Best Online Degree Completion Programs for Returning Students


Which are the best degree completion programs available online in the United States? We rank the top degree programs for returning students.

Key Takeaways

  • Online degree completion programs offer a flexible option for adult learners to complete their degree.

  • Completing a degree through an online degree completion program can result in career growth, job stability, and increased earnings.

  • Online degree completion programs are offered at all degree levels, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate programs.

Featured Programs

Who should consider an online bachelor’s degree completion program?

A college education can be the foundation for a successful career. However, we all know that life circumstances prevent some people from completing an undergraduate degree.

You may have started a bachelor’s degree and earned a number of academic credits. Or you may have started your career right after graduating from high school. Others may struggle to balance personal demands with their pursuit of higher education.

It cannot be denied though that a bachelor’s degree can significantly contribute to their career advancement. Many consider going back to school and completing an undergraduate program, but often, the fear of being the only adult in a room full of young people keep them from doing so.

It is also common among working professionals to devote most of their time fulfilling their personal and professional obligations. It is almost impossible to squeeze in time for coursework.

Fortunately, there are many universities in the country that offer excellent degree completion programs specifically designed for working professionals who wish to go back to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. Some even offer such programs either entirely or at least partly online.

Degree completion programs give adult learners the flexibility they need to complete their bachelor’s degree and get better opportunities that often translates to career growth, job stability, and increased earnings.

The good news is that they can complete their degree without having to compromise their obligations to their family or their workplace. Adult learners will find the online bachelor’s degree completion program a good means to return to school.

Since most of the programs are offered entirely online, students won’t need to live near the campus to finish their degree. They can go through their coursework anytime and anywhere. It is an ideal choice for busy professionals that will allow them to save time, money, and effort that they won’t experience if they are attending classes in person.

They can expect to take the same courses as their on-campus counterparts, except that they will generally attend their classes online. Some schools have a learning management system that houses lectures and other course materials. Students can access lectures from there and also get feedback from their professors. They will be able to communicate through instant messaging, email, and video conference.

Bottom Line: An online degree completion program gives working professionals the chance to finish a college degree with the flexibility to continue working and juggle all of life’s demands while pursuing an online education.

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All About Degree Completion Online Programs

Degree completion programs are unique opportunities for individuals to finish their college education and earn a bachelor’s degree. Students leave college and put their degrees on hold for one reason or another.

Degree completion programs allow students to take any college credits they may have previously earned (including associate degrees in some cases) and put those credits toward a degree. This saves students from having to re-take courses, which can mean significant savings in both time and money.

Online degree completion programs have an additional benefit. Online degrees that deliver coursework asynchronously adds to the flexibility of the program. Many students in online degree completion programs have job and family commitments that limit when they can focus on school, and online courses help them complete their coursework when it is most convenient for them.

Online learning also means students save by not having to go to on-campus classes at set times. While traditional on-campus/face-to-face classes have the edge of the learning environment that distance education still largely cannot replicate, opting for distance learning in this case translates to savings in time and travel costs, which may be even more important to students enrolling in online degree completion programs.

Bottom Line: A degree completion program taken online means that students can complete their coursework when it is most convenient to them. These programs also have the added benefit of allowing students to attend school anywhere without having to attend face-to-face classes on a college campus.

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The Best Online Programs to Complete Your Bachelor’s Degree

  1. #1

    Boston University

    Boston , MA
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    With more than 17 schools and colleges under its belt, Boston University accommodates thousands of students from 130 different countries. It is one of the higher learning institutions that offer an online undergraduate degree completion program. Its bachelor’s degree completion program is designed for students who have already earned a minimum of 52 to 64 college credits that can be transferable.

    The degree completion program at Boston University features a unique liberal arts curriculum, exploring various topics ranging from social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities to mathematics and computer science. This liberal education equips students with necessary skills such as interpersonal awareness, critical thinking, and the ability to think creatively, all of which are highly valued by employers. The bachelor’s degree offers a fully online environment with a flexible format, allowing students to complete their coursework at their own pace.

    The degree completion program in interdisciplinary studies encourages students to gain a broad understanding of the liberal arts and significant exposure to humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Students are expected to acquire a rich knowledge of literature and history through focused themes while gaining full proficiency in writing through individual and collaborative work.

