Online Degree Programs: Requirements and Options

Oct 20, 2021

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.

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Overview of Online Degree Programs

Admissions Similar to on-campus programs (application, tests scores, and GPA)
Degrees Offered Certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's and PhD (varies by institution)
Majors Most majors are available online including liberal arts, technology, sciences, math, education, business, social services, and law
Hardware Requirements Computer with up-to-date operating system and hardware
Skills Basic computer use including word processing, Internet, social media, chat rooms, email, and use of classroom management systems like Moodle or Blackboard; self-discipline to stay on track

Online degree prgrams are as varied as those available on-campus and range from associate degree through doctoral programs in a variety of majors and study areas. Online students face the same decisions as residential students, including which school to attend, what degree to pursue, and what major to choose. Some programs are available fully online or a hybrid format which require internships, residencies, or on-campus coursework.

Admission Requirements

Many requirements for an online degree program are the same as for an on-campus degree program. Colleges and universities accept students based upon their grade point averages (GPAs), ACT and SAT 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.


Online degree programs typically include the same coursework as campus-based programs. Some of the fields in which you can earn an online degree include:

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

On-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, on-campus time 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 signifcant 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:

  • 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.

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 web 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.

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

Most students also need to have basic computer skills. These are necessary for participating in 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-mail and chat rooms

If you're still interesting in pursuing an online degree program, you'll have to meet the same admissions requirements and make the same educational choices as on-campus students. You'll also need basic computer skills and computer hardware and software that's compatible with your school's content management system.

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