Like any school program, completing an online degree takes a different amount of time depending on the individual student. Often it takes students two years to finish an online program, versus four to five years on a traditional brick-and-mortar campus. Often one of the reasons students work more quickly when enrolling online is that they are going back to school after having worked for a number of years, so they are more motivated to finish quickly to get the most for their time and money. Another reason for the faster pace is that many online programs don’t require elective credits, which can greatly reduce your total credits needed, not to mention that the learning is more student-oriented, so each particular learner can alter the program to fit his or her needs and strengths.
It is possible that it will take the same amount of time to finish an online degree as it does a traditional one. In some cases, it may take even longer if you are only attending online classes part time while juggling work and family. Generally, associate level degrees require around 60 semester hours, while bachelor’s demand 120 or more credit hours. Each course is about four credit hours and will take somewhere between 6 and 12 weeks to finish. Plug in some specific numbers from your school to do the math, set your pace and figure out ahead of time how long it will take you. Especially if you are a part-time student, this will also help you have some set goals about what needs to be finished when, so you can stay on track and graduate within a reasonable amount of time.
Also keep in mind with online classes:
- Classes are generally shorter and more flexible. Students can work as quickly as they like, moving through the material at a rapid pace if they are so inclined. Be sure to find out if your program is synchronous or asynchronous — meaning held in real-time or available online 24/7. If you have a synchronous program, it may take longer to complete because the entire class will be moving at the same speed.
- Find a reputable, accredited program that’s worth your time. Although they have been in existence for quite awhile, there is still controversy over the quality of online classes. It is wise to make sure your chosen program is accredited. With certain programs, this is especially important; for example, a student hoping to study business would benefit from finding a program that has been approved by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) or the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).
- Look into what qualifications your teachers have and what graduates are up to. Do the faculty members at your school have master’s degrees? Have they published dissertations and books? Are graduates able to secure top-notch jobs in the industry you are hoping to pursue? These questions and many more are great to ask before you enroll.
- Plan your schedule wisely to finish in the minimum amount of time. Certain classes have prerequisites, some of which can be avoided and some which are not flexible. Do you have to take Chemistry 101 in order to move on to Chemistry 102? Is there a way to waive the class by transferring credits or taking an exam to pass out of the class? Be aware of your school’s specific policies.
- Your outside activities, extracurricular and other commitments will impact how long it takes to graduate. If you are a student who is going to be holding down a part or full-time job while completing your degree, keep in mind that it may take longer than the textbook number of years that most students take. Not only will these other obligations and endeavors take up your time, but they also drain you of energy and focus to put toward school. Keep yourself motivated by utilizing outside hobbies and social time to rest and renew, not distract you from studying. Also try connecting with students from your classes either online through e-mail or chat room forums or in person in order to study together and stay on track for assessments and projects.
- Be flexible; sometimes life surprises you. As with anything, it’s always a good idea to keep an open mind about being flexible in case something comes up along the way to your degree. Health issues, family changes, job loss: often we don’t see these emotional and physical changes coming and it can help if we maintain a positive, adaptable attitude toward them.
How long you take to complete your degree is up to you — in some cases, you may be able to speed up the process to just a year or two, or be able to stretch it out while you fit it in between work and home life.