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f you have college credits to your name but don’t have a bachelor's degree, you're not alone. Tens of millions of Americans leave school without receiving a degree, and only a fraction return and graduate.
Going back to school as an adult is tough. The very prospect can be intimidating, and once you make up your mind to return, there may be practical, financial and professional obstacles to overcome. Getting a degree is worth it, though. College grads across industries earn $21,000 more per year on average than their peers who left school before earning a degree. As reported by EducationData.org, college graduates have consistently lower rates of unemployment than those without a bachelor's degree. And the jobs most likely to survive an economic downturn are also those most likely to require a degree.
If you started college and didn’t finish, but want to go back, one of the smartest things you can do is find a degree completion program designed to eliminate the obstacles that can make returning to college difficult. The University of Virginia's Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies, or BIS, exists to break these barriers. The School of Continuing and Professional Studies is designed with working adults' needs in mind, with online courses offered in the evening and on weekends.
Each BIS concentration supports specific career paths — equipping graduates to pursue in-demand roles in cybersecurity, business, and healthcare management, to name just a few — and the overall cost of the program puts earning a bachelor's degree within reach. Most importantly, UVA's BIS program attracts enterprising, purposeful students focused on earning a degree from a leading university in a cost-effective and timely way.
Here's how UVA makes it easy to complete your degree — no matter how long you've been out of school.
The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies is the degree awarded by the School of Continuing and Professional Studies' degree completion program. The BIS is a fully accredited bachelor's degree for non-traditional students who either started college but left before graduation or completed specific associate's degree programs.
The BIS differs from BA and BS programs primarily in that BIS candidates have fulfilled most of the general education requirements that make up a large part of bachelor's degree programs. UVA's BIS is not an associate's degree or an interdisciplinary studies program for students who can't decide on a major. Students pursuing a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies essentially complete the second half of a four-year liberal arts degree program on a flexible schedule.
Interdisciplinary studies is an umbrella term for academically flexible programs that exist apart from full-time Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Arts (BA) programs. BIS programs are typically concentration-based and let students pursue degrees in their areas of interest or career-focused subjects.
UVA's Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies is a lot like the latter two years of a traditional BS or BA program. Most BIS students have already completed about half of the courses necessary to earn a bachelor's degree. They take upper-level core courses and elective classes related to their chosen concentrations (plus a few liberal arts electives to round their curriculum out).
Students pursuing the UVA BIS typically want to advance in their current careers, switch careers or go to graduate school, and the advanced undergraduate-level coursework in each concentration helps them accomplish those goals. Nearly all the material covered is skills-focused and designed to give students the working knowledge they'll need to qualify for jobs or apply to graduate programs at UVA or another school.
Some colleges and universities use the terms "Interdisciplinary Studies" and "Individualized Studies" interchangeably. Still, individualized studies typically refer to programs where students (usually incoming freshmen) create one-of-a-kind majors with help from a team of advisors from departments as different as political science and gender studies. Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies majors at UVA do have that option. However, creating a one-of-a-kind concentration requires the program director's approval.
The BIS isn't a watered-down Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts. Advanced undergraduate-level coursework is a hallmark of UVA's BIS program. Students must demonstrate the depth and breadth of the skills and knowledge they've gained before they're eligible for graduation. Most employers view the BIS degree in the same light as other bachelor's degrees. Graduates get promoted, receive raises, and transition into competitive fields like business and healthcare. They also get the satisfaction of finally finishing their degrees and setting a positive example if they're first-generation students.
The UVA BIS program attracts students who have started college and have either been away from the classroom or just want to finish with a degree from a top university. Most students are working adults with career and family obligations, though students range in age from late teens to 65-plus. They share a desire to finish what they started, gain new skills, and benefit from the career-boosting power of a bachelor's degree.
Degree completion programs like the BIS are undergraduate academic pathways designed for adults. The classes students take in degree completion programs bridge the gap between credits previously earned and the total credit hours required to qualify for a bachelor's degree.
Traditional bachelor's degree programs are often geared toward younger students with ample free time and few, if any, obligations outside their studies. Classes are held during the day. Course content assumes students have minimal life experience. Many students haven't yet decided what they want to get out of college, which can make focusing on academics tough. And socialization is a much more significant part of traditional undergraduate life.
Going back to college as an adult is very different — in a good way. Adult learners (a term that applies to 40 percent of all undergrads) know what they want to get out of college and are highly motivated to succeed. They're there to learn, and they're not going to let anything get in their way. Students at UVA's School of Continuing and Professional Studies are bright, hard-working students. They are happy to "take ownership of their education" (as UVA BIS grad Britney Huff put it).
Classes in UVA's BIS program are online because students need flexibility, and most are at set times in the evening and on weekends. Students still "come to class," but there's no commute, saving both time and money. Students taking weeknight courses don't have to worry about leaving work early because of rush-hour traffic. Students with kids don't need to secure childcare to take classes.
Taking classes online doesn't mean doing less work. On the contrary, students earning a bachelor's degree online have to be self-motivated. It can be easier to justify skipping classes or missing deadlines when you're not gathering with your classmates. Even with the help of faculty members dedicated to your success, you have to prioritize schoolwork amid the many demands of work and home.
Interdisciplinary studies degree programs for adult students vary when it comes to application requirements, length, format, price and concentrations available. Because these on-campus and online programs support students' career goals, the availability of certain areas of study is often a driving or even deciding factor. UVA's Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program currently offers BIS concentrations in Art & Society, Business, Cybersecurity Analysis, Early Childhood, Healthcare Management, History & Politics, Information Technology, Liberal Arts, Psychology, and Writing. Students also have the opportunity to propose an individualized concentration, with approval from the BIS Director and guidance from an academic advisor. If you want to pursue a career in such in-demand fields as healthcare or business, UVA's BIS is an excellent fit.
In some fields—like business and healthcare—college rankings and reputation influence hiring decisions to an extreme degree. In others, the fact that someone has a degree can be more important than their diploma's pedigree.
UVA is ranked 26th in the nation overall by U.S. News & World Report and 4th among public institutions, so the UVA BIS carries a lot of weight whether you're launching a new career, growing in your current profession, or preparing for graduate school. UVA is not only one of the top public universities in the United States and regarded as a "Public Ivy," but is also one of the best value schools in the nation. Through BIS, students who earn an undergraduate degree earn a full degree from the University — like any other undergraduate program at UVA.
The best Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree programs offer pre-and post-graduation support that goes above and beyond that of most bachelor's degree programs. UVA BIS students are paired with program and faculty advisors from day one and meet with these advisors before each registration period and whenever else they need support or guidance. This support is a big part of why UVA BIS retention rates are high, and the program's graduation rate is near twice the national average. The federal government measures graduation rates after seven years. Of the BIS students who started in 2012-13, 75 percent graduated during that period, more than double the national average for part-time students.
Students in UVA’s BIS program can take advantage of the University’s Career Services office to get a head start in their professional goals. The world-class support continues after graduation with alumni career services and job search assistance. Employers regularly post on the alumni job board. UVA also has a large and active graduate network with regional, industry, and affinity groups that BIS graduates can tap into when searching for new opportunities. Building your network is easier when you graduate from UVA.
The UVA BIS is a degree completion program and has application requirements and degree requirements that are somewhat different from those of other bachelor's degree programs.
The UVA BIS is exclusively for ambitious adult students. Applicants must have a high school diploma and a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 from the institution most recently attended. UVA accepts many students with associate's degrees into the BIS program but does not accept students who have already earned a bachelor's degree.
Some schools ask applicants for SAT scores, resumes, and other materials. UVA doesn't require applicants to submit SAT scores or to meet any foreign language requirements but does ask them to provide:
Incoming BIS students have met specific academic requirements. To be eligible for acceptance, applicants must have at least:
Students enrolling in some concentration tracks have to meet additional prerequisite coursework requirements.
Transfer credits are the most critical of all application requirements. Incoming students must have between 36 and 60 transfer credit hours (effective November 2, 2023) from an accredited college or university in disciplines that satisfy UVA's Liberal Studies Core admission requirements. The good news is that you don't have to determine for yourself whether the classes you've passed at another school are eligible.
UVA admission counselors are always available to discuss the BIS program and pre-review applicants' transcripts and other materials before submitting them. This pre-admission review process isn't just about determining eligibility. The admission counselors provide detailed feedback and recommend specific ways to make applications as strong as possible. Some students feel the pre-admission review allowed them to attend a school as prestigious as UVA.
Students must complete at least 60 credit hours of BIS coursework on top of their applicable transfer credits to be eligible for graduation. They also have to pass a BIS proseminar and complete a two-semester, two-course capstone project based on their professional interests or aspirations.
Core classes in the BIS program vary from concentration to concentration. Still, it's worth noting that interdisciplinary studies students don't have to meet UVA's general curriculum (or College Curriculum) requirements because students in the BIS program have already taken the general-ed classes needed to earn a 120-credit hour bachelor's degree. BIS students primarily take courses related to their chosen specialization, and those courses are usually identical to classes offered in the UVA's traditional undergraduate degree programs. For instance, courses in the cybersecurity track include:
Meanwhile, students in the healthcare management track take:
Job markets requiring college degrees grow faster than those that don't. They also pay more and may be more stable, so earning an interdisciplinary studies degree is an investment in your future. Nailing down exactly how UVA's BIS will impact your career prospects is hard, however. Your opportunities and earning potential will depend a great deal on which concentration you choose, the titles you hold after graduation, and if you decide to go on to earn a master's degree.
An analysis of lifetime earnings by The Hamilton Project found that median career earnings for bachelor's degree holders "are more than twice as high as for someone with only a high school diploma or GED, roughly 70 percent higher than for someone with some college but no degree, and more than 45 percent higher than for someone with an associate degree." In hard numbers, consider this: bachelor's degree graduates earn, on average, $1.19 million throughout their career, which is $335K more than what the average associate's degree graduate earns in the same period.
If earning as much as possible after graduation is essential to you, look at the business and healthcare management tracks first. You might make anywhere from $50,000 to $65,000 per year in positions open to business bachelor's degree holders—especially if you have previous experience working in corporate environments. You'll also have the necessary qualifications to apply to MBA and healthcare administration master's programs (either of which can lead to an even more significant salary boost). Entry-level cybersecurity jobs tend to pay well, too. For example, you might earn $63,000 as an early-career cybersecurity analyst after graduating with a cybersecurity BIS.
If you value job security above all else, the cybersecurity-focused interdisciplinary studies degree is once again a safe bet. There was a time when the field had a zero percent unemployment rate, and even now, numerous cybersecurity positions go unfilled. Healthcare management is another concentration to explore, as the demand for administration professionals who can navigate the complex world of medicine remains strong.
Maybe you're less concerned with salary and job security than you are with flexibility. In that case, a BIS in information technology, cybersecurity, or writing might be for you. Jobs in both tech and content development can be done anywhere in the world.
At UVA, most BIS students graduate in about three years by taking two courses per semester (including summer terms). Some take longer because they take a semester or two off or take just one class during some terms. That's okay. Life happens. As long as BIS candidates complete the required coursework within seven years, they're eligible for graduation. On the other hand, students who can handle a heavier course load often earn their degrees more quickly.
The BIS program's full cost for both in-state and out-of-state students who enroll with 60 transfer credits is just over $29,000 — less expensive than most bachelor's degree programs' total cost. Out-of-state students will often pay multiples more than in-state students at most public schools — making UVA's BIS program all the more attractive.
UVA does everything possible to help BIS students finance their degrees. Adult learners have access to the usual financial aid and student loans, and payment plans are available. There are also scholarships and grants available through the school. The UVA BIS Dean’s Scholarship, for instance, is a one-time scholarship up to $3,000 for promising students who are new to the program.
That depends on how you answer these questions:
If you answered yes to each of these questions and you're ready to finish your degree, then the UVA BIS is for you. To get started, submit the Pre-Admission Review form. The support you'll receive as a UVA student begins there and continues well after graduation.
*Note: This article was updated November 2, 2023 to reflect a change in admission requirements.