What to Know About Online Bachelor Degree

An online bachelor’s degree provides students a flexible and accessible path to earning a bachelor degree through an online program. It typically takes 4 years to graduate for full-time students, though accelerated programs can shorten the timeline to 2-3 years.

Compared to on-campus programs, online bachelor’s degrees provide advantages like lower tuition and costs, self-paced learning, and access to more program varieties. But they also have disadvantages like less social interaction, less hands-on experience, and the self-discipline required.

Online programs cover the vast majority of majors available in on-campus programs. Business, liberal studies, nursing, education, criminal justice, and healthcare are the 5 most popular majors for online bachelor programs.

Accreditation is the most important factor to consider when selecting an online program. Without college accreditation, neither employers nor graduate school can determine if the candidate has received a qualified education. Other factors like flexibility, cost, and student services availability are also worth considering.

With lower tuition and no room and board costs, online bachelor programs give students a more affordable option. Currently public online colleges charge an average of $316 per credit while private schools have a higher average cost, which is $488 per credit.

What is an Online Bachelor’s Degree

An online bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree program that allows students to complete all of their coursework and earn their bachelor’s degree fully online. It provides a flexible and accessible option for non-traditional students like working adults or those living far from a university campus.

Online bachelor’s degree programs provide the same quality curriculum as traditional on-campus programs, but offer the flexibility of online learning that allows students to study and complete coursework completely over the internet. This online format gives students the ability to access course lectures, materials, assignments, and faculty support online at any time from any location.

Online bachelor degree programs still require the same number of credit hours (typically 120 credits) and course requirements as on-campus programs to earn the degree. 

As long as online bachelor’s degrees are earned from accredited institutions, they carry the same reputation and value as degrees earned on-campus. Employers and graduate schools consider them equivalent educational credentials when evaluating candidates.

Why Accreditation is Important for Online Bachelor Programs

There are several reasons listed below that demonstrate the importance of accreditation for online bachelor programs:

  • Quality Assurance: Accreditation ensures that schools meet high standards, making their online program respected in academic and professional circles. The accreditation process involves a thorough review for curriculum quality, faculty qualifications, outcome and the effectiveness of student support services.
  • Future Employment: Degrees from accredited institutions are often seen as more trustworthy by employers, especially in fields like business, healthcare, engineering, and education.
  • Financial Aid Eligibility: Only students in accredited online programs are eligible for federal financial aid, which can save them a significant amount of money.
  • Transfer of Credits: Accredited institutions enable students to transfer credits more easily between schools. If a student decides to transfer to another university, like from Arizona State University Online to another accredited institution, their credits are more likely to be accepted.
  • Licensure and Certification: Graduates from accredited online bachelor programs are often required to have graduated from an accredited program to sit for professional licensure exams. In fields like nursing, accredited programs are essential for graduates to become licensed nurses.

In the United States, the most common accrediting agencies are 6 regional accreditation boards, which include: Middle States Association of Colleges & Schools (MSA), Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities (NASC), North Central Association of Colleges & Schools (NCA), New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC), Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS) andWestern Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC).

What Are Factors to Consider When Choosing an Online Bachelor Program

When choosing an online bachelor degree, 5 main factors should be considered as follow:

  • Accreditation: Accreditation from recognized accrediting agencies should be a priority when choosing an online bachelor’s program, as it signifies the education meets accepted quality standards. For example, a business program accredited from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) will be more recognized by employers.
  • Quality of the Faculty and Curriculum: Online programs should mirror the quality and experience of on-campus programs. Programs like the University of Florida’s use the same faculty and curriculum for both their online and in-person classes. 
  • Flexibility: The flexibility of the course schedule should align with the learner’s personal and professional commitments. Some online bachelor’s degrees offer Self-Paced Learning that allow students to learn at their own pace. 
  • Cost: Students should consider not only tuition but also additional fees and the availability of financial aid. Some institutions may offer lower tuition for in-state students or scholarships for online learners. In general, online bachelor’s programs are more affordable than the traditional ones, as we will discuss in the below section.
  • Graduation Rate: A high graduation rate for online programs reflects the institution’s effective academic support and resources. For example, University of Florida Online reported a graduation rate of 88% in 2021, which suggests strong student support and successful program results. 
  • Student Support Services: Students should look for programs offering strong support services, including academic advising, career services, and technical support. Institutions like Arizona State University stand out for their comprehensive support systems in place for distance learners.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Bachelor’s Degree Online?

Completing an online bachelor’s degree typically takes 4 years to finish the required 120 credits. However, a few factors can shorten or extend this timeline, including:

  • Enrollment Status: Full-time students can often finish in 4 years, similar to on-campus programs. Part-time students may take 5-6 years depending on their course load per term.
  • Accelerated Programs: Some online programs offer accelerated tracks which allow students to finish in as little as 2-3 years.
  • Having Transfer Credits: Having credits from an associate degree or other accredited institutions can substantially reduce the time required. For example, students with an associate degree could only need 2 more years to earn their bachelor’s online. Some schools accept up to 75% transfer credits, which shortens the graduation timeline significantly.

