Online Bachelor's Degree Programs

What is an Online Bachelor's Degree?

You’ve probably heard it before: a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. With record numbers of college graduates entering the workforce, many employers have drastically changed their hiring practices to favor candidates with a college education. More and more often, high-level and management positions require a bachelor’s degree, even in fields like manufacturing and retail.

So, what is a bachelor’s degree, exactly? And what is a BA degree? Are they the same thing? Yes and no. A bachelor’s program allows students to focus on one area of academic or professional interest, known as a major. Undergraduate students earning a bachelor’s degree complete a series of general education courses in subjects such as English, math, and science, along with coursework specific to their major. Students who complete this program will earn a BA degree (bachelor of arts) or BS (bachelor of science), depending on their field of study. Most traditional undergraduate programs consist of 120 credit hours, and take approximately four years to complete.

Most traditional undergraduate programs consist of 120 credit hours, and take approximately four years to complete.

While it’s no secret that earning a degree can improve your career opportunities, four years is a long time! As tuition rates continue to rise, many students looking to shave off some of the time and cost of a traditional college program are instead trying to earn their bachelor's degree online. Most online bachelor’s degree programs are academically identical to their on-campus counterparts, but offer flexible schedules and relaxed deadlines at a fraction of the cost. Even if you’re already juggling a job and personal life, you may still be able to fit an online bachelor’s degree into your busy schedule.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor’s Degree?

Online bachelor’s degree programs vary considerably in length. The amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor degree online depends on several factors, including course format, whether you’re a full- or part-time student, and any college credits you've earned previously. While some programs can be completed in as little as a year, others follow a traditional four-year schedule. Full-time students can complete most online degree programs in around two years, taking approximately 12 credits a semester.

Pacing can also affect how quickly you earn your BA degree. Self-paced, asynchronous programs allow students to access course materials and complete assignments at their convenience, without designated times to be online. Fewer deadlines and accelerated coursework allows motivated students to progress quickly. Cohort programs, conversely, offer a more structured, collaborative approach to online learning. Emphasizing group projects and real-time discussion between students and faculty, cohort-based programs take longer to complete.

What's the Difference Between a BS and BA Degree?

Should you earn a BS or a BA degree? That depends entirely on your academic and career goals, skills, and personal interests. Are you a math whiz, fascinated by physics, or crazy about computers? If so, a bachelor's of science degree may be in your future. Typically offered in STEM fields such as chemistry and computer science, BS programs include more technical, major-related coursework, allowing students to focus more intensely on their major. However, many BS degrees require more credit hours overall, and some programs include a mandatory period of lab research or residence. From nurses to math professors, most individuals working in STEM areas started out by earning a bachelor of science.

If you prefer liberal arts subjects, you should focus on online degree programs that offer a BA degree. Broader in focus than a BS program, a bachelor of arts curriculum lets students explore a variety of topics while pursuing majors in the humanities or social sciences. Popular choices include philosophy, anthropology, history, and linguistics. While some individuals with a BA take positions related to their field of study, many of these jobs ultimately require them to seek a master’s degree.

What is an Accelerated Bachelor's Degree Program?

One benefit to studying online is that you don’t have to put your life on hold while you earn a degree. Many distance learners with familial or professional obligations find that accelerated programs are the best option for them. An accelerated online bachelor’s degree program is designed for busy individuals who want to progress quickly as they balance their responsibilities. While individual programs vary in length, some students are able to finish in just one year. Featuring multiple yearly start times, shorter courses, and fewer required electives, accelerated programs are ideal for motivated people with clear-cut goals, people whose work schedules vary from week to week, and those with some prior college experience. Students who have finished some college coursework in the past are often able to shorten their completion time even further by transferring credits towards their bachelor’s program.

Why Should I Get a Bachelor's Degree Online?

What if you’ve already earned a two-year associate degree? Is it really necessary to get a bachelor degree online? Unlike two-year programs that teach the basics of a subject, an accredited online bachelor’s degree curriculum allows students to explore a particular topic or field in-depth, building competence in fundamental concepts as they develop a wider body of specialized knowledge. Students who complete a bachelor’s degree also have the option of applying to a master’s program, and some institutions allow online students to count credits earned as an undergraduate towards their master’s degree.

While it’s true that an associate degree can help you land a job in certain technical or medical sectors, most employers still prefer to hire candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree. In many fields, a bachelor’s is the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions. As large numbers of individuals seek to improve their job prospects through higher education, those with associate degrees often find themselves competing for employment opportunities against applicants who hold bachelor’s, or even master’s degrees. More education means more career opportunities and more money, and, as the table below demonstrates, earning an online bachelor’s degree can nearly double your career salary.

Median Lifetime Earnings by Degree
High School Diploma Associate Degree Bachelor’s Degree
$1,304,000 $1,727,000 $2,268,000

How Much Does a Typical Bachelor's Degree Cost?

Online programs are generally slightly less expensive than on-campus offerings, particularly for schools that offer in-state tuition to all attendees. Public schools are also usually less expensive than private schools. Still, college is pricey. While tuition will undoubtedly be your largest expense, it’s easy to forget about the cost of textbooks, laptops, and other necessities. The good news is that many private colleges and universities offer a range of scholarships that can significantly reduce the cost of attendance.

Average Cost for 4-year Undergraduate Degrees
Type of School Yearly Tuition Cost + Fees
Public Four Year (in-state students) $9,410
Public Four Year (out-of-state students) $23,890
Private Four Year $32,410

Choosing an Online Bachelor's Degree Program

With so many online bachelor degree programs available, finding the right one can sometimes feel overwhelming. While a degree can help you attain your professional goals, there are many other factors to consider before you pick your school. Is the program offered in a format that fits your schedule and learning style? Will your employer pay for some kinds of online degree programs, but not others? Do you want to study full- or part-time? As you research schools, it can be useful to keep the following factors in mind before settling on a program.

  • In-state or out of state

    Many institutions charge out of state students higher tuition or additional fees, even for online degree programs. In some states, colleges are not legally able to offer distance learning programs to nonresidents, or may only do so with limitations.

  • Public or private

    Because private colleges rely largely on tuition and donations to operate, they frequently charge higher tuition rates, and may increase them as needed to cover costs. The bulk of funding for public schools, however, comes from government grants. This allows them to offer lower tuition, with fewer tuition increases.

  • Size of school

    While larger schools may offer more majors and resources, they often suffer from high student-to-faculty ratios that make it difficult to get individual attention when you need it. At small schools with smaller class sizes, students can build relationships with faculty and classmates much more easily.

  • Cost of program

    There’s no upside to high tuition, but it’s important to consider finances carefully before choosing certain online degree programs over others. If your preferred school seems too expensive, can federal financial aid cover some of the cost? How about scholarships? How much debt are you willing to take on?

  • Asynchronous or cohort

    You know your own learning style better than anyone. While it might be tempting to pick an asynchronous program and earn your online bachelor’s degree quickly, this option can lead to problems for students who learn best in a structured environment.

  • Length of program

    The length of an online bachelor’s degree program should align with your personal and professional goals as well as your current schedule. Whether you’re planning a big life change in the near future, or pursuing a bachelor degree online is your big life change, the length of your program should fit your needs.

What are the Best Online Bachelor's Degrees?

If you’re ready to start earning your bachelor degree online, look no further! We’ve compiled a list of schools that offer the best accredited online bachelor’s degrees in the nation. Combining world-class instruction and rigorous academics with exceptional value, the following schools make it easy and affordable to earn a bachelor degree online without putting your job and personal life on hold.