By Diana Simeon
A couple of decades ago, online bachelor’s degree programs were unheard of. Today, more than five million students are taking college classes online—and many colleges and universities now offer ways for students to earn their entire bachelor’s online.
That includes the Penn State World Campus, the online campus of Penn State, where undergraduates can pick from more than 30 majors—from business and marketing to psychology, information science, and technology.
Carli Donovan, an admissions officer at the school, says that students receive the same degree, whether they are online or physically on campus.
“Application requirements are the same,” she says. “Classes are taught by the same faculty, and students have to adhere to the same academic standards. The degree you will get will look exactly the same as if you had studied at any other Penn State Campus.”
Currently, World Campus has around 12,000 students total (including graduate students).
Students pick online programs for a variety of reasons. “Traditionally, they’ve been adult learners who may be juggling full-time work and family,” says Donovan. But in recent years, schools like Penn State and the many others offering online classes have seen an uptick in the number of students enrolling right out of high school.
“We are seeing more and more students doing that, just for personal preference,” Donovan says. After all, this is a generation of students who are comfortable with online learning (doing homework online is now routine in high school, for example, and many high school students take classes online).
Plus online bachelor’s degree programs offer many students the conveniences they’re looking for. “It’s really flexible,” says Ohio resident Madeline Taylor, who is enrolled in Arizona State University’s online program. As a professional dancer, she doesn’t have time in her schedule to attend college the traditional way. “I would not be able to attend on-campus classes,” she says. “But online, you don’t have to meet at a certain time with your professor. I’ve taken mid-terms at one in the morning.”
Online programs can also be a good way for community college graduates to earn their bachelor’s, notes Cecilia Castellano, vice president of enrollment planning for Bowling Green State University. BGSU offers a variety of “completion programs” online. “These are flexible, online programs for students who have an associate’s degree and now want to complete their bachelor’s,” she notes.
How to Evaluate Bachelor’s Online Programs
What to look for in a program offering a bachelor’s online? Here’s what experts recommend:
1. Evaluate the quality of the degree program.
Parents will want to make sure an accredited university runs the program, and that the degree their student receives will be the same as if they’d been on campus. “Penn State is not an online school,” explains Donovan. “We’re a university that happens to offer online programs.” It’s important to evaluate an online program with the same kind of scrutiny you’d apply to a traditional college program.
2. Look for the right fit.
“Parents and students should do the research and look at online schools to make sure they are getting the best fit,” recommends Donovan. What kind of advising is available for students? Does the program offer the major your student wants to pursue? Are there big differences for on-campus and online students? “At Penn State, the core of the program is not going to change, regardless of whether you’re on campus or going online,” explains Donovan.
Diana Simeon is managing editor of Your Teen.