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f you've thought about going back to school to finish your bachelor's degree, you're not alone. Sixty percent of adults 23 to 55 who don't have an undergraduate degree have the same thought. Some make the leap, but many don't, possibly because they're afraid they can't afford posted tuition rates, they don't want to be the only non-traditional student in their classes, or for other reasons that may be more myth than fact.
If that sounds familiar, maybe you've already looked into programs that offer adult students the option to pursue degree completion online. You may have encountered the kinds of myths about degree completion programs that sadly keep many intelligent, driven people from finishing their degrees. You need to know that, like many myths, they don't stand up to scrutiny.
You may have questions about what studying remotely is actually like and how pursuing degree completion online will help your career. This guide answers those and any other questions you might have about online bachelor's degree completion programs. Before shattering the biggest myths about finishing a bachelor's degree online, however, let's look at why going back to school is a smart idea.
Most people are motivated to pursue degree completion online by a mix of personal and professional ambitions. Your motives are your own, but they may not be that different from those of other non-traditional students who've explored the possibility of finishing a bachelor's degree program.
Most people enroll in degree completion programs because they're seeking one (or all) of the following:
Earning a bachelor's degree is worth it, so let's take a closer look at the myths that keep some people from enrolling in bachelor's completion programs — and why you shouldn't let those myths stop you from finishing what you started.
Covid-19 certainly played a role in the recent growth of online degree programs, but online learning was commonplace well before 2020. Millions of people graduated from online degree programs in the years prior, and hiring managers aren't fazed to see degrees from online programs on job candidates' resumes. Most employers care more about your degree and its pedigree than how you earned it, and they may not realize you graduated from an online program unless you choose to bring it up in an interview.
The University of Virginia, for example, has two programs in its School of Continuing and Professional Studies specifically designed for part-time students to complete their degrees: the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) and the Bachelor of Professional Studies in Health Sciences Management (BPHM).
In addition, many hiring managers recognize that a candidate's ability to balance coursework and family responsibilities while finishing a bachelor's degree program is an asset. It takes dedication, grit, and impressive time management skills to go back to school as an adult, and employers look for those qualities in new hires.
There's no correlation between school rankings and the degree formats schools offer. Many of the top colleges and universities in the United States let students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees online. UVA, for instance, is ranked 26th in the nation overall and 4th in the nation among public institutions by U.S. News & World Report. Howard and Matthew Greene included the school in their list of the nation's "Public Ivies" in their book of the same name. Because of UVA's reputation, an online degree from SCPS can be worth more than a traditional degree from other institutions.
Proving this pervasive myth wrong is easy. Almost 40 percent of American undergraduates are over 25, and most students in online classes are over 30. The average age of a typical student in online bachelor's degree classes is actually 32.
"Today's average student is no longer the 18-year-old whose parents drive her up to college in a minivan stuffed with boxes," points out Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell in a Department of Education press release. "Instead, the average student may be a 24-year-old returning veteran, a 36-year-old single mother, [or] a part-time student juggling work and college."
It's never too late to finish your bachelor's degree. Maybe you're 40, 50, or even retired. There's a good chance you won't be the oldest person in your cohort. Jerry Reed graduated from UVA at 70, and was fully engaged in student life.
Conversely, if you're under 25, you may not be the youngest. While many college students in online programs opt to study remotely because they have jobs and are raising families, others prefer to study at home or from their favorite café. Some even start the program as they complete their military service to transition to civilian life.
Cost is a concern for most bachelor's degree students, and tuition should factor into any decisions you make about the value of higher education. Just be sure you have your facts straight. While it's true that college costs are rising, only 11 percent of degree candidates pay full price.
UVA SCPS makes it easier for online students to afford degree completion. Out-of-state tuition is the same as in-state tuition — which is extremely rare. On average, out-of-state tuition is almost $15,000 more per year than in-state tuition. SCPS students also have access to many forms of financial aid; all students are automatically considered for the school's Dean's Scholarship, and BIS candidates are eligible for additional one-time scholarships up to $2,500 upon enrollment. The school also grants several other no-application scholarships to applicants whose essays and other materials showcase strong potential. Students can apply these funds directly to tuition — or to fees, books, or other costs of attendance.
It's also important to weigh the price tag of any bachelor's degree program against future benefits. The cost of pursuing degree completion online can be intimidating, but the ROI of finishing your bachelor's is undeniable. Professionals with undergraduate degrees earn about $32,000 more per year than workers with high school diplomas.
