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Question: Are there Online Bachelor’s Degree Completion Programs?

Answer: Yes, there are online bachelor’s degree completion programs. These programs are designed to give students who hold a two-year associate degree or the equivalent of one to two years of college with a pathway to complete the remaining credits required for a bachelor’s degree through online coursework. Students who qualify for an online bachelor’s completion program generally begin with roughly half or more than half of the 120 credits that comprise a typical four-year undergraduate degree program, although some completion programs accept students with as few as 30 college credits. Students are then able to finish their bachelor’s degree requirements online through a program of study that may include general education courses, elective courses, and/or courses within a designated major. While there are variations in the types of courses offered in online completion programs, and majors vary by school, the purpose of these programs is to provide students with the coursework necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in the equivalent of three or four semesters, or one to two years, depending on the program.

Components of a Bachelor’s Degree Program

A bachelor’s degree is a four-year undergraduate degree or the equivalent, typically comprised of eight semesters of coursework totaling 120 credit hours. How these credits are allotted and the specific requirements for earning an undergraduate diploma varies by school and by program. For example, a typical college course that meets once or twice a week for 15 weeks may be worth three credits, but a program may also offer one- or two-credit courses that meet less often and require less work outside of the classroom than a three-credit course.

Regardless of how credits are allotted, most colleges and universities that confer bachelor’s degrees require students to receive a passing grade in a certain number of general education courses in the arts, sciences, and humanities, which may include English composition, history, mathematics, physical science, and social science classes. In addition, students usually complete a set of core courses in a designated field of study or major as part of the 120 credits required for graduation, and some bachelor’s programs incorporate other credited activities, such as senior papers, independent study and research projects, and field education or supervised internship hours.

In order to receive a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) diploma, students must demonstrate that they have fulfilled the specific requirements of a program as outlined by the degree-granting institution. The information below offers a general overview of how the crediting requirements may be broken down in a typical, four-year bachelor’s degree program.

  • Total Credits: 120
  • Credits per Course: 3
  • General Education Requirements: 42-60 credits (14-20 courses)
  • Major Requirements: 30-36 credits (10-12 courses)
  • Additional Requirements: 24-48 credits (8-16 courses)
  • Total Number of Courses: 40

Online Bachelor’s Programs

There are accredited, non-profit private and public colleges and universities that offer online bachelor’s degree programs. These programs provide students with a curriculum that is equivalent to a traditional campus-based bachelor’s program in terms of general education coursework and total number of credits required for graduation. However, some online bachelor’s program may not offer the same electives and/or majors as their campus-based counterparts.

Students who enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program without prior college credits should expect to complete the equivalent of eight academic semesters of coursework and other credited activities. For full-time students, this may take up to four or five years, depending on the structure of the program and on when courses are offered. An online program that utilizes a trimester or quarterly system may allow full-time students to earn a bachelor’s degree in as few as three years by taking classes year-round on a full-time basis. And some online programs use a modified academic calendar with as many as eight to 12 starts per year. In these programs, students may take one course per 4 to 5-week term as opposed to three courses per 15-week semester.

Students who have earned prior college credits may be able to transfer those credits and count them toward the total number of credits required to graduate from an online bachelor’s program, thereby decreasing the number of courses and the amount of time needed to complete the program. However, the ability to transfer credits may depend on several factors and may not be guaranteed. For example, credits from a non-accredited school or program may not be transferable, and online bachelor’s programs may place restrictions on the transfer of credits if those credits were not earned within a certain number of years.

What Is an Online Bachelor’s Degree Completion Program?

Online bachelor’s and undergraduate degree completion program are designations that some colleges and universities use for online programs that provide a pathway for earning a bachelor’s degree to students who have already taken a significant number of college courses. Graduates from two-year associate degree programs and students who have started but have not completed a four-year undergraduate program are generally eligible for enrollment in these programs, which utilize distance learning technologies to deliver the remaining coursework required to earn a bachelor’s degree.

A bachelor’s completion program may require applicants to have as many as 60 or roughly half of the credits that are needed to earn a bachelor’s degree. These programs may also require students to have earned a passing grade in several introductory college courses, such as a first-year writing/English composition course and/or a college mathematics course, prior to enrolling. However, there are schools with online bachelor’s programs that accommodate students who have earned as few as 30 college credits. These schools may or may not formally designate their online undergraduate programs as “completion” programs, but they serve the same function, providing students who have already earned at least one year of college credits with an opportunity to complete bachelor’s degree requirements without having to repeat their first year of school.

It is important to note that while credit transfer policies vary by program, most schools cap the number of transferrable undergraduate credits. In general, students must earn at least one quarter of their credits, or 30 of the total credits in a 120-credit bachelor’s program from the school conferring the degree. Thus, students who have more than 90 undergraduate credits from prior college coursework may not be permitted to transfer all of those credits into an online bachelor’s completion program.

Completing a Bachelor’s Program Online

While the structure and format of online bachelor’s completion programs varies by school and by program, many online completion programs have flexible enrollment options and are designed to accommodate students who have work or other significant commitments outside of school. The online courses in these programs may be delivered using asynchronous instruction, which gives students the freedom to view lectures and access course materials on demand, or through synchronous instruction, which means that classes have designated meeting times. Online programs that utilize synchronous instruction often make an effort to stream lectures and other interactive class activities in the evenings or on weekends in order to avoid potential conflicts with students’ work schedules.

Online bachelor’s completion programs may also afford student some flexibility regarding the number of courses taken per term. Students who prefer to attend school part-time may be able to take just one or two classes per term, while students enrolled full-time take three or four courses per term. Nevertheless, earning a bachelor’s degree through an online completion program can require students to commit ten to 20 or more hours per week to coursework while classes are in session.

The time it takes to graduate from an online bachelor’s completion program depends on several factors, including how many courses students complete per term, the number of credits students are able to transfer into the program, and the format of the program. For example, Boston University (BU) has an online Undergraduate Degree Completion Program (UDCP) that requires incoming students to have at least 53 transferrable credits, including college-level writing and mathematics courses. Students can complete the program’s 16 required courses in 30 months and graduate with a Bachelor of Liberal Studies in Interdisciplinary Studies degree.

Similarly, the online bachelor’s degree completion program offered by Old Dominion University (ODU) requires students to have completed roughly their first two years of college or approximately 60 credits of coursework. In contrast to the BU program, ODU’s program offers a wide range undergraduate majors online, including: Accounting; Business Administration; Communication; Computer Science; Criminal Justice; Health Sciences; Nursing (RN-to-BSN); and Psychology. Students who come into the ODU program with two or more years of college credits can graduate in roughly two years, however, different majors have different curricular requirements and earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), for example, may take more time than earning a BA in Communication or Criminal Justice.

Norwich University offers an online completion program that only requires applicants to have 30 transferrable college credits. The Norwich program can be completed in as few as 18 months of year-round enrollment and it confers a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies in Justice Studies, Strategic Studies, or Leadership studies. Similarly, the University of Denver’s University College Bachelor of Arts Completion Program only requires incoming students to have 40 quarter hours (the equivalent of 27 semester hours) of college credits. Students in the program must complete 11 common core courses and ten courses in one of five majors: Communication Arts; Global Commerce & Transportation; Global Studies; Information Technology; and Leadership & Organization Studies.

In addition to variations between programs, the number of courses required and the amount of time it takes to graduate from an online bachelor’s completion program may vary by student on a case-by-case basis within a program. Applicants to online bachelor’s completion programs may be provided with a general plan of study that outlines the number of courses and the type of courses required for graduation. However, individual students may be required to take additional courses, depending on their academic background.

Note: Students who intend to apply for financial aid should check with a school’s financial aid office prior to submitting an application to an online bachelor’s program. Financial aid is not guaranteed and there may be specific enrollment requirements regarding the number of courses or credits a student must take per term in order to be eligible for financial aid.


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