There are a lot of good reasons to pursue bachelor’s degree completion. For example, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from 2021 shows that bachelor’s degree holders earn more and experience lower unemployment rates than workers with associate’s degrees, some college, or high school diplomas. Additionally, many employers prefer to hire bachelor’s degree holders for higher-paying, more senior roles. And advanced degree programs typically require applicants to have undergraduate degrees.
However, pursuing a bachelor’s degree after earning an associate’s degree or completing some college can be a daunting prospect. Many people are intimidated by the idea of stepping back into the world of higher education after spending time in the workforce or caring for a family. Simply navigating the requirements of the undergraduate application process can be challenging. Prospective applicants may wonder: Do I have enough transfer credits? Can I handle online learning? Will I be older than the other undergraduate students?
Degree completion programs, such as the online Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offer motivated non-traditional learners the support they need to earn their bachelor’s degrees. These programs are often flexible enough for working adults returning to college part-time and typically teach career-ready skills that immediately impact students’ professional potential. They also tend to have straightforward admissions and graduation requirements to set returning students up for success from day one of their journeys.
Getting into an Online Degree Completion Program
Every degree completion program has different admissions criteria. Some state universities grant automatic admission to associate’s degree holders from specific community colleges. Others assess returning college students using metrics such as undergraduate GPA and work experience. Still others look closely at why applicants want to earn college degrees. Most programs take a holistic approach to assessing applications that considers each applicant’s transfer credits, GPA, employment history, and goals. The Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs at UT offers two main admissions paths plus an alternative option for veterans.
Applicants with Associate of Arts, Associate of Fine Arts, Associate of Sciences, or Associate of Science in Teaching degrees from accredited institutions can enroll in the program without fulfilling further requirements. Students who want to return to college but don’t have associate’s degrees must have 60 transferable credit hours of work that includes English composition, mathematics, and science from an accredited institution and a 2.0 minimum GPA. Meanwhile, veterans are exempt from the 60-credit requirement and may apply to the program with 45 credit hours of college-level coursework as long as they meet all other admission requirements. There are no work experience or entrance exam requirements for admission.
Prospective applicants can schedule a pre-application call with an Enrollment Advisor to confirm their eligibility and get more information about tuition rates and the online bachelor’s completion experience. The University Admissions Committee evaluates transfer credits when applicants are under review for admission so students know where they stand before they begin.
What It’s Like to Study in a Degree Completion Program Online
Many non-traditional students are unfamiliar with online education and may hesitate to apply because they’re unsure whether they’ll succeed in a virtual environment. But remote learning offers some students alternative opportunities to thrive. There are several ways to participate in class beyond raising a hand. Students may find they are more engaged with interactive video, chats, and project work than in traditional lectures and solo coursework.
Online students in UT’s bachelor’s degree completion program participate in live video conference lectures in online courses on weekday afternoons and evenings. They also learn via collaborative project work and asynchronous study. Class sizes in the program are intentionally small––the average class has just 12 to 15 participants—to ensure students have time to network with peers. In the asynchronous component of the online bachelor’s degree completion program, students complete readings, assignments, and video modules at their own pace.
Is It Faster to Finish a Degree Online?
The commitment students make when they enroll in UT’s online bachelor’s degree completion program is highly personalized. Students design their own course loads each semester. They can take as many as 19 credits in the fall and spring semesters and 12 in the summer to graduate as soon as possible or take just a few courses each term to ensure they succeed in their classes while still meeting personal and professional responsibilities.
What Students Learn in Online Degree Completion Programs
Bachelor’s programs for returning students and non-traditional degree seekers vary by institution. A degree completion program at one school might have a pure liberal studies curriculum while another offers concentration tracks in disciplines such as healthcare or criminal justice that lead to either bachelor of science degrees or bachelor of arts degrees.
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Programs students at UT choose between two primary concentrations: Public Policy & Administration and Culture & Studies. The Public Policy & Administration track focuses on the relationship between government policies and organizational decision-making. It prepares students for public policy and non-profit careers with a curriculum that develops policy analysis, non-profit management, and economics skills. The Culture & Societies track focuses on interpersonal relations between people from different backgrounds and cultures. It explores topics such as religion, anthropology, and history, preparing students to excel in fields such as human resources. In each track, students can choose courses that suit their interests and career goals.
