How to Finish College Online
Maybe you joined the military. Perhaps you went right to work or started a family. Or, like many other young adults, you started a college program either at a four-year institution or a community college.
Then, along the way, something changed your path or your mind. You had a career change, you were sent to a new duty station, you got laid off, you got married, or your priorities simply changed. Basically, life happened, and you never did get around to finishing your bachelor’s degree.
Every day we hear from future Monarchs who started a degree, or who earned an associate degree, but never did finish college. Their path to a bachelor’s degree was interrupted by a completely normal and understandable life change, or they simply took a break. They want to know: how can I finish college online?
Like many universities and colleges, Old Dominion University has degree completion programs established with community colleges. These agreements help students achieve their goals of finishing a bachelor’s degree online or on campus. With the breadth of online bachelor’s degree completion programs available, most students don’t even have to come to campus if they don’t want to. They can transfer to ODU and earn their college degree online.
Let’s break down what that means for you, and how you can take advantage of ODU’s partnerships and articulation agreements so that you can finish college online.
Articulation Agreements: Helping You Finish College
An articulation agreement is a document that establishes an arrangement between two or more colleges or universities. It most commonly refers to transfer credit policies for academic programs.
When you look up online bachelor’s degree programs, you may see “articulation agreements” listed on university and school websites. Usually, this means they have worked with another college to make sure the courses within their programs will transfer the maximum number of credits
Articulation agreements are a win/win for both the schools and students. Colleges and universities benefit because they are able to make more programs accessible to more students. Students benefit because they often save money by earning some credits at a community college. Many even earn their associate degree and then go on to pursuing their bachelor's with a degree completion program.
What does that mean for me?
It means that the university has set up a pathway so that you can attend a community college and earn general education credits. Those credits will transfer seamlessly to the university for a degree completion program.
Students are often concerned that they will have wasted time and money on a community college class that doesn’t apply as a transfer credit towards a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university. Articulation agreements guarantee that if you take freshman English or statistics at a particular college, it will transfer towards a bachelor’s degree completion program if you transfer to a university in that agreement.
For example, Old Dominion University has an articulation agreement in place with Northern Virginia Community College that specifically states that if you take intro to psychology at NVCC and then transfer to ODU, that class will count on your transcripts the same way that intro to psychology would count if you took it at ODU.
It is important to note that grades play a part in this transfer agreement. Usually, students must earn a C or higher for the credits to transfer.
What if I have credits from several community colleges?
It happens more often than you may think. Many students, especially military-affiliated service members or their spouses and dependents, moved while pursuing their education. Therefore, they may have already earned credits from more than one community college. Currently, Old Dominion University has an articulation agreement with the Virginia Community College System and several other community colleges throughout the country, but not every single one.
Students with multiple transcripts from different programs are usually considered on a case-by-case basis.
At ODU, we do a free unofficial transcript credit evaluation so that you can make an informed decision before you apply.
Having your transcripts evaluated for transfer can take some time. It might even take a few phone calls or emails, but don’t let that dissuade you from asking these important questions. You could potentially save hundreds, even thousands of dollars and a lot of time by making sure every credit counts toward a degree program.
What if I started in several different programs?
This happens often, as well. As you take courses and experience life, you will naturally feel better suited to certain programs or career paths that may surprise you. It’s completely normal to start out pursuing a business degree, for example, and then switch to teaching after a year or two of classes. And vice-versa!
But, it’s hard to say for sure that credits from several different programs will apply toward finishing a specific bachelor’s degree. Different bachelor's degree programs have certain requirements as well. For example, it’s much more likely that a nursing program would require an Associate of Applied Science than an Associate of Art degree specializing in education. But that doesn’t mean that none of your credits will transfer, you may just need an extra science class.
Ask the university from which you hope to earn your bachelor’s degree. They will help.
What if the program I want isn't available online?
Online bachelor’s degree completion programs make the most sense for many students, and they may make the most sense for you. Flexible formatting often means that you can work for your degree while maintaining a job, a family, your hobbies, or often all three.
Despite the popularity and necessity for online bachelor’s degree completion programs, sometimes the subject matter doesn’t work in an online college format.
When that happens, you have a couple of options.
- Your first step is always to ask. New programs come online all the time. It is possible that the one you’re eyeing is just a semester or two away.
- You could also consider another school that is closer to you geographically, or does offer the program you’re looking for online.
Another option, depending on your goals, is to look ahead into master’s programs. If you know that you’ll eventually want to seek a master’s degree in a similar field, check to see if that is available online and what online bachelor’s degree completion programs work to lead into that graduate program. If you know you want a master’s in accounting, for example, but a bachelor’s in accounting isn’t available online, a bachelor’s degree in business management with an emphasis in finance will work.
How will I make sense of all this?
Finishing college online is a huge goal with a lot to consider.
Your first step will probably be to contact the university you wish to attend. See if you can get an unofficial transfer credit evaluation. That will help you break down how much time and money you’ll need to complete your degree. For some students, finishing a degree online may take a while, so find a school that will be with you every step of the way. Many students, however, are much closer to their degree than they think.
You may find yourself comparing several schools or multiple programs. Take your time. It’s a big decision and a lot of information to collect. We suggest writing everything down including financial considerations, time tables, and the pros and cons to the universities themselves, including reputation, academic rigor, length and breadth of programs and how well the school itself is established in the online learning space.
Don’t forget to consider the support you’ll receive once you’re enrolled. That’s a critical component to student success, especially for students who are finishing college online.
Once you have those answers, check in with yourself:
- How much time can you dedicate?
- How will finishing your degree help your life and career?
Then talk to your family and support network. Discuss how your schedules will change, financial considerations, and other family priorities. Students are more successful when the people they love are cheering them on.
How does ODUOnline help students finish college online?
As we mentioned, ODU has articulation agreements with Virginia Community Colleges and several other educational institutions around the country. When a student comes to us with an associate degree or credits from a VCCS school or one of our partners, we can tell them what credits will apply with a free unofficial transcript evaluation. This helps students get on the first step to degree completion.
ODUOnline also offers unique support for their students. Some students are already great at time management and are comfortable working on their courses on their own. They may have a clear end goal, which makes it easier to choose the elective classes they want. Some students who may have been out of school for awhile or who just need more help, could use a little more contact and support finishing college.
ODUOnline’s coaches and student success directors are ready for both types of degree completion students. Graduates tell us over and over how crucial their advisors were, how understanding their professors were, and how much support they felt from the university.
When a student feels overwhelmed, has a family or health challenge that requires some time off, or even has an academic slip up, our advisors help students find the resources they need.
What is plusODU?
PlusODU is similar to our transfer program. It is a clear pathway to a bachelor’s degree, starting at a community college. PlusODU offers students guaranteed admission to Old Dominion University with the advantage of benefits at both colleges. These benefits include tutoring, technical support, student programs, academic services, financial aid services, and more.
To learn more about plusODU and to see whether it’s the right program for you, visit plus.odu.edu.
You may not be a new high school graduate anymore, but you still have a world of possibility available to you. Don’t be discouraged. It looks like a lot of work to do before the real work begins in your classes, and it is. But, finishing college is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Earning a degree online can enhance your job, your earning potential, and your life satisfaction. Finishing your degree online adds another layer of accomplishment and a whole new element of pride. You can do it!
ODUOnline has an established partnership with many community colleges and higher education centers. You can read more about how Monarchs all over the country and world finish college online with full support from before they apply until after they graduate by visiting online.odu.edu/info-transfer-students.