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What to Expect from an Online Program

Now that you’ve decided to pursue an online degree, you may be wondering just what to expect. You probably have a lot of questions: how much will it cost? How long will it take to complete? What will the classes be like? Keep reading to find the answers to these questions and more.


Tuition for an online degree program is generally significantly lower than that for a traditional college. Additionally, by studying from home you can avoid some of the costs associated with room and board, as well as transportation. Costs will vary from program to program, so make sure you research each program carefully, and are aware of any extra fees charged by the school. For example, almost all online degree programs require a technology fee, either on a per-credit hour or per-term basis. This fee covers costs such as technology improvements, 24/7 tech support and online learning management systems.

You should also be aware that some online programs still require students to occasionally travel to campus. This may be just once or twice, or it might be once a semester. You’ll need to factor the cost of travel into your budget.

Time Frame

The time that it takes to complete an online degree varies from person to person. According to Top Degrees Online, the average time to complete an online bachelor’s degree is 52 months, which is not significantly different than the amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree from a traditional school.

Some programs offer accelerated pacing, which will speed up the time it takes you to earn your degree. This pacing does depend on your ability to take classes full time and with few breaks between terms. If you are caring for a family or working full-time, you may not be able to maintain that pace. Still, the flexibility of an online degree may save you time in other ways, such as travel.

All in all, the time frame of how quickly you can obtain an online degree is comparable to that of a traditional degree.

Class and Program Structure

While the coursework for most online programs is the same as it is in a traditional school, the structure of classes is generally quite different. Most programs are structured so that students can work at their own pace, at times that are convenient for them. The elements around which online classes are structured are: instruction, assignments, and student interaction.

In an online program, you won’t have the same kind of student-instructor interaction as you would in a brick and mortar school. Instead, you will be able to access recorded lectures and notes at any time, with no set schedule. A few programs instead offer lectures delivered through a live audio chat, but this does decrease the flexibility of your schedule.

As an online student, you’ll receive your assignments either through email or through an online course management system such as Blackboard or Canvas. You will either send your completed assignments to your instructor via email, or just upload your assignments directly to the course management system.

You won’t have quite the same level of interaction with other students as you would in a traditional program, but you will still have means of communication. You may be required to take part in group projects, and interact via chat rooms and other student forums. You might also communicate through online group mailboxes or message boards.

Available Assistance

Getting to know and communicating with your professors is important, even when studying online. Don't be afraid to ask them your questions!

The assistance available to you will vary between programs. When choosing a program, you’ll want to make sure that the program offers technical assistance, since as an online student you are completely reliant on your technology.

You’ll also want to look into whether or not you’ll have an academic advisor, who can help you build your schedule. This can be a daunting task for online students, as the number of credits you’re required to take may vary from semester to semester. An academic advisor will be familiar with the requirements and can help keep you on track, even from a distance. Your program may also offer career services, which can help you find a job following graduation.

Choosing to pursue an online degree can be baffling, but the right program will help ease you through the process, and make sure your college experience is just as (or more) rewarding as it would be when physically attending the college or university of your choice.

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