A Guide to Online Bachelor's Degrees

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Online bachelor degrees have become increasingly popular, especially for students in need of greater flexibility. Learn more about this degree option, and the many benefits it has to offer.

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Earning your bachelor’s degree online has become an increasingly popular option since the first online degrees became available in the late 1980s. During the fall 2019 semester, 2.5 million out of 16.6 million undergraduates took classes exclusively online, according to the National Center for Education Statistics [1]. During the 2019-2020 school year, nearly half of all undergraduates took at least one class online—a number that does not include those classes which moved online due to the pandemic [2]. 

There are many benefits associated with learning online. When it comes to degree programs, you don’t have to relocate because you can study from where you are, you may have reduced travel costs because you don’t need to be on campus, and you may enjoy a more flexible schedule, especially if your program offers asynchronous learning.

In this article, we’ll go over what it takes to earn your bachelor’s degree online, and how you can determine whether it’s the best degree option for you. 

Online bachelor’s degrees: Costs + time

The average total tuition for an online bachelor’s degree costs $38,496 for in-state students at a public university and $60,593 for students at a private university, according to US News. [5]. Compare that to just one year of tuition and fees at an in-state public school in 2021, which cost $10,740 and doesn’t account for housing, transportation, or books [6].

In fact, because you can access your courses from home—or anywhere there’s internet access—with an online degree program, you shouldn’t have several traditional college expenses, such as commuting, which can often balloon yearly costs.  

When you embark on an online bachelor’s program, it will take around four or five years to finish your degree when you’re able to attend full-time. That’s about the same time it takes a full-time student to earn an in-person bachelor’s degree. When you attend part-time, your timeline depends on how many courses you’re able to take each semester.

Learn more: How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

Ways to accelerate your online degree completion 

You may be able to speed up the time it takes to earn your online bachelor’s. Any college credits that you’ve previously earned may be eligible to transfer, which can reduce the amount of time it takes to reach the minimum number of credits to graduate (generally around 120 hours). 

Many online degrees are also self-paced. While your program may suggest an average number of courses to take each semester, you may be able to take more (if you have the time) and accelerate how quickly you finish your degree. For example, you can complete the BSc in Marketing from the University of London, available on Coursera, in a minimum of three years.

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Benefits of earning your bachelor’s degree online 

Graduating with your bachelor’s degree is a major accomplishment. Beyond the subject knowledge you’ll have gained, you may be able to boost your earning potential, lower your risk of unemployment, and qualify for more roles [3,4]. If you choose to enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program, you may find a few extra benefits as well. 

  • Flexibility: Online courses tend to take place asynchronously, potentially making it easier for you to earn your education around your other responsibilities. 

  • Work while going to school: Thanks to that flexibility, you may find it easier to continue working part-time or full-time while earning your degree, rather than taking time off to focus solely on your education. 

  • Develop valuable workplace skills: Earning your bachelor’s online requires self-discipline and time management thanks to the self-paced and flexible nature of learning. Both are important workplace skills.  

  • Network with your classmates: In response to online students’ demand for socialization, many online bachelor’s programs offer opportunities to interact with your classmates through discussion forums and other virtual tools. 

Learn more: Is a Bachelor's Degree Worth It?

An infographic that says: A university degree built for you. From respected institutions with world-class faculty. Enjoy flexible scheduling and self-paced coursework. Priced below $20,000 USD

6 factors to help you choose the best online bachelor’s program 

Earning your bachelor’s degree online can be beneficial, but it’s not for everyone. It’s important to take into account what you want to accomplish by earning your degree and the type of program (online or in-person) that will help you achieve that. 

Everyone’s needs are different. Understanding your motivations for beginning a degree program, the resources you have to work with, and the way you best learn can help you get closer to the best decision for you. Let’s review six other factors to keep in mind as you explore online bachelor’s degree programs.

1. Major

You have a lot of majors to choose from online, but you may find that not every major is available—or available from the online college you’d most like to attend. When you know what you’d like to study, do some initial research to ensure it’s available.  

2. Flexibility

Online degrees are often designed to provide greater flexibility, but what that looks like depends on the program you enroll in. Take time to learn how your courses will be taught (asynchronously or synchronously), how self-paced your semesters will be, any requirements around assignment deadlines, and other factors that could impact your schedule.  