    Some of the courses in this program include Exploring Philosophy Through Film, Food Stuff: A Taste of Biology, and China, the Emerging Superpower: A Model for Development.

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    Spread across nine campuses, Indiana University in Bloomington currently offers more than 900 academic programs. One of the degree programs they offer is the bachelor’s degree completion program under the College of Arts and Sciences.

    It is the policy that college credits earned in pursuit of a degree in the College of Arts and Sciences will not expire, which means students will not be losing those credits. However, there might be changes to the degree requirements and how the previously earned credits will count toward those requirements. To qualify for the degree completion program, students will only need to complete and submit the resumption of graduate studies form.

    One of the best choices for returning students is the nursing program with the RN to BSN degree completion option. This degree program is designed for registered nurses who want to receive a bachelor of science in nursing. With its flexible curriculum, working students and adult learners will be able to meet today’s health needs while laying a solid foundation for leadership positions and graduate study.

    Students are allowed to complete nursing courses in 12 months if they are enrolled full time. Those who are studying part-time may need at least 18 to 24 months to complete the degree completion program.

    This program provides students with an understanding of nursing, humanities, and social sciences. They can pursue careers such as acute and long-term care practitioners in community settings and home care.

  3. #3

    University of Missouri

    Columbia , MO
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    Founded in 1939, the University of Missouri is the largest among the University of Missouri System. It takes pride in providing students with real-life experiences and hands-on learning in their chosen field. The university not only caters to young students pursuing their dreams, but it also makes a point to accommodate students who left college without actually earning their undergraduate degree.

    Through the university’s Finish Line program, returning students will be able to complete requirements and get the undergraduate degree they have already invested in. As a rule, students will first work with an advisor to discover what they need to fulfill before they can graduate. They might need to reconfigure earned coursework for a quicker path to completion.

    The individualized online degree completion programs for this include the bachelor’s in general studies, bachelor’s in educational studies, bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies. Bachelor’s in health sciences, and more.

    Students qualified for the degree completion program include those who have left the University of Missouri without earning a degree, those who have not been enrolled in classes for at least a year, and those who are in good academic standing.

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    As a top-ranked higher learning institution, the University of Denver is committed to offering high-quality education to interested students. This commitment extends to those how have previous college credit but have yet to finish their bachelor’s degree. The bachelor’s completion for adults lets students get a fresh academic start and finish their degree program at their convenience. Students are allowed to transfer up to three years of previous college credit toward their bachelor’s degree.

    Even better, the bachelor’s completion program is available online, which gives working adults the flexibility they need to juggle their studies while pursuing their career and fulfilling personal demands. Some of the completion programs include Communication Arts, Global Studies, Healthcare Administration, Information Technology, Leadership and Organization Studies, and Transportation and Supply Chain. The courses vary depending on the program one chooses. Generally, it takes students 10 weeks to finish a course.

    It is also great news for interested students to find that scholarships are available. In fact, almost all of the bachelor’s completion students receive some sort of a scholarship, allowing them to save thousands of dollars while completing their bachelor’s degree.

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  6. #5

    Drexel University

    Philadelphia , PA
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    Drexel University, through its Goodwin College of Professional Studies, offers non-traditional undergraduate students an opportunity to complete their degree after taking time off for work and family. The programs under the degree completion option boast flexible learning pathways with its flexible transfer credit policy. This allows working adults to maximize their academic, professional, and military learning, saving time and money in the process.

    With the degree completion program, students who previously earned credits at Drexel or another accredited institution can be applied to this program. One of the degree completion programs include the Bachelor of Science in General Studies.

    This is an ideal choice for students who want to stack minors and credentials from across the university to create a personalized and interdisciplinary study plan. Students can transfer up to 135 transfer credits, making it an efficient way for them to earn their bachelor’s degree. Credit opportunities are also available from educational, work, and military life experiences.

    To qualify for the degree completion program, students will need to make sure they have a satisfactory GPA. Other factors being considered include most recent coursework, major, professional and military experience, and essays. Applications are reviewed on a case to case basis.

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    A public research university in Muncie, Indiana, Ball State University offers 12 bachelor’s degree programs fully online, which provides a good opportunity for achieving degree completion while maximizing convenience. These fully online programs are from varied fields of study, from Business, to Behavioral Sciences, Criminal Justice, Data Analytics, down to Logistics, Social Work, and more.

