How to Finish Your College Degree by Enrolling in an Online School

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Non-traditional students look for online programs that offer flexibility. Moodboard / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

If you're an adult learner with past college experience but no degree, you might be able to complete your studies by enrolling in an online school. Many online colleges cater to professional adult students wanting to transfer previous credits and earn a degree in less time than a traditional 4-year program.

Here's what you'll need to do to finish your college degree online:

Make sure online learning is the right fit for your lifestyle.

Online college isn't a good choice for everyone.

Successful students must be able to balance their virtual classes with other responsibilities. They must be able to learn independently, without a teacher giving them personalized instruction and motivation. Additionally, online learners must be competent writers and have a high level of reading comprehension. The majority of online courses are reading- and writing-intensive — those lacking these skills might find themselves overwhelmed, even if they excel at the subject being studied.

Find an online college.

If you plan to use your degree in the workplace, it is important that your online college is regionally accredited and that it maintains a good reputation. You'll also want to find a program that fits your schedule. Some online colleges require students to log in to a virtual classroom at a certain day and time. Other colleges allow students to work at their own pace, without any scheduled meetings.

Make sure your credits transfer.

As an adult learner, you'll probably want to enroll in a college that accepts transfer credits. You might want to consider applying to one of the big three credit-bank colleges. These online schools are regionally accredited and are known for having flexible credit-application policies.

They happily work with students to apply old credits to new degrees.

Choose a major.

You might decide to keep your original major, or you might choose to study something completely different. Keep in mind that if you have a lot of subject-specific transfer credits, choosing a new major could substantially increase the time it takes to earn a degree. Some fast-track college completion programs offer only a limited selection of majors. Generally these majors are in subjects such as "general studies." A degree in such a generic major might hurt you when applying to industries that require training in a specific field. However, most jobs that only require a bachelor's’ degree, should accept generic majors with no problem.

Submit your transcripts for review.

Once you've been accepted to an online program, you'll need to have all your previous school transcripts sent to the college's admissions office. Most colleges do not accept personal copies of transcripts. You'll probably need to have your previous schools send official, sealed transcripts directly to your new college for a nominal fee, usually $20 or less.

Ask for transcript review clarifications.

After the initial transcript review, speak up with any questions and concerns you have.

If you believe that a particular class should be counted toward a requirement, ask about it. You might be able to petition for an additional review, and potentially saving you time and money.

Complete the courses required for graduation.

Your online college counselor should provide you with a list of required classes. Follow this list and you'll be well on your way to completing your college degree. Going back to school as an adult learner can be a challenge. But, if you're motivated and prepared, completing your college degree online can definitely be worth it.