How to Get a Degree Online: A Step-By-Step Guide

Earning a degree online has become the norm for many American students. Some institutions such as Excelsior College have created programs that both meet students’ needs and comply with national standards. Prospective students have plenty of options for online learning, including even graduate degrees and some health care paths. Some of the most popular include business, technology, nursing, and liberal arts. 

The process of applying for and starting classes can be overwhelming for anyone, but getting your degree online might be a lot easier than you think. In fact, instead of having to stand in long lines for registration, fill out meal plans, and fight for parking spaces, you’ll mostly be filling out forms from home. If you’re ready to get started with your online education, here is a simple guide to get you started.

Decide what you want to study

Even though this step should be the simplest part of the whole process, figuring out what you want to do with your life can be the hardest decision to make. However, you can take some proven steps to help. First, imagine yourself in five years. What will you be doing? Who will your peers be? Even the smallest details can give you some guidance with these questions. For example, maybe you see yourself working in a medical setting. Or maybe you’re mingling with other professionals. This may not work for everyone, but it can certainly point you in a certain direction. 

Something else you can do is shadow some professionals in jobs you have some interest in. Often, hanging out in these environments will give you a clear idea of what you do and don’t want to do. Most important, take advantage of any career aptitude tests you’re offered. These are usually administered by high school guidance counselors or advising centers in colleges. These inventories will give you an idea of your strengths and weaknesses and help you narrow down your choices.

Choose your college

Once you’ve decided on the degree you might want, or at least narrowed it down to a field, you can choose your online college. To do this, you can talk to an adviser or simply do some research on your own. Make sure the college you choose is accredited by a board approved by the US Department of Education. This ensures that the education you receive “meets acceptable levels of quality.” Also, look closely at the degree plan you intend to take. You’ll need to know how long it will take, how much it will cost, and what you can do with it once you graduate.

Apply for financial aid

You can apply for financial aid online through a government website, and you need to do it as soon as possible. If you miss the deadline, you can still apply, but you may not get funding until after classes start. For these forms, you’ll need access to your last tax return (or your parents’ if you’re a dependent student). You’ll also need to provide information on where you plan to attend school. It’s recommended that you apply even if you haven’t made this decision yet, however, because you can always add it later. 

Talk to an adviser

The next step is to contact an adviser at the college you’ve chosen. The people you talk to will depend on the degree you choose, and it’s wise to have your questions ready. For example, if you’d like to major in finance at Excelsior College, you’ll need to talk to someone in the division of business. You can ask your adviser questions like how long a bachelor’s degree will take, what type of classes to expect, and where to send your records.  

Begin your education

All that’s left now is to attend your classes and get your degree. Getting a degree at  Excelsior College is a rewarding experience. You won’t be handed your degree without hard work, but you will get all the support you need to finish. Do your best to prepare yourself for attending classes online. This will mean checking in often to make sure you don’t miss deadlines and interacting with class members to get the full experience. 

Adam Torkildson