    This is in addition to Associate Degrees and Undergraduate Certificate Programs that are also offered online by Ball State University.

    One of Ball State’s online degree completion programs is their RN to BS in Nursing Program, which can be completed full-time or part-time, with classes offered asynchronously. Like their other online programs, online students benefit from technical support and easy access to their professors and peers.

    Another degree completion program option is the bachelor of general studies. This fully online program offers asynchronous courses that gives students the flexibility they need to complete their coursework at their own pace. Students can customize their degree with two minors and extensive elective opportunities.

    Ball State University holds an accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, and many of its online degree programs regularly make the top end of many rankings and lists.

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    South Dakota State University is a public land-grant research university located in the city of Brookings. Founded in 1881, it is also one of the oldest continuously operating higher education institutions in the state.

    With regard to degree completion programs, South Dakota State University currently offers 11 fully online degree programs. Aside from the online bachelor’s degrees in General Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies, students can also complete their bachelor’s degrees in other fields, which include, Nursing, Geography and Geographic Information Sciences, Agriculture, and others.

    Their online BS in Medical Laboratory Science is designed as an Upward Mobility degree program, which means students get to harness any work experience or existing certifications to complete their degree. Lastly, SDSU also offers a wide range of online minor options.

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    What is University of Louisiana at Monroe known for?

    University of Louisiana at Monroe’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    Having been established back in 1931, ULM is one of the public universities that belong to the University of Louisiana System, which is currently made up of 9 institutions throughout the state.

    Currently, Louisiana State University offers 14 online bachelor’s degree programs, which include five bachelor of arts degrees, four bachelor of science degrees, and three bachelor of business administration (BBA) degree programs. There is also a Bachelor of General Studies degree program, which provides a good avenue for those who are not yet fully decided on a particular career path.

    The ULM roster of online bachelor’s degrees also includes a number of opportunities for Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) looking to earn a bachelor’s degree that counts toward applying for the Master’s in Occupational Therapy (MOT) Bridge Program, also offered at ULM.

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    What is Fort Hays State University known for?

    Fort Hays State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    Based in the City of Hays, Fort Hays State University is one of the 6 state universities within the state of Kansas, and is the fourth largest, with an undergraduate student population of around 11,400 students.

    Out of its impressive array of 200 degrees and certificates offered in an online format, Fort Hays State University offers 87 online bachelor’s degree programs spanning a wide range of disciplines. Its online degrees fall under Education, Business, STEM, Health Sciences, and the Liberal Arts disciplines.

    Fort Hays State University has also implemented its Credit for Prior Learning program, recognizing that students learn from a variety of sources outside the classroom setting. Various forms of prior learning are considered, and the CPL process takes the form of examinations, documentation, portfolio evaluation, or military service credits, whichever applies.

#10 City University of New York

CUNY or City University of New York is the country’s largest urban university system with a total of 25 campuses.

Currently, around 30 bachelor’s degree programs are offered online at CUNY, with degree programs coming from a wide range of disciplines, including the liberal arts, health sciences, business, and the information sciences. These degrees are also offered by different CUNY Campuses, including the School of Professional Studies, The New York City College of Technology and Lehman College.

Many of the online bachelor’s degree programs at CUNY are through their School of Professional Studies. The school offers three accelerated RN to BS-MS programs specializing in Nursing Education, Nursing Organizational Leadership, and Nursing Informatics. These are dual-degree programs that are designed to provide a seamless transition between the BS and MS programs with their overlapping coursework.

City University of New York Fast Facts:

Type of School: Public

Admission rate: 64.1% (City College)

Retention rate: 81% (City College)

Total Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs: 30

Undergraduate Tuition In-State: $3,465 per semester, online $305 per credit hour

Undergraduate Tuition Out-of-State: $620 per credit hour, online $350 per credit hour

Percent Undergraduate Online Enrollment: 32% Fully Online (City College)

Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does “completing a degree” mean?

Completing a degree means fulfilling all the academic requirements of a particular degree program. The set of requirements is often specific to a particular degree and field of study, but common to all of these is the completion of a certain number of credit hours, i.e., a certain number of courses, along with other requirements outside of the classroom coursework.

