Earning a bachelor’s degree — in person or online — can open doors when it comes 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 was at 86% in 2018. Compare that with the 72% employment rate for those with a high school diploma.
A bachelor’s degree can also lead to a higher salary. In 2018, the average person with a bachelor’s degree earned a median income of nearly $1,200 per week. In comparison, those with an associate degree earned about $860 weekly, while those with a high school diploma averaged $730 a week.
In 2017, about 5.5 million undergraduate students enrolled in at least one online course, and 2.2 million 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. This decision will vary among students, and academic advisers can offer guidance on which route is best for you.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees
- Students can take class 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.
- Classes can be planned around busy schedules.
- Students need greater self-motivation, time management 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. It’s an appealing choice for those who want to advance in their current career field or change fields completely.
The online format often makes sense for individuals that need flexibility to complete coursework around their schedules. Online undergraduate students can continue working full time while advancing their education. Students getting a degree online can also avoid spending money and time traveling to campus. To succeed in a program, students need to have good time management skills and the self-discipline to learn, study and complete assignments without constant face-to-face interaction with an instructor.
A variety of online bachelor’s programs exist, so it’s essential that prospective students explore all options before enrolling. Those 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. A majority of incoming online undergraduates have previously earned some college credits. Individuals in this group should check early in the process to see if the prospective online program will accept those credits.
How Much Does An Online Bachelor’s Cost?
At many private universities, you’ll pay the same tuition for an online undergraduate degree as you would for one earned on campus. Tuition rates may differ for in-state and out-of-state online students at public schools. On their websites, most schools post information about tuition and required fees for online programs, just as they do for most on-campus bachelor’s programs. You can also request info from the bursar’s office, which is responsible for handling college tuition payments.
There are also several ways students can reduce the cost of an online degree. For instance, they can transfer previously earned college credits or enroll in an accelerated program. In competency-based education, students demonstrate mastery of specific skills to progress faster through what they already know, spending more time on the new information and paying a set price per billing period. Employer tuition reimbursement — where an employer pays for some or all tuition — and scholarships for online students can also help reduce the price of getting an education.
Prospective students can contact a financial aid adviser to ensure they are on track with paying each term. Generally, online programs will accept payments online by credit card, debit card or electronic check; by mail via a check or money order; or by wire transfer. Most online degree programs also permit students to pay tuition for a given term in several sums rather than all at once. While on-campus students may need to pay athletic, transportation and activity fees, these are usually waived for online learners. That said, a school may charge them a distance education or technology fee. This varies by institution.
How to Get Financial Aid for Online College
1. Submit the FAFSA: To receive financial aid, the first and most important step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This is available online on Oct. 1 each year. To receive the most financial aid possible, prospective students should check school and state grant deadlines and submit the application as early as possible.
The FAFSA requires applicants to fill in basic information such as their contact information and social security number as well as provide their latest federal income tax returns and bank statements. Undergraduate students who are under 24 years old – and not married, veterans or active military members – will need to file as a dependent and provide their parents’ financial information.
2. Fill out other financial aid forms and apply for scholarships: Many colleges offer their own source of financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships and loans. You may need to fill out additional forms to receive this aid. This information – including deadlines – is generally available on a school’s website.
Applicants can also search online for scholarships available at specific schools or from organizations tied to their discipline. Online learners may be eligible for the same scholarships available to on-campus students, and there may even be additional scholarships for online or adult learners.
3. Review and correct the FAFSA Student Aid Report: A few days after submitting the FAFSA online, applicants will receive a Student Aid Report from the Federal Student Aid office. This report restates answers that applicants provided on the FAFSA as well as other relevant information, and it’s an opportunity for applicants to correct any errors on the FAFSA, including adding or removing colleges.
4. Compare awards: Each school will calculate an applicant’s financial need, which determines their financial aid eligibility. Students will receive an award letter stating what financial aid they are being offered. They can compare their award packages based on the aid they are eligible to receive, the school’s tuition and other costs.
5. Reapply for financial aid each year: To continue receiving financial aid each year, applicants need to fill out the FAFSA annually for as long as they plan to be a student. An undergraduate degree can be a major investment, and financial aid can help ease the burden of costly tuition. Much like financial aid for on-campus students, aid for online students is available in the form of grants, scholarships, loans and even federal work-study jobs. That said, some online degree programs may not offer work-study opportunities, as many online students are already working full time.
Even though a prospective undergraduate student may plan to complete his or her degree online, the financial aid process is often identical to students earning a degree in person. Online students also need to meet similar – if not the same – requirements to be eligible for financial aid at a given school. Additionally, deciding between part-time and full-time enrollment status can affect an online student’s ability to qualify for financial aid. To receive certain amounts or types of aid, many online programs require students to meet specific credit-hour requirements.
It’s important to understand that applying for financial aid is a complex process. In the 2019 Online College Students survey by Aslanian Market Research and Learning House, 26% of online undergraduate students indicated that completing financial aid forms was the most difficult part of the enrollment process, followed by determining how to pay for school. Luckily, there are often financial aid advisers at accredited online colleges to answer questions and help applicants through the process.