Distance learning degree programs have helped thousands of non-traditional college students realize their dreams of completing their education without having to give up their jobs or sacrifice quality time with their families. Even recent high school graduates are turning to distance learning programs as a cost-effective alternative to attending classes on campus. Here's how you can join the latest educational revolution and earn a distance learning degree.
- Find a school. The first thing you should do is start searching for schools that offer distance learning degrees in the subject area you're interested in. This can be accomplished by entering appropriate keywords in an Internet search engine. Or, if you wish, you can perform your search at a public library or at the college resource center in your high school. Some things to look for when evaluating prospective schools are accreditation status, tuition cost, and degree programs offered.
- Review the graduation requirements. Not all schools have the same graduation requirements, so it's very important that you review the guidelines set forth by your prospective school(s) to ensure that you can meet them. For example, although a majority of the distance learning programs out there can be completed entirely online, some schools may have a residency requirement in place whereby students must take special seminars on campus prior to being awarded a degree. Other schools may require that you attend an orientation session in person before you can start your degree program. If you would have trouble fulfilling residency requirements, then you should avoid programs that place these conditions on students.
- Submit a formal application. After identifying the schools that you would like to attend, you must then submit a formal application for admission. The application requirements vary from school to school, but you'll most likely need to supply a combination of some or all of the following:
- Transcripts from high school (if you're a recent graduate) or any other colleges you may have attended
- SAT or ACT scores, if applicable
- Letter(s) of recommendation from teachers or employers
- Personal statement or essay about a specified topic
- Non-refundable application fee
Once the school receives all of the required materials, an admissions officer will review your file. You'll usually be notified of a decision within a few weeks of submitting your application.
- Apply for financial aid. If you enroll in a distance learning program from an accredited college or university, then you could be eligible for financial aid. To find out which loan or grant you qualify for, you must fill out an official application, which can be found at www.fafsa.ed.gov. Be sure you have all of your (or your parents') pertinent financial records on hand before trying to fill out the application.
- Begin fulfilling the graduation requirements. Once you've been admitted to a school and have a financial plan in place that will allow you to pay for your tuition and other expenses, you can start taking classes that will fulfill your school's graduation requirements. Generally speaking, a school that follows the semester system requires undergraduates to complete 120 credits (or hours) of coursework in order to qualify for a Bachelor's degree. Individual classes count as three credits each, and most full-time students elect to take five classes per semester, worth a total of 15 credits. By taking classes at that pace, you would graduate in four years.
- Submit a graduation petition. Prior to your final semester, you will likely have to submit a graduation petition to your academic advisor. This petition basically tells your advisor that you think you will have accumulated enough credits to graduate within the next few months. Your advisor will review your academic portfolio to verify that this is the case, and will alert you to any problems that he or she discovers. If everything is in order, you will be awarded a Bachelor's degree after successfully completing your remaining classes.