For many, a college degree may be the best way to increase their earning power. Not to mention that many degree paths are closed to those without a degree. In 2016, U.S. Department of Education data showed that adults aged 25-34 with only a high school degree had a median salary of $31,800, while those with an associate’s degree made $38,000, and those with a bachelor’s degree earned $50,000.
Going back to school may be an excellent idea! However, if you’re a working adult with obligations, or a family, it can be difficult to understand just how long it would take you to complete a degree program. While traditional full time students normally expect to spend two years working on an associate’s degree and four years working on a bachelor’s degree, full time traditional school may take too much of a toll on a returning student’s limited time.
That timing issue is why so many people turn to online degree programs. Whether you’re interested in an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, there are many very flexible program options available. Most allow students to enroll just part-time if they wish. While 15 credits per semester is generally recommended for full time students to graduate on-time, a lower credit hour load can make an online degree much more accessible.
One key difference in timing between traditional and returning students is that most returning students don’t worry about taking summers off. A 10 credit load, which is still full-time enrollment, can allow a student to take some of the academic pressure off. By enrolling online yearly for two traditional school-year semesters and a summer semester, an online student can stay on the same timing track for graduation as a traditional student. This does take some planning ahead, of course, but academic advisors for online students know exactly how to help students navigate course choice and planning to navigate those issues.
So it is possible to graduate on schedule even with lower credit hour loads per semester. But, the opposite is also true. If you’re a very motivated returning student who wants to devote all their free time to finishing their degree, it’s certainly possible to graduate a little faster, depending on the course load you (and your advisor) feel you can handle.
Choice of degree program can also influence how long it will take to earn your degree. Some associate of science and bachelor of science degrees have very specific requirements for internships or residencies which can slow the pace of graduation somewhat, as do some liberal arts degrees in education or the social sciences.
When enrolling in an online degree program, it’s a good idea to have an in-depth conversation with an academic advisor not just about your career goals, but about the amount of time you have available for school. This will help you find the perfect online degree option for you!