Most undergraduate courses are typically equivalent to 3 credit hours, and undergraduate degree programs will always have a set of general education courses, degree-specific major courses, and electives that students can choose from. Most bachelor’s degree programs also have a final requirement, which typically takes the form of a thesis or a capstone project. Some undergraduate degrees may additionally require students to complete a certain number of hours conducting field experience, such as internships.

Completing a degree isn’t necessarily the same as graduating; completing a degree’s requirements (typically considered as happening on the last day of a term) means students can then apply for graduation, where the student’s degree is officially awarded/conferred on them.

For those who are planning to seek further education, completing all the requirements of the current degree is necessary, and the application process for higher degrees (master’s and doctorate degrees) will require evidence of completing the prerequisite lower degree.

What are associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees?

College degrees come in many forms. Generally, there are four widely recognized types of degrees out there. These include the associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees, including master’s degrees and doctorate degrees. It is not uncommon to find subcategories in particular degree types. Each degree type varies in terms of the length it takes to finish the program, the prerequisites and degree requirements, and outcomes.

Students who wish to earn a college degree will need to understand how each type of degree differs and which one can better meet their needs, all the while allowing them to save precious time and money.

Here’s a quick look at each degree level.

Associate’s Degree

This degree type usually takes students one to two years to complete, typically requiring 60 credit hours. This particular degree program is commonly found in community and technical colleges.

To get admitted into this program, students need to at least have a high school diploma or equivalent. There are higher learning institutions that require the submission of test scores. While graduates of this program can immediately join the workforce, students may prefer to continue their education and earn the next degree level.

In fact, most associate’s degree programs are designed to provide students with foundational skills to complete the bachelor’s degree. There are three subcategories for this degree program, including:

  • Associate of Arts
  • Associate of Science
  • Associate of Applied Science

Bachelor’s Degree

Also known as a baccalaureate degree, the bachelor’s degree online and traditional program can be completed in four to five years, typically requiring 120 credit hours, depending on the specific discipline. Web-based and on-campus programs can be either a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. The degree may also be referred to by the specific area of study, such as the bachelor of fine arts or bachelor of architecture.

Just like an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree requires students to have earned at least a high school diploma or equivalent to be admitted to a program. Some schools may also require students to submit ACT or SAT scores.

Those who have an associate’s degree may enter the bachelor’s program easily. They can transfer as much as 60 credit hours to their baccalaureate degree, allowing them to finish the degree faster.

Most traditional and online bachelor’s programs are designed to help students gain entry-level positions in the field of their choice. Many employers require applicants to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify.

Master’s Degree

Considered an advanced degree, a master’s degree program offers students a wealth of opportunities once completed. Those with master’s degrees typically qualify to take on managerial or leadership roles as a form of career advancements or continue their studies with a doctoral degree in a specific discipline.

With a blend of coursework, projects, and research requirements, the master’s degrees can be typically completed in two years’ time. However, there are accelerated programs that allow students to earn their master’s degree in as few as 12 months.

For admission, students will need to have at least a bachelor’s degree to be eligible for admission. Some schools may require GRE or GMAT scores. Master’s degree programs, whether on campus or online may require a thesis, capstone project, or cumulative examination.

Similar to bachelor’s degrees, there are master of arts and master of science degrees, and there are also degrees that are for a specific area of study. Examples of this type of degree includes the Master of Business Administration, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Laws, Master of Education, Master of Social Work, and many more.

Doctoral Degree

A doctorate degree is a terminal degree, considered the highest form of education available. Students who are admitted into this degree will need to complete the coursework, comprehensive examinations, research requirements, and a dissertation. It will often take them 2 to 10 years to earn. The duration is largely dependent on the nature of research and the completion of dissertation.

While a master’s degree is often a prerequisite to get admitted into this program, there are cases where the master’s degree is incorporated into the curriculum. Many PhD programs lead graduates to a career in the academe. Others take on leadership roles.

Examples of a doctoral degree program include Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Education, Juris Doctor, Doctor of Psychology, Doctor of Business Administration, and Doctor of Dental Surgery, among others.

Is your major your degree?

In a word, no. Strictly speaking, the two terms are different. For undergraduate education within the United States, colleges and universities commonly offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. As mentioned previously, there are a number of specific bachelor’s degrees, though by far the most common are bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science degrees (BS). Other bachelor’s degree types include Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and Bachelor of Music (BM) degrees.

