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Getting a Degree Online: How Long Will It Take?

March 31, 2016 by Mandy Byrd |

You’ve heard all about the benefits of learning online—the convenience, the cost, the flexibility. Now you’re wondering how long your road to graduation will be. Here are some things to consider as you plot your course.

PIC13636_Commencement_018-1.jpgFirst things first
—the program you choose will outline how many credits you need to get your degree or certificate. For example, at UNCG, most online graduate programs require 30-33 credit hours, while most undergraduate degree completion programs require 120-124 credit hours (including transfer credits). You can find this information online, so it’s easy to get an idea of what’s expected. 

Many programs give you a set amount of time to complete these requirements. UNCG’s Master of Liberal Studies program, for example, requires that you earn your degree in 5 years or less. Chances are, you’ll want to complete your program as soon as you can, but it’s important to know the parameters as you get started. 

Now here’s the tricky part. How many courses should you take each semester? It seems like easy math—just take the total number of credits you need and divide it by the number of semesters (including Summer Session!) you plan to take courses.

But it’s not quite that easy. Remember, you have other things to consider, such as:

How much time will you need to study?

As a rule, you should plan on 9 hours per week for an undergraduate course (or 12 hours per week for graduate-level classes). Take two courses and you’re talking 18-24 hours of study per week.

Are you taking compressed courses?

Traditional semester-long courses run 14-16 weeks. Some online programs compress courses into 7-10 weeks. Sounds good, right? Keep in mind that they are still covering the same amount of material, just in a shorter amount of time, so those shorter terms can be pretty intense.

What about work?

If you’re like most online students, you have a full-time job to consider. Think about how much you can get done on nights and weekends. The good news is, with some planning and commitment on your part, it can be done! Just be sure to keep your current job in mind as you schedule your courses. And if your job requires travel, don’t forget to factor that in.

Do you have family commitments?

Maybe you have kids at home, an aging parent, or a spouse to consider. Remember, there will be soccer games and family birthdays and date nights while you’re in school. Keep this in mind as you plan your class schedule. If your course load will impact the time you’ll spend with family, make sure you have that conversation up front so you can get the support you need. (Visit UNCG’s Ready to Learn website for tips on managing your time as an online student.)

Are you receiving financial aid?

Some scholarships and financial aid require that you take a minimum number of hours each semester in order to receive the aid. Be sure to check the fine print and plan accordingly.

Asking yourself these questions should help you figure out how many courses to take each semester. And the good news is, you’d don’t have to take the same number each time. If you know you have a big work project coming in October, for example, you might just take one fall course. That’s the beauty of online learning—you have a lot of flexibility to set the pace that works best for you.



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