Students in both tracks also develop valuable transferable skills and soft skills. Many people don’t realize that soft skills are crucial to career success. According to ZipRecruiter’s co-founder and CEO, Ian Siegel, “93 percent of employers say soft skills play a critical role in their decision about whom they want to hire.” Online degree completion program students at UT develop the following transferable soft skills during their time in the program:
Students in online degree completion programs practice collaboration in group project work. The most successful students often study together outside class, collaborating to prepare for exams or finish challenging assignments. Research has found that students who discuss course material, create study guides, or go through flashcards with classmates have higher GPAs than those who study alone. Online students at UT are part of a diverse student body and regularly collaborate with people from different backgrounds. This is by design because well-developed collaboration skills are in demand. According to ZipRecruiter’s annual job market outlook report, 900,000 job postings called for collaboration skills, and 1.3 million called for interpersonal skills.
Online students hone their communication skills in weekly lectures, where they discuss complex topics, share ideas with peers, and listen actively to others. Degree completion candidates in online bachelor’s programs also use multiple communication channels, including virtual meeting apps, bulletin boards, email, and chat platforms. UT students who want to develop their communication skills further can take courses focused on writing for public, workplace, and technical audiences. They can also take classes in topic-specific communication, such as Communicating the Science of Climate Change, ensuring they graduate with what is arguably the most in-demand soft skill. Communication appears in more than 6 million ZipRecruiter job listings and has become more important following the remote work revolution prompted by COVID-19.
Focus and Self-Discipline
Degree completion students must already have focus and self-discipline to keep up with coursework while balancing the additional demands of their personal and professional lives. However, many programs provide students completing bachelor’s degrees online with a great deal of support and numerous opportunities to sharpen their organization skills, critical thinking skills, and work ethic. At UT, returning students take online courses at set times but watch pre-recorded lectures, study online readings, complete online assignments, and discuss course content with peers in forums when convenient. The skills they develop are highly sought-after in job markets—2 million ZipRecruiter job postings call for candidates who can work independently.
Students in degree completion programs must manage their time carefully to meet personal and professional commitments while pursuing higher education. As they learn technical and field-specific skills in their classes, they also learn to set realistic goals, start projects early, work when they are most productive, and avoid distractions. These and other time management and scheduling skills are vital to employers, which is why they appear in more than 8 million ZipRecruiter job postings.
Graduating from an Online Bachelor’s Completion Program
It’s natural for older and non-traditional students going back to school for their bachelor’s degrees to be anxious about getting to graduation. Many adult learners were on the path to earning their undergraduate degrees before personal or financial circumstances forced them to change direction. They wonder whether their past experiences will make it harder to succeed in a degree completion program. However, graduation rates for returning students with college credits or associate’s degrees paint a positive picture. A National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center report found that students who withdrew from college were more likely to return and succeed if they had previous academic experience. Students with associate’s degrees or 60 college credits are among these “potential completers” most likely to graduate.
Earning an undergraduate degree as a degree completer at UT means taking and passing 21 credit hours of coursework in non-major electives covering foreign languages, world history, and contemporary global challenges. Students also complete 18 credit hours of coursework in their primary concentrations, 12 credit hours of secondary emphasis courses, and nine credits in electives from another secondary emphasis area. Full-time students usually graduate in two or three years, but students with additional college experience may transfer up to 90 credits to the program and graduate faster.
Should You Get Your Interdisciplinary Bachelor’s Degree at UT?
Now you know how to get into an online degree completion program and what to expect after you enroll. But how do you choose the right program for you? Approach this question by thinking about your priorities. What do you want to achieve by earning your bachelor’s degree? How will a liberal arts degree program support your career advancement?
If, like many returning students, you have concerns about cost, you must also consider whether a given program aligns with your budget. Tuition for UT’s online bachelor’s degree completion program is just $378 per credit for in-state students and $453 per credit for out-of-state students. While that’s not an insubstantial sum, online students are eligible for the same financial aid benefits as on-campus students, provided they take at least six credit hours per semester. Consider, too, that a bachelor’s degree is an investment in your future—particularly a bachelor’s from a school such as the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. According to the think tank Third Way, bachelor’s degree programs from public universities show a positive return on investment faster than degrees from private universities.
Of course, if you’re like most people, you’re probably pursuing bachelor’s degree completion for reasons that both include but also transcend career growth and financial returns. The satisfaction of finishing what you started is profound, as is the feeling of knowing that you’re positioning yourself for “more job autonomy, variety, job satisfaction, and status.” UT’s bachelor’s degree completion program is an opportunity for you to transform your career and your understanding of what you’re capable of achieving.