Last updated on August 29th, 2023.
Online bachelor’s degrees are becoming more and more common, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you want to go on to graduate school after you finish your undergraduate degree, you may be wondering how schools will view an online degree compared to a traditional one.
In general, most graduate schools won’t have a problem with admitting students who completed their undergraduate work online. In fact, they’re more likely to consider the accreditation of your past school, what type of courses you took, and your grade point average than anything else.
Navigating the process of applying to graduate school can be tricky, especially when you’re unsure of yourself. In this article, we’ll ease your worries by providing more information on applying to a master’s program with an online degree.
What is Graduate School?
People sometimes choose to attend graduate school after they complete their bachelor’s degree in order to fully focus on and become an expert in a particular field of study. Unlike in college, where you take classes on various subjects, graduate students usually devote all of their time to studying one subject.
While attending graduate school, students are expected to meet a higher academic standard than in college. The learning is more self-directed, with little to no homework, quizzes, and exams to complete.
Typically, each class will require you to work on a long-term project, such as a research paper, that is due at the end of the semester. There is much less guidance from your professors, and they usually act more as mentors than teachers. Outside of class, you will likely work on academic research the majority of the time.
There are a variety of degrees you may be able to earn by attending graduate school, including a master’s, law, medical, or Ph.D. degree. While this type of degree can be a valuable thing for many individuals, make sure you are positive about what you want to study before you apply to graduate school. A master’s degree is not as versatile as a bachelor’s degree, so you’ll usually only be able to use it to apply to jobs in a specific field.
What Does It Mean for a School to Have Accreditation?
When a school has been accredited, it means that they have received recognition from an agency that decides whether the school has maintained a certain level of educational standards. The US Department of Education recognizes many accrediting agencies located throughout the country.
Accrediting agencies are made up of educational professionals who establish certain educational standards that they believe a college or university should meet. Then they determine if the school they are evaluating meets those standards. If it does, the institution publicly receives accreditation from the agency.
There are two types of accreditations a school may receive from one of these agencies: institutional or specialized/programmatic accreditation. Below, we’ll discuss the difference between these two findings.
What is Institutional Accreditation?
When a graduate school has received institutional accreditation, it means that the institution as a whole meets the accrediting agency’s standards. Each department and program within the university will offer a quality education, but this does not necessarily mean that they are all equal. Some programs may be better than others, but all of them still meet the standards set by the agency.
What is Specialized or Programmatic Accreditation?
Specialized or programmatic accreditation will only apply to specific programs, departments, or curriculums within a college or university. This means that, while the school as a whole may not meet certain standards set by the accrediting agency, the part that receives their accreditation does.
Keep in mind that this does not mean that these programs are the only quality ones offered at the college or university. A school may have institutional accreditation from another agency, but a specific program may meet higher standards, requiring additional accreditation from another source.
This type of accreditation may apply to any size part of a school, whether that’s as large as a certain college within a university or as small as a certain curriculum within a department. You’ll likely be able to see if your desired program of study has a specific accreditation by visiting the school’s or the department’s website.
Some Graduate School Programs May Be Hesitant to Accept Online Degrees
While the general population’s opinion on online bachelor’s degrees is much more positive than it used to be, there are still some schools that may be hesitant to accept applicants who received their bachelor’s degrees online.