by employers and other colleges. Accredited online degree programs adhere to the same rigorous academic requirements as on-campus programs. In many cases, they have the same professors and classes as traditional programs.
Online options offer students greater flexibility to earn a degree while working or fulfilling other personal commitments. Online students can also save on housing and transportation costs, making an online degree an attractive option for many learners.
What is the easiest bachelor's degree to get?
The easiest bachelor's degree depends on each student's strengths and career goals. Students who love writing or math may find degrees related to those subjects easier. Within most fields of study, there are specializations that require more or less math, writing, or research. Pursuing a BA or BS can also help you play to your academic strengths.
10 Highest-Paying Bachelor's Degrees
Should You Go Back to College?
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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