The Returning Student’s Complete Guide to an Online Degree

College is an investment of time, money and work. No matter if you attend a bricks-and-mortar college or if you want to obtain an online degree, you might conduct some research to learn more about colleges and the academic degrees those institutions offer. But, an online degree often poses questions that few people would ask about a traditional college education. So, we’ve compiled those questions in this complete guide to an online degree for returning students.

Distance Learning

Perhaps the most important question you might want to ask as a returning student is whether or not your prior credits are acceptable to the online degree you want to earn. The answer depends upon the degree you want to pursue now, the degree or certification you earned in the past, how long ago you attended school prior to this investigation, and your previous GPA (Grade Point Average). But, as you’ll learn from many answers to questions listed below, that answer also could apply to anyone who wanted to pursue continued education in a traditional setting.

Rankings also are important — now that online degrees are more acceptable than in years past, you might check out what others say about the school you want to attend. But, while reviews are helpful, the most important item you can check off your list is accreditation. If the online degree you want to pursue is accredited, your future employers and even your future pursuits at higher education after an online experience will prove more successful.

What is an online degree? An online degree is defined as a degree obtained by a student who takes online courses to fulfill the degree requirements. Online degrees require just as much course work and studying as in-class degrees, and the difficulty of the coursework depends highly upon the type and level of degree sought. While you can take a all or a majority of classes online, many degrees might require some face-to-face meeting times either in orientation courses or in regular classes. Other than the distance from a bricks-and-mortar college, online degrees often contain the same activities and reading materials as an on-campus class.


What are the advantages of online courses? Taking online courses is a popular way for individuals to continue education while working. Some advantages of online degrees include:

  1. A variety of degree programs and single classes offered through online degrees.
  2. Often reduced materials costs, as necessary texts, syllabi, schedules and other printed matter might be available electronically.
  3. Customizable learning that is self-paced and that allows students the chance to accelerate or slow your progress as needed.
  4. The simplicity of online degrees include the ability to go through registration and coursework as quickly as you want, rather than standing in lines.
  5. Despite objections that online degrees might contribute to isolation, online courses often foster greater student interaction and collaboration.

What are the disadvantages of online courses? There are several disadvantages to taking online courses and obtaining an online degree, but those disadvantages are far less than the advantages:

  1. Sometimes you might have difficulty transferring course credits both into and from an online degree program. Make sure you choose accredited schools to help remedy this issue (see below).
  2. Unless you take a course that mandates an internship, such as nursing or graphic design, you may experience little to no hands-on learning.
  3. You may encounter some classes with professors who don’t encourage interaction — but you may experience the same issue in an on-campus class as well.
  4. Compare costs — make sure that you aren’t paying more per credit in your online course.

Which degrees are available in online courses? You can earn an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, a degree from an online MBA programs, doctoral and PhD degree, and certificate program. The U.S. News University Directory provides everything you need to increase your earning potential with an online education, online degree program, or traditional on-campus degree.

Online Learning

What is accreditation and why is it important? Most states require that a learning institution be certified, authorized and/or accredited in order to award degrees to students. There are some schools out there that do not meet these requirements. In fact, there are several levels of fraud found in some educational programs and schools. They range from using the student’s work history as the learning period that earned the degree to simply selling diplomas. These “diploma mills” have been around for decades. The most important thing to check out before you begin any kind of distance learning program is the accreditation the school has, or claims to have. To find out whether the school is truly accredited, contact the appropriate State Department of Higher Education.

How do employers view online degrees? Although online degrees have been a source of distrust among employers in the past, familiarity is becoming more widespread. In many cases, employers do not distinguish from online degrees and on-campus degrees. According to this article, 83 percent of executives in the survey say that an online degree is as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program. That said, many employers also look at the college to know whether or not that degree is valid or earned from a reputable and accredited educational institution.

Is financial aid available for an online degree? Depending upon the college you choose, you can begin to search for funds to pay for college much like any ordinary student. Scholarships, grants, federal aid, loans, employer reimbursement, military benefits and your own earning potential all play roles in how you might pay for your online degree. Use the guide linked here to learn more about each option.

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