How Accelerated Programs can Help you Get Online Bachelor Degree Fast

In general, accelerated programs can be completed in 2-3 years. Some programs (like BSN programs) offer more intensive schedules that can allow students to complete their degree in as little as 18 months.

Efficiency and flexibility are the key characteristics of these programs.

Firstly, these programs allow students to take more intensive courses which cover the same content as standard programs but at a faster pace. For instance, courses may run for 8-weeks instead of the traditional 15-16 weeks semester. The shorter course duration means students often complete their degree in half the time.

Students usually have access to year-round enrollment opportunities, which means no waiting for traditional semester start dates. This permits continuous study without lengthy breaks, further speeding up the graduation timeline.

Credit transfer policies are often more generous in accelerated programs, acknowledging students’ previous education and experience. They may be able to transfer credits from:

  • Prior college courses
  • AP credits and CLEP credits
  • Professional and military training

Accelerated programs are particularly suitable for working professionals or those with other commitments. Courses are typically asynchronous, providing students with the convenience to study at times that suit their personal schedules.

What Are Benefits Of Online Bachelor Degree

Online bachelor’s degrees offer 5 key advantages for college students as below.

Flexibility: The most significant advantage is flexibility. Online bachelor programs allow students to complete coursework on their own time, fitting education around work, family, and other commitments. Whether studying late at night or between daily errands, students can access materials and submit assignments at any time.

Reduced Cost: Studying online can lower the total cost of a bachelor’s degree. Not only are tuition fees often lower, students also save on associated costs such as housing, transportation, and textbooks. A study from Education Data Initiative notes that online learners can save over 50% compared to on-campus tuition.

Accessibility: Accessibility is another major benefit for online bachelor programs. Online degrees remove geographical limitations to attending college. Students in remote areas can earn degrees from top universities across the country without relocating. 

Variety of Programs: Students also gain access to a wider variety of bachelor programs online, from business and computer science to nursing and graphic design. For example, Arizona State University offers over 100 online undergraduate degrees.

Self-Paced Learning: Some online bachelor’s degrees allow students to learn at their own pace, which makes education accessible for those with variable schedules. 

What Are Disadvantages Of Online Bachelor Degrees

While online bachelor’s degrees offer flexibility and accessibility, there are 5 key disadvantages compared with the on campus degrees:

Self-discipline Needed: Success in online bachelor’s programs heavily relies on students’ self-discipline and time management skills. Unlike traditional classroom settings that offer structured learning, online students must manage their own motivation and scheduling. 

Limited Hands-On Experience: Some majors like nursing, engineering, or laboratory sciences, benefit greatly from practical, hands-on experience. Online programs usually limit access to labs, equipment, and fieldwork compared to in-person settings.

Limited Social Interaction: Online learning environments provide fewer opportunities for in-person social interaction between students and with instructors. The reduced face-to-face contact can limit the development of communication and networking skills that typically occur through collaborative groups.

Lower GPA: According to a study called “A Ten-Year Comparison of Outcomes and Persistence Rates In Online Versus Face-to-Face Courses”, the average GPA for students in face-to-face sections is higher than for those in online sections. The average GPA for students in face-to-face sections was 2.8, whereas the average GPA for students in online sections was 2.65.

How Much Does Online Bachelor Degree Cost

The total tuition for an online bachelor’s degree is approximately $51,091, according to the 2021 report of CollegeBoard and EducationData.

Public institutions typically offer lower tuition rates for in-state students, averaging around $38,496, whereas out-of-state students can expect to pay about $54,183. Private institutions have a higher average tuition cost of $60,593.

Tuition can also be calculated by cost per credit hour. Public colleges have an average of $316 per credit hour. In contrast, private colleges have a higher average cost, reaching $488 per credit hour for the academic year of 2019-20. We also collected the latest costs per credit from college official websites (Updated on Dec, 2023):

University NameCost per Credit Hour
Southern New Hampshire University $330
East Carolina University$204.79 (in-state) / $883 (out-of-state)
University of Central Florida$179
Concordia University, St. Paul$420
University of West Florida$218.98 (in-state) / $648.37 (out-of-state)
Simmons University$500
Post University$599 (most programs) / $530 (Early Childhood/Child Studies) / $430 (RN to BSN)
Full Sail University$608 – $792

Beyond tuition, students also need to pay for textbooks and a technology fee. According to the National Association of College Stores, college students spent an average of $413 on textbooks and course materials in the 2019-20 academic year, a 41% drop from 2007-08.

Technology fees represent another notable charge online students must consider. These fees support the digital infrastructure necessary for remote education. For example, Old Dominion University charges a course technology fee of $30 per credit hour for each technology-delivered course, whereas Oregon Tech charges a technology fee of $65 for each online course. 

Is Online Degree Cheaper Than Traditional On-Campus Degree?

Yes, online degrees are generally cheaper than traditional on-campus degrees.