The degree type (BS, BA, and so on) also determines the approach taken by the curriculum design of a particular degree regardless of the major. Bachelor of arts degrees tend to feature a wide range of courses from the liberal arts and the humanities, while bachelor of science degrees tend to focus on research skills on top of the specialized technical skills belonging to the particular major/field of study.

Majors, meanwhile, refer to the specialized field of study and determine a significant part of the courses that students in bachelor’s degrees are required to complete. While there are only few degree types, with bachelors of arts and science degrees being most common, there are dozens of majors falling under these degree types. Let’s use the following examples: a student may be awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In this case, the degree is a bachelor of arts, and the major is psychology.

Will it say on my diploma if I took my degree online?

Generally, no. As is standard in the majority of universities and colleges, diplomas only indicate the degree earned, as well as the major. This is just as true in the case of colleges and universities that offer particular degree programs in various formats (such as online programs, traditional in-person classes, or hybrid).

These institutions typically do not discriminate or place preferences between the delivery formats they may employ. Unless a student completes their degree in an institution known as a primarily online college/online school, it usually isn’t known by looking at their diploma whether they completed their coursework via in-person classes or through distance education modalities.

What is true is that regardless of delivery, whether in-person or online learning format, colleges and universities aim for a set of academic standards, especially those imposed by the accreditations they hold and maintain.

The particular degree programs also tend to follow a single set of learning outcomes, which determine the overall curriculum design, and these programs are developed and taught by a single set of faculty who teach both online and on-campus students, and online learners can expect to be treated with the same amount of care and be subject to the same set of academic expectations as their traditional on-campus peers.

This is an understandable concern, though, since a stigma and a perception around online degrees and online education in general undeniably still exists, i.e., that they are somehow of lesser quality. Granted, there are some drawbacks to the current state of online/distance education, but students can rest assured that the course content and general educational quality of online/distance education is comparable to that offered in on campus programs.

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Should I pursue further education (i.e., a master’s degree) after I complete my bachelor’s degree?

There is no simple answer to this question, which relies on several external and internal factors. In terms of advancement, though, graduate degrees may open doors to promotion, and this is true for a huge number of fields and disciplines.

Finishing a degree takes great effort, and graduate coursework is in some ways on another level compared to bachelor’s degree coursework. Students looking to pursue graduate education must think about whether they are mentally ready for the new set of academic hurdles ahead, or at the very least, whether they already have enough industry experience by the time they apply for enrollment, since this is an unwritten rule of many graduate degrees, and factors into a lot of the coursework.

Despite the challenges, graduate-level education does have its benefits. Aside from advanced industry-specific knowledge students gain, there are also ample opportunities in graduate degree programs for building networks and partnerships with peers and faculty, who invariably come from and work within the same industry.

In the end, in determining whether or not a student decides to pursue further education after having earned their bachelor’s degree, their answer must be the result of careful thought and consideration, and must only have been done after looking at all the advantages and drawbacks, as well as all the available means of making their planned graduate degree more affordable, convenient, and rewarding.

What are the benefits of online degree completion programs?

The primary advantage of an online degree completion program is the flexibility it offers. Students are often allowed to take courses entirely online in either a full-time or part-time basis. This makes it possible for them to build their course of study around their schedule and ensure that their goals are met. They may design and enroll in courses and accelerated degree programs that meet their personal trajectory.

How do I choose a degree completion program?

It is important for students interested in enrolling in a degree completion program to consider one that actually aligns with their unique professional goals and needs. They will need to find out first whether a particular university offers specific degree options and areas of study they are interested in and whether it can help them reach their objectives.


Finding completion programs with flexible learning options is also a must. Some programs may only be partly available online.

Another factor they should look at is whether the program accepts transfer credits. This helps students earn the degree faster, allowing them to save time and money. They should choose a bachelor’s degree completion program that offers the best possible education while accepting a high number of transfer credits.

Are you ready to return to college?

Putting your studies on hold doesn’t count as a loss. Through degree completion programs online, students can use their past educational credits and other credentials and count these toward their degrees.

In addition to making past education count, students who complete their degree online enjoy the flexibility of online classes, and lets them save on cost.