Types of Online Degrees

Those who are contemplating college will face many important decisions about their education. Online degrees offer the advantage of flexible scheduling, making them a great option for busy parents, working professionals and those who prefer to study online rather than at a brick-and-mortar school.

Understanding the online college degree options is the first step in determining which program is the right choice. Below is an overview of the most common types of online college degrees, what they require, and what students can expect from the experience.

Certificate or Diploma Programs

Certificate programs can provide a boost to education already earned, such as a working professional becoming certified in a new technology, or they can be the requirement for entry into a particular field, such as plumbing, welding or cosmetology. Some online certificate programs require a high school diploma or equivalent for entry. Most certificate programs require a few weeks or months of online study to complete, while more advanced programs might take up to a year.

Associate Degree

The associate degree can be a valuable credential for those who want to enter the workforce upon graduation or it can be seen as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree. The online associate degree can take up to two years to complete, but the flexible scheduling offered by online schools means students might complete the degree in much less time. A high school diploma is required for entry.

Bachelor's Degree

Acceptance into the bachelor's degree program requires a minimum of a high school diploma and passing grades on entrance exams. Many bachelor's degrees can be earned entirely online, but those that require a hands-on element may be completed in a hybrid educational format. Students might be able to earn their credential in just a few years, depending on how quickly they work through the courses.

Many entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree, and graduates often move into the workforce upon completion of their undergraduate studies. However, some positions require a master's degree or higher. In such instances, the bachelor's degree is the first step toward higher educational attainment.

Master's Degree

Entry into an online master's degree program usually requires completion of the bachelor's degree and passing scores on the GRE or GMAT exam. Flexible online scheduling means the master's degree could be completed in as little as one year.

Many students who enter online master's degree programs have already entered the workforce and are trying to earn a higher degree for a promotion or salary boost. Online degree programs can allow these students to work on courses at a time that is convenient for them, thus allowing them to earn their degree without sacrificing their work or family commitments.


The Master of Business Administration degree is a business credential that can be obtained through one to two years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. The requirements for the MBA are typically the same as the requirements for the master's degree, although those entering the MBA program are usually expected to have an undergraduate degree in business or a related field.

Ph.D. Programs

Also known as a doctoral degree, the Ph.D. is the highest level of educational attainment. This degree is usually a requirement to obtain a license to practice medicine, law, dentistry, veterinary science and other professions that require extensive training to earn the right to practice. Many fields allow the Ph.D. to be obtained online. Depending upon the profession, this could take only a few years.

Most doctoral programs require a master's degree for entry, though some programs might allow a blend that includes a bachelor's degree and work experience to serve as an entry requirement. A significant part of a Ph.D. program is research and a dissertation, which is then presented and defended before a committee. In many cases, these requirements can all be achieved entirely online.

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