UVA liberal studies graduates earn $50,000 to $65,000 in business administration and tech roles, and many pursue MBAs, MEds, MPHs, and other degrees that further increase their earning potential. SCPS students succeed in high-impact careers and graduate programs because the school built its BIS concentrations around marketable skills and employer demand. Students choose from tracks such as Business Administration, Cybersecurity Analysis, Early Childhood, Healthcare Management, Information Technology, Psychology, and Writing. As mentioned, there's also a Health Sciences Management concentration designed for students with associate’s degrees or professional experience.
Some of the benefits of earning an undergraduate degree have nothing to do with money. College graduates are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance. They weather economic downturns better and are less likely to be unemployed. They even live longer.
You can earn a degree while working 40 hours per week and raising children, provided you choose a degree completion program designed to meet the needs of adult learners. Programs for non-traditional students, regardless of format, often schedule classes in the evenings and on weekends, have more flexible deadlines, and build curricula around career-focused topics so students can immediately apply what they're learning in their professional lives. UVA BIS student Roneil Jackson, for example, recently launched a philanthropic effort while balancing his studies and family life.
Finding time to study can undoubtedly be challenging, but online bachelor's degree programs offer an additional degree of flexibility that makes this myth all but obsolete. UVA BIS students typically take two online courses per semester — representing a commitment of about 18 hours per week of core and elective class time and homework.
However, enrollment isn't one-size-fits-all at UVA, and students with a lot on their plates can take just one class per term when necessary. Some online courses in the BIS program even deliver content asynchronously, which means students can "go to class" whenever it's most convenient. That may be why 75 percent of UVA BIS students graduate within seven years — a graduation rate more than twice the national average for similar degree completion programs.
This myth persists because people don't understand how online classes work and wrongly assume degree completion programs are for students who excel at self-directed online learning. Top colleges and universities do a lot to ensure that online bachelor's programs are as engaging and interactive as courses delivered on campus. Real-time lectures are common, virtual classroom discussions are lively, and breakout rooms let students get to know each other and do live group coursework.
Some students do need help staying focused when class isn't in session, however, because blocking out time to study may not always keep you on task when you're working at your own pace. UVA pairs online bachelor’s degree candidates with program, faculty, and peer advisors who help them keep on top of coursework and stay motivated in the face of looming commitments or challenging coursework. Students can also take advantage of capstone mentoring and writing support, and the same resources, alumni career services, job search assistance, and disability services available to students on campus.
Life happens, but online degree completion programs like UVA's do everything they can to ensure student success.
In theory, network capacity is the only thing limiting class sizes in online education programs. In reality, many colleges and universities with online undergraduate programs intentionally keep cohorts small to ensure students receive a personalized experience.
UVA SCPS employs about 120 faculty members who have distinguished professional and academic credentials and are comfortable using the latest online learning platforms. They make virtual classes feel intimate and engaging, know how to encourage classroom discussions and collaboration between classmates, and are accessible via email, chat, or live meeting.
You don't have to worry that your professors won't understand you or your situation in programs like UVA's because you can quickly get to know them. When you need extra help or tutoring, you won't have to wait for office hours because your professor is just a text away.
If this article has inspired you to take another look at pursuing degree completion online, it won't be long before you discover that there are many flexible and affordable undergraduate degree completion programs designed to accommodate the needs of working adults. What you need to know is that few offer students the robust admissions counseling, academic guidance, and post-graduation career assistance you'll find at UVA. More importantly, UVA offers support before they apply.
The UVA BIS application process includes a pre-admission review designed to make applying to college less daunting. Trained admission counselors look closely at your transcripts and other materials to determine how many transfer credits you can submit with your application and how you can make your application as strong as possible. They provide detailed, actionable feedback you can use to get your application ready for formal review at UVA and elsewhere. You're under no obligation to apply to the BIS program after a pre-review, but you'll receive the same level of support in and out of class if you do.
If we were to add yet another myth about finishing a bachelor's online to this piece, it might be "Adult learners are on their own." That may be true in some online degree completion programs, but it's not the case at UVA, where 93 percent of full-time undergraduate students and 82 percent of part-time students complete their degrees. Helping our non-traditional students succeed is one of our primary goals, regardless of what brought them to the BIS program, where they are in their journeys, or what they aim to achieve.