While correspondence courses have existed for decades, the Internet and other communications technologies have made them a more common option for people who want to advance their education without disrupting their careers or relocating. Students today can choose from a plethora of degree programs, including associates, bachelors, master's, and doctoral, offered through distance education and online college programs. Many traditional brick-and-mortar schools offer an increasing number of courses and degree and certificate programs in a fully or partially online format.
Some completely online schools are for-profit institutions. However, a number of private, non-profit institutions also offer a large amount of their courses online. Programs that are not commonly found online, such as those in the arts, are found at private, rather than public schools. Some programs may require labs, clinical, or another form of on-campus coursework.
Course and Program Delivery
Students receive coursework through websites such as the Blackboard course management system, in which they communicate with professors and peers, attend lectures and submit assignments. Even exams are administered online. Some programs, especially those in healthcare-related programs that have required labs and clinical experiences, have in-person requirements along with the online courses.
Associate's degrees can typically be earned in two years and require an average of 60 hours of course credits. The programs generally require a set number of general education requirements in areas like math, science and humanities. The rest of the credits are made up of courses in the selected major and electives. Online associate's degrees are offered in a wide range of fields, including:
- Early childhood education
- General studies
- Hospitality management
- Allied health
- Graphic design
Distance learning bachelor's degree programs typically require around 120-140 hours of course credits. Students complete general education requirements, in addition to electives and courses in their selected majors. Both Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees are available online, along with other degrees, such as a Bachelor of Business Administration. Areas of online study include:
- Computer science
- Public administration
- Criminal justice
- Art history
- Electrical engineering
Online Master of Business Administration, Master of Arts and Master of Science degree programs are common. Most require students to have previously earned a bachelor's degree. Many online programs are designed with the working professional in mind, allowing for flexibility with the program. Programs are offered in many areas, including:
- Business (both MBA and MS options)
- Construction management
- Emergency management and homeland security
- Legal studies
Even doctoral and Ph.D. degrees can be earned through distance education, though they are less common than the other levels. However, as with all online degree programs, students should carefully consider the reputation of the educational institution and check its accreditation with the U.S. Department of Education. Doctoral programs usually focus on in-depth study and research in a specific area. Common areas for online doctoral degrees include:
For students who are interested in pursuing their education online, there are a multitude of options available to them, especially at the undergraduate and master's level. Students who want to pursue a doctoral degree can find some options online, though their options will be more limited.