3. Accreditation

You do not have to attend an online college that’s accredited, but doing so can offer some assurance that you’re receiving a quality education and help you qualify for federal student aid. It’s worth noting that many brick-and-mortar colleges and universities now offer online degree options, which means you may be able to get the same caliber of education online as you would in-person.  

4. Credit transfer 

If you’ve previously earned some amount of college credit, you may be able to transfer a portion (or all) of those credits to your new online degree program. That can help accelerate the time it takes to finish your degree. 

With the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences from the University of North Texas, you can transfer up to 90 credits toward the 120 credits necessary to graduate.


5. Learning technology

The way you learn online will depend on the technology your online college uses. As you identify potential programs, take time to speak with an advisor about the type of learning management system (LMS) your school uses, and any other digital tools you’ll use to take your courses.   

6. Student services

Depending on your online bachelor’s degree program, you may have access to a range of student services, like advising, career support, and financial aid. If having more hands-on help throughout your program and in the lead-up to graduation is important, then inquire about what kinds of resources your program offers. 

How to pay for your online bachelor’s degree 

How you plan to pay for your degree, whether it’s online or in-person, is an important question. As you research the potential cost of your education, here are a few options to consider paying for your online bachelor’s degree. 

1. Apply for federal student aid.

Many online colleges in the United States, and a growing number of approved international schools, qualify for federal student aid. You can submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year you intend to work toward your degree, which can help you qualify for grants, scholarships, and student loans. 

Your online college needs to be accredited in order to qualify for federal student aid. Each school’s website should clarify its accreditation status, or you can check with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation

Learn more: When is FAFSA Due?

2. Apply for school scholarships.

Many online colleges offer institutional aid or privately funded scholarships to help lower the overall cost of attendance. Visit your school’s student financial services page to learn more about what it takes to apply for school-specific financial assistance. At the program level, you may also find departmental scholarships or other funding sources worth exploring.   

3. Work part-time or full-time.

While many students work part-time while earning their in-person bachelor's, the added scheduling flexibility and self-paced nature of online learning can make it easier to work full-time while going to school. With either part-time or full-time work, you can allocate some of your income toward your education expenses and offset the overall cost of your degree.  

4. Take out student loans. 

Student loans can be helpful to cover any gaps you face in paying for your education, but they are generally considered a last resort. It’s better to explore all other options before you look into taking out student loans. Submit your FAFSA to qualify for federal student loans because they tend to offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment plans, before exploring private student loan options.  

Other ways to learn online 

An online bachelor’s degree can strengthen your subject knowledge and add a helpful credential to your resume. But it’s also a significant time commitment. If you’re interested in bolstering your skills in a faster timeline, consider the options below.  

  • Professional Certificates: Develop job-ready skills in a matter of months with a Professional Certificate. Enroll in beginner and advanced programs from Google, IBM, and Meta. Each certificate program takes less than a year to complete, and you can gain important industry knowledge and career skills.  

  • Bootcamps: With computer science, data science, and UX design, you can take part in a shorter but more in-depth program called a bootcamp. Also designed to help you develop job-ready knowledge and skills, bootcamps can help you accelerate your learning and many also feature career placement support. 

Explore further 

Learn more about online bachelor’s degrees on Coursera. Offered from the University of London and the University of North Texas, these degrees are designed to be flexible and self-paced so that you can learn on your time.  

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Article sources

1. National Center for Education Statistics. “Fast Facts: Distance Learning, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=80.” Accessed August 26, 2022. 

2. Inside Higher Ed. “Half of All College Students Take Online Courses, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2021/10/13/new-us-data-show-jump-college-students-learning-online.” Accessed August 26,, 2022. 

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Education Pays, https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm.” Accessed August 26,, 2022. 

4. Georgetown University. “Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/recovery-job-growth-and-education-requirements-through-2020/.” Accessed August 26,, 2022.

5. US News. “What You’ll Pay for an Online Bachelor’s Degree, https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/what-youll-pay-for-an-online-bachelors-degree.” Accessed August 26,, 2022. 

6. College Board. “Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2021, https://research.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/trends-college-pricing-student-aid-2021.pdf.” Accessed August 26,, 2022.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.