A quick look at job openings today makes it easy to see why a bachelor’s degree is so important. Many jobs that only called for a high-school diploma a decade ago are now requiring a bachelor’s degree. This phenomenon, called degree inflation or credential creep, has sent workers scrambling back to school to keep pace with the job market.

The advent of online education has made tackling degree inflation more manageable. Students have more options than ever to earn a bachelor’s degree. In fact, so many choices are available that students might have difficulty determining the best online bachelor’s degree program.

Before enrolling in any bachelor’s program, students should keep in mind several considerations that play a significant role in undergraduate studies.

How to Determine the Best Online Bachelor's Degree in 4 Steps Infographic

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Area Of Study

Picking an area of study, or a major, is no easy feat. Students often consider various majors throughout their college careers, examine several occupational opportunities, and investigate industry outlooks. Researchers have found that several majors remain popular choices for the best career options:

Business

The National Center for Education Statistics, which completes research on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), found business degrees accounted for the largest percentage of U.S. undergraduate degrees. The latest DOE data said 19 percent of all bachelor’s degrees were conferred in business in concentrations that included marketing, accounting, labor relations, human resources, healthcare administration, and project management.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) forecasts business and finance occupation opportunities to grow about 9 percent by 2026. The typical level of education needed to enter any business occupation is a bachelor’s degree, and the annual median salary is $66,530 a year.

Healthcare

Registered nurses (RNs) with associate’s degrees or nursing school diplomas are answering the call to earn bachelor’s degrees by taking RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) programs. Healthcare-related bachelor’s degrees account for 11 percent of undergraduate degrees, the DOE said.

Bachelor’s programs in nursing prepare online students by using advanced technology that includes virtual laboratories and clinical simulators. The DOL said RN employment is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2026, with an average annual salary of $68,450 per year.

Computer Science

A computer science major prepares graduates for jobs in information technology (IT), engineering, cyber security, and software development. In a recent report, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found that jobs in the computer science field will far outnumber bachelor’s-educated graduates in the near future, meaning degree holders will be in high demand.

The DOL said computer and IT jobs are expected to grow by 13 percent by 2026. The median salary in the field is about $83,000.

Education

A bachelor’s degree prepares graduates for certification exams and is expected for most entry-level positions in K-12 education. Education degrees are required for many positions in the public sector, non-profits, childcare, counseling, social work, and career services.

Experts said the demand for teachers is expected to grow by 8 percent by 2026. The average annual salary for high school teachers is $58,030.

Psychology

An undergraduate psychology degree opens doors to a variety of career opportunities in fields that include business, healthcare, education, and counseling. Psychology accounts for 6 percent of all bachelor’s degrees conferred. With such a wide range of career opportunities for bachelor’s-educated psychology majors, the entry-level salaries differ significantly.

School choice

When reviewing the options for a bachelor’s degree program, students should consider several factors that can affect the quality of online education:

Reputation and past complaints

The leading programs have positive reputations that follow them. Look to the Better Business Bureau and state higher education agencies to see if complaints have been filed against the school. Check online professor reviews to read the latest feedback about specific classes. Online bachelor’s degrees from quality higher-learning institutions confer the same degree as those earned from traditional on-campus programs.

Statistics

Review graduation rates, retention rates, job placement rates, and student loan default rates for a deeper look into the school’s background. The school and the DOE should be able to provide detailed information.

Flexibility

Many students choose online education for the flexibility it provides. Universities that offer asynchronous online bachelor’s degree programs allow students to work any time and from any place as long as deadlines are met.

Support

Coaching and support can make a difference for many online learners. Students should have resources to turn to for assistance, whether for academic advising, tutoring, financial aid questions, or general administrative questions.

Accreditation

Choosing an online bachelor’s degree program from a fully accredited and established higher-learning institution is important. Accreditation shows the university is maintaining the highest level of academic standards.

The United States has both regional and national higher-education accrediting agencies. The U.S. Department of Education does not endorse any accrediting agency but does provide oversight of the accreditation system through periodic reviews of the agencies. The DOE also holds the agencies accountable by ensuring they enforce the accreditation standards.

Costs and expenses

While flexibility and convenience can make online undergraduate programs attractive to many working adults, expenses are also a consideration. Before making a final decision, do some research into these factors:

Tuition and fees

The costs directly related to academics can vary widely depending on the institution, programs, and credit hours. Eligible students may use student loans, grants, and scholarships to offset tuition costs.

Books and supplies

Students may incur general costs such as textbooks, lab packets, and other course-specific materials. Students may pay as much as $1,300 a year for books and supplies, but often can lower the costs by purchasing or renting used books or accessing digital downloads.

Take a second look before signing on the dotted line

Before enrolling in any online undergraduate program, students should consider a few final questions:

Does the program prepare graduates for real-world experiences?

A growing number of employers are raising their educational standards for employment. The job search site CareerBuilder found that more than 41 percent of employers surveyed are hiring college-educated employees for positions that had been once primarily held by high-school graduates. Some of the fields that may now demand bachelor’s-educated employees include sales, customer support, management, and construction.

Students must be workplace ready as soon as they graduate.

Will the degree improve my life?

Studies show a bachelor’s degree continues to be worth the time and investment. Bachelor’s degree holders earn 67 percent more than high-school graduates and are more likely to have job with benefits that include health insurance, researchers have found.

Is the degree program considered one of the best online bachelor’s degrees in the United States?

There are scores of undergraduate degree programs in the United States today, and choosing the right one can be a challenge. Research the school, the program, accreditation, costs, and other factors to make sure your undergraduate years prepare you for a successful career or additional education after graduation.

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/10/27/wanted-for-any-job-a-bachelors-degree-is-that-smart/?utm_term=.36bafe7fba68

https://campustechnology.com/articles/2017/05/02/on-campus-enrollment-shrinks-while-online-continues-its-ascent.aspx

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ets2.12141/full

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/home.htm

https://www.nap.edu/read/24926/chapter/1

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/quick-guide-college-costs

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/college-costs-faqs

https://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/employers-looking-for-more-educated-workers

https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/choosing-schools/consider#complaints-reputation