A study by OnlineU, which sampled 100 institutions, found that 80% of public schools and 96% of private schools offer lower tuition rates for out-of-state students enrolled in online programs. Additionally, over 33% of public schools charge reduced rates for in-state students studying online.

Online programs tend to be more affordable for a few reasons. Some public colleges charge the same tuition rate to online students as they do for in-state residents, regardless of where the students live. 

Similarly, private schools often charge lower tuition rates for distance learners enrolled in online programs versus on-campus students. While some colleges still charge the same tuition rates for all students, online students are rarely required to pay more than their on-campus counterparts.

What Are the Cheapest Online Bachelor Programs

Here are 5 most affordable bachelor programs as of 2023, according to OnlineU:

UniversityLocationAnnual TuitionDegree ProgramsOnline Platform
Athens State UniversityAthens, AL$6,97523 Bachelor’sBlackboard
Columbia Southern UniversityOrange Beach, AL$7,05016 Bachelor’sBlackboard
University of the PotomacMultiple Locations$7,20011 Bachelor’sBlackboard
Western Governors UniversitySalt Lake City, UT$7,45228 Bachelor’sMoodle
Thomas Edison State UniversityTrenton, NJ$9,27835 Bachelor’sMoodle

What Majors Are Most Popular and Eligible For Online Bachelor’s Degrees

Based on the data from OnlineU, here are the top 9 most popular majors for online bachelor’s programs, along with the number of programs for each major as of 2023.

  1. Business: 2,723 programs
  2. Liberal Studies: 1,156 programs
  3. Nursing: 773 programs
  4. Education: 759 programs
  5. Criminal Justice: 753 programs
  6. Organizational Leadership: 707 programs
  7. Health Sciences: 694 programs
  8. Information Technology: 635 programs
  9. Healthcare Administration: 421 programs

Business is the most popular online bachelor’s program because it offers versatile skills applicable in various industries and roles. Liberal Studies, with 1,156 programs, follows as a favored choice, appealing to students who desire a well-rounded education. 

Nursing, ranking third with 773 programs, reflects the growing demand for healthcare professionals. Online nursing programs offer a path for practicing nurses to advance their careers.

Majors like Engineering, Architecture, Applied Science are not that eligible for online programs because they require specialized equipment, in-person collaboration, or extensive lab work that can be difficult to provide in an online format. 

What Are The Facts About The State Of Online Degree And Programs 

Here are the key facts on the state of online education:

  • Demand is rising – A report of “Changing Landscape of Online Education” found 66% surveyed institutions are adding new online-only programs. 
  • Perception improving – 84% of adults now believe employers are more accepting of online degrees compared to pre-pandemic and 72% see online education as more reputable, according to a survey from Champlain College Online.
  • High satisfaction – Based on the 2023 Online Education Trends report from BestColleges, 96% of online graduates would recommend online learning. 93% believe their degree will have a positive ROI.
  • Sustained interest – 59% of students enrolled in online programs from 2020-2023 are unlikely to switch to in-person classes post-pandemic, based on a survey by Wiley University Services.
  • Preparedness a concern – Under a quarter of faculty have experience designing online courses, suggesting challenges for large-scale rollouts.

What Are Common Misunderstandings About Online Degree

Some misunderstandings about online degrees include the following:

  1. Most Institutions That Offer Distance Education Are Distance-Only Schools, And May Not Have A Physical Campus At All: That’s not true. A report of “Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States” notes that there are 3,338 degree granting postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer distance education. Out of these, only 140 (4.2%) are exclusively distance learning institutions. 
  2. Distance-Only Institutions Are All For-Profit: That’s not the case. According to the same report, one-half of the top 50 online schools are for-profit institutions, the remaining are a mix of private not-for-profit and public institutions.
  3. Online Courses Are Easier Than Traditional Courses: Many students assume that online programs are less rigorous than their on-campus counterparts. In most cases, they often require the same level of academic work and dedication. 
  4. No Time Limits for Course Completion: Contrary to the early days of online learning, most current online courses have set durations, typically ranging from 4 to 16 weeks. Failing to complete within this timeframe can lead to failing the course​.
  5. Transferability Issues: Students often worry that online courses won’t transfer to other institutions or advanced degree programs. However, many universities view online courses as equally transferable as traditional ones

Does Online College Have More Flexible Policy to Accept Transfer Credits?

Yes, online colleges often do have flexible policies when it comes to accepting transfer credits. For example, Western Governors University accepts up to 90 transfer credits, and also this university operates on a competency-based model that allows for a more personalized assessment of transfer credits. 

However, policies vary, so students should confirm specific transfer policies with the college’s admissions or registrar’s office.

Can You Transfer Online College Credits Out?

Yes, students can transfer credits from an online college to another institution. The receiving institution has specific criteria that determine the eligibility of credits for transfer. These criteria typically include accreditation of the online program, relevance of coursework, and minimum grade requirements (often a ‘C’ or higher). 

A student with online credits from a regionally accredited college has a higher likelihood of transferability than credits from a nationally accredited one. 

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