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How to Finish Your College Degree by Enrolling in an Online School

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Non-traditional students look for online programs that offer flexibility.

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If you're an adult learner with past college experience but no degree, you may be able to complete your studies by enrolling in an online school. Many online colleges cater to professional adult students wanting to transfer previous credits and earn a degree in less time than the traditional 4-year program.

Here's what you'll need to do to finish your college degree online:

  1. Make sure online learning is the right fit for your lifestyle. Online college isn't a good choice for everyone. Successful students must be able to balance their virtual classes with other responsibilities. They must be able to learn independently, without a teacher giving them personalized instruction and motivation. Additionally, online learners must be competent writers and have a high level of reading comprehension. The majority of online courses are reading and writing intensive - those lacking these skills may find themselves overwhelmed, even if they excel at the subject being studied. (See: Is Distance Learning Right for You?).

  2. Find an online college. If you plan to use your degree in the workplace, it is important that your online college is regionally accredited and that it has a good reputation. You'll also want to find a program that fits your schedule. Some online colleges require students to log-in to a virtual classroom at a certain day and time. Other colleges allow students to work at their own pace, without any scheduled meetings.

    As an adult learner, you'll probably want to enroll in a college that accepts transfer credits. You may want to consider applying to one of the big three credit-bank colleges. These online schools are regionally accredited and are known for having flexible credit-application policies. They happily work with students to apply old credits to new degrees.

  3. Choose a major. You may decide to keep your original major, or you may choose to study something completely different. Keep in mind that if you have a lot of subject-specific transfer credits, choosing a new major may substantially increase the time it takes to earn a degree. Some fast-track college completion programs offer only a limited selection of majors. Generally these majors are in subjects such as "general studies." A degree in such a generic major may not help you when applying to industries that require training in a specific field. However, most jobs that only require a "bachelors degree," should accept generic majors with no problem.

  4. Submit your transcripts for review. Once you've been accepted to an online program, you'll need to have all previous school transcripts sent to the college's admissions office. Most colleges do not accept personal copies of transcripts. You'll probably need to have your previous schools send official, sealed transcripts directly to your new college.

  5. Ask for transcript review clarifications. After the initial transcript review, speak up with any questions and concerns you have. If you believe that a particular class should be counted towards a requirement, ask about it. You may be able to petition for an additional review (potentially saving you a lot of time and money).

  6. Take the courses required for graduation. Your online college counselor should provide you with a list of required classes. Follow this list to a "T" and you'll be well on your way to completing your college degree.

Going back to school as an adult learner can be a challenge. But, if you're motivated and prepared, completing your college degree online can definitely be worth it.

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