1. Home
  2. »
  3. College Resource Center
  4. »
  5. Online Degree Completion Programs

Online Degree Completion Programs

If you entered college on the path to a bachelor’s degree but did not graduate due to time, money, or commitment issues, an online degree completion program can provide the value and flexibility needed to cross the finish line with a college-level education. Need some incentive? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people with bachelor’s degrees make an average of $1,137 per week in median earnings, a full 40 percent more than the weekly average of $678 for those with only a high school diploma. In this guide we will explore some example programs, how they work and what steps to take to complete your degree.

Online Bachelor’s Degree Completion Programs Available

There are a variety of programs available for completing your bachelor’s degree online. While this guide offers several examples of programs and descriptions, it is important to get program-specific information from schools directly as you conduct your search. You can start by visiting school websites for background information and then follow up by getting in direct contact with an enrollment advisor or counselor to answer your specific questions.

Boston University offers a fully online bachelor’s degree completion program in interdisciplinary studies with a “unique and ambitious liberal arts curriculum that explores topics in the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, as well as mathematics and computer science.” The program can be completed in as little as 30 months and requires students to already have a minimum of 52 to 64 transfer credits to enroll. Once accepted, students in the program will take upwards of 76 credits in a highly diverse course of study with classes ranging from “Nature and the Divine in Myth, Literature and Art,” to “Food Stuff: A Taste of Biology.”

As a part of the California State University (CSU) system, Cal State Online offers a variety of bachelor’s degree completion programs across several disciplinary majors, including criminal justice, business administration, public administration, and liberal and religious studies. Each program is based out of one of the schools in the CSU system, and some programs can be completed in as little as 18 months. Students must have at least 60 transfer credits to enroll.

Through its Loyola Online program, Loyola University Chicago offers seven fully online, bachelor’s degree completion programs. Programs offered include RN-to-BSN, the BA in applied communication, the BA in information technology, and Bachelor of Arts degrees in leadership and management. Some of these programs, such as the BA in leadership, offers students with work and leadership experience the opportunity to earn nontraditional credits based on their already-acquired knowledge and skills.

The online degree completion program at Ohio University is designed for students who have earned an associate degree or the equivalent credit hours, which is typically about 60 hours. Online completion bachelor’s degrees offered include programs in criminal justice, psychology, applied management, human services and RN-to-BSN.

The Penn State degree completion program, launched in 2016, is offered through the Penn State World Campus online program. The degree conferred upon completion is a Bachelor of Science degree in integrated social sciences. This means that students who already have credits in anthropology, communication arts & sciences, economics, political science, psychology and sociology can transfer these credits to Penn State and complete their degree online. There are 120 credits required to graduate from the program, which includes 30 credits in social sciences, and up to 90 credits can be transferred.

Based out of Pace University of New York state, The iPace Online Degree Completion program offers several online bachelor’s degrees, with available majors in business studies, nursing, professional communication studies and professional technology studies. Coursework can be completed in 2 to 3 years, with concentrations available in both the business and technology programs. Pace also features a transfer credit program that allows students to transfer up to 68 credits from two-year institutions or 75 to 90 credits from four-year schools.

With campuses across six U.S. states, Rasmussen College offers a large assortment of accelerated bachelor’s degree completion programs in the disciplinary fields of business, health sciences, education, justice studies and technology. Within each discipline, students can select from a variety of majors, and the programs can typically be completed in as little as 18 months. Students can transfer up to 67 percent of applicable credits from other accredited schools to their degree requirements and can also opt to take advantage of Rasmussen’s “Flex Choice” program, which affords students a variety of options such as competency-based education (CBE) to maximize their credit standing.

Established in 1972 in New Jersey, this public university offers degree completion programs specifically tailored to the needs of adult learners. There are more than 100 areas of study available, or students can develop their own course of study. TESU students can transfer up to 80 credits from an accredited community college or up to 120 credits from a four-year college or university that’s regionally accredited. Credits may also be earned by qualifying students by exams such as the DANTES or CLEP. TESU is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Through its UMassOnline program, the University of Massachusetts offers degree completion programs design for students who’ve already completed some degree requirements. Degrees available include the BA in English, the BA in psychology, a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, the BS in business administration and the RN to BS degree. There are over 30 degree programs available in a variety of disciplines and areas, and U Mass is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

The University of South Carolina’s Palmetto College offers online bachelor’s degree completion programs for students who have at least two years of already-earned college credit, which amounts to 45 credit hours. Programs include BS in business administration—accounting, BA in elementary education, BA in in health informatics, BS in human services and a BA in Liberal Studies. There are over 10 programs currently available, and courses are taught by professors who teach within the USC system.

Online Degree Completion Program Formats

Formats for degree completion programs vary, but they are all designed to accelerate your progress to graduation.

Programs that follow a more traditional structure would likely involve taking two or three classes per 8-week session, “attending” weekly live lectures online, and complete your weekly work assignments.

Alternative programs may afford a higher level of flexibility by offering credit by exam, allowing you to “test out” of classes to receive college credit for subjects you already know, and deconstructing courses into a series of projects or lessons that you complete at your own pace.

How to Transfer Credits to an Online Degree Completion Program

Each school has its own unique policy and procedure for transferring credits, and it is important to thoroughly do your research as transfer credit can potentially save thousands of dollars in tuition.

At a minimum, you will likely need to submit a transcript of your coursework from whatever accredited institutions you have attended. Some programs will pair you up with an academic adviser to review which of your credits would apply toward your course of study, while others will provide you with an “articulation agreement” or transfer credit guide that you can use to perform your own credit review.

Schools will typically award transfer credit in lieu of demonstrated proficiency on assessments such as Advanced Placement (AP) or College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. It is also not uncommon for programs to provide additional opportunities to obtain credit by way of work experience, military training and professional certifications.

In every case, be sure to thoroughly research the transfer credit policy and process for your schools of interest and plan to contact each school’s admissions office for specific information.

Financial Aid for Degree Completion

To be eligible for federal student loan assistance, you must be a U.S. citizen or “eligible noncitizen” enrolled in a fully accredited institution and meet other criteria. There are several types of federal loans available to students to cover tuition or related costs, both for borrowers who demonstrate financial need and those who do not.

You will start the financial aid process by completing and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Based on the results of your FAFSA, your school will send you a financial aid offer, with any federal student loans you were eligible to receive. The financial aid office at your school will tell you how to accept all or a part of the loan(s).

Before you receive your loan funds, you will be required to complete entrance counseling to ensure you understand the loan process and your obligations for repayment, as well as a Master Promissory Note (MPN) that certifies your agreement to the terms of the loan.

Learn more about financial aid for online colleges

Costs of a Degree Completion Program

The cost of a degree completion program is entirely dependent upon each school’s fee structure. Here are a few different ways schools may charge students in online degree completion programs:

  1. Charge a flat per-credit rate for all students regardless of their resident status or program
  2. Charge online students the same as those with in-state resident status who attend a live campus, but with an additional “technology fee” tacked on to each credit
  3. Charge a flat-rate tuition to encourage the completion of more coursework per term

Costs can range anywhere from around $300 per credit to $600 and beyond, and some schools can add significant fees while others maintain flat rates.

Given all of this variability, it is important to note that not all degree completion programs are necessarily cheaper than any local colleges that may be in your area. Be sure to compare the fee structures of several programs of interest and calculate the total estimated cost of your course of study before deciding.

Next Steps

Now that you have the basics, it’s time to get started. Once you find the perfect program for you, contact your target school’s admissions office and begin the process of enrollment. During this time, you will be coordinating your credit transfer, applying for financial aid if needed and planning your course of study through your expected time of graduation. To make this transition run smoothly, study your program in depth beforehand, create a detailed list of questions, and make sure they are answered as you proceed.

Tips and Tricks

Make your purpose and priorities clear. The thought of returning to school can be daunting for many reasons, especially if you are not precisely clear on why you are doing it. Some questions to ask yourself before researching schools are:

  • Are you considering a degree to reinforce the career you already have or to prepare you for the career you want?
  • Do you have the time and the space to do your coursework online, or would it make more sense to finish at your local college campus?
  • Is affordability a pressing concern?
  • Transfer credits are key.

    A school’s policy on transfer credits can greatly impact your timeframe and thus the overall cost of your program. When conflicted between two or more programs that offer a similar course of study and degree, you should opt for the school that will offer you the most amount of credit for your prior training and work and school experience.

  • Do your research.

    Each school and program is different from the next, and often substantially so. When you think you have found your school, begin to collect as much information as possible on the program, including its fee structure, transfer credit policy, class format, and even instructor backgrounds.

  • Determine what kind of financial aid you need.

    Take a few moments and calculate in detail how much financial aid will be necessary for you to complete your degree. You may find you don’t require as much assistance as you initially thought, or in some cases you may not need any. The more precise you can be in your calculations, the more debt you are likely to avoid.

  • Map out your course of study.

    Work with a counselor or advisor to determine what courses you will be taking, when you will be taking them, and when you expect to graduate from your program. In the absence of traditional semesters and timelines, a roadmap to graduation will provide you with the direction and structure to stay on track.

Accelerated Online Degree Completion Programs

Below is a quick reference guide on the advantages and some of the drawbacks an accelerated degree completion program presents.

Why accelerated?
Accelerated degree completion programs offer a number of core strengths:

  • Completion time: Students in accelerated programs have the potential (based on transfer credit) to finish a course of study and attain a degree in as little as 1 to 3 years.

  • Combined degrees: Some programs combine a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in one continuous course of study, allowing students to attain both degrees in a markedly shorter period of time.

  • Flexibility: Accelerated programs offer classroom-based courses more frequently throughout the year or completely online.

  • Accelerated completion programs are best suited to students who have already acquired a large number of college credits, and who are comfortable working at a faster pace with a higher level of responsibility.

  • Students who enroll in an accelerated program should be organized, self-driven, and in many cases able to balance school with work demands and family commitments.

  • Accelerated programs primarily rely on transfer credit to facilitate a faster rate of completion.

    • For bachelor’s degree programs, schools often require students to have taken at least 60 credits of coursework as a precondition for enrollment, while others require an associate’s degree.

    • Some master’s degree completion programs require at least two years of full-time applicable work experience, in addition to a bachelor’s degree.

  • Unlike traditional programs that are bound to a semester calendar, accelerated programs offer classes either throughout the year or online, allowing students a substantially greater degree of access to materials, assignments, and assessments.

  • Students move through their courses of study at a much faster pace than their traditionally-enrolled peers. Instead of a typical 16-week term, accelerated programs employ terms of 10, 8, or even 6 weeks, during which students take 2 or 3 courses at a time.

  • In programs that are “competency-based,” students can make swift progress by taking “direct assessments” which allow students to receive credit for what they already know.

  • For students who are just starting or are in the early stages of a degree, an accelerated degree completion program may not be the best fit because they would likely not meet the eligibility requirements to enroll.

  • For students where free time is scarce, the rigors and heightened workload of an accelerated program are unsuitable.

  • Students who struggle with organization and online or self-directed learning may want to turn to a traditional model of schooling.

Additional Resources

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupations Handbook

    Provides the most current statistics including annual median pay, job growth projection, and state and regional data on all major occupations and career fields.

  • College Navigator

    Search for any school in the U.S. and find detailed information including cost, graduation rate, and accreditation status.

  • FinAid

    Resource providing the most current financial aid information, advice and tools.

  • LinkedIn

    The world’s largest professional network, with more than 562 million users worldwide.