Online Degree Programs: Requirements and Options

Enrollment in online courses (those in which 80% or more of the content is presented online) grew dramatically from 1.98 million students in 2003 to 4.6 million in 2008 ( Online degree programs are available in more than a dozen fields and are ideal for nontraditional students who work full time, have children or are otherwise unable to attend more conventional campus programs.

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Online Degree Program 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. Tuition and sometimes books or other fees are required.

Requirements that are different for online programs are those related to computer technology. There are several requirements that a student needs to be aware of in addition to Internet access.

Operating Systems and Web Browsers

Most colleges use Blackboard as their medium for online classes. Blackboard has several versions, and unfortunately, no version is compatible with all operating systems or browsers. A required Java Run Time browser plug-in should also be compatible with Blackboard. Students must check with the college to find out which operating systems, browsers and plug-ins will work with the Blackboard version it uses.

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:

  • Using the keyboard and mouse
  • Minimizing, maximizing, resizing and moving windows with one or multiple open windows
  • 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

Online Degree Programs

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. Instruction takes place through Web conferences, prerecorded lectures, online videos, teleconferences, bulletin boards and typed lectures. Online degree options are as varied as those available on-campus and range from associate degrees through doctorates in dozens of majors.

Areas of Study

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

On-Campus Time

Some online degree programs require students to spend minimal amounts of time on campus. Although students communicate regularly with professors and classmates through message boards, e-mail, instant messages and chat rooms, time on campus allows them to meet with professors, advisors and classmates and to attend workshops in person.

Other programs are 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. The student must decide which program type will best meet his or her needs.

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