Online Degree Programs: Requirements and Options

Research online degree programs. Find out what you can learn in these programs and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

Overview of Online Degree Programs

Online degree options are as varied as those available on-campus and range from associate degrees through doctorates in dozens of majors. Many options for online degree programs are the same as those for residential students, including which school to attend, what degree to pursue and what major to choose.

Online Availability Fully online or hybrid format
Degree Levels Available Associates, bachelor's, master's, doctorate
In-Person Requirements Could require internships, residencies, coursework on campus

Admission Requirements

Many requirements for an online degree are the same as for an on-campus degree. Students must be accepted by the university based on GPA, college testing scores and other criteria. In some cases, four-year universities or colleges offer online degree completion programs, which allow students with some transferable college credits to earn their bachelor's degrees. Graduate programs require students to have a bachelor's degree and possibly relevant professional experience.

Major Options

Online degree programs typically include the same coursework as campus-based programs. Some of the fields in which online degrees are available are:

  • Social services and public administration
  • Public safety and law enforcement
  • Medical/health professions and psychology
  • Mechanic and repair technologies
  • Legal
  • Engineering and engineering technologies
  • Education
  • Computer science and communication technologies
  • Communication and journalism
  • Business

Campus Requirements

Some online degree programs require students to spend minimal amounts of time on campus. Although students communicate regularly with professors and classmates within virtual classrooms, time on campus allows them to meet with professors, advisors and classmates and to attend workshops in person. Other programs contain hybrid or blended courses. These classes present a sizable amount of the content online and often use online discussions. The number of face-to-face classes is reduced, but is still a substantial part of the program.

Some programs may offer all courses online, but expect distance learners to complete an internship, practicum or other on-site experience at an approved setting relevant to their field of study. Examples include clinical rotations at a hospital for a healthcare program, internships at corporations for business students or student teaching sessions for those training to be educators.

Online Learning Environment

Instruction takes place through a combination of several methods, which may include the following:

  • Web conferences
  • Prerecorded lectures
  • Videos
  • Teleconferences
  • Message boards
  • Class chat rooms
  • Virtual simulations


Along with reliable Internet access, schools offering online programs expect students to have up-to-date computers and software in order to complete coursework. This becomes even more important in programs that require heavy usage of various programs and applications, such as graphic design or drafting programs.

Operating Systems and Web Browsers

Most colleges use Blackboard or another content management system as their medium for online classes. These typically have several versions, and unfortunately, no version is compatible with all operating systems or browsers. Students must check with the college to find out which operating systems, browsers and plug-ins will work with the chosen content management system.

Computer Hardware

There are computer hardware requirements beyond the operating system that must be met. These include:

  • A 1GHz or greater CPU processor
  • Hard drive capacity of at least 10 GB
  • Ram of 512 MB or larger
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • Sound card and speakers

Computer Skills

Most students will have at least basic computer skills. These are necessary for online classes and include:

  • Word processing skills
  • Creating, saving, copying and organizing files and folders
  • Opening PDF files
  • Using the Internet
  • Navigating and saving programs and applications
  • Using e-mails and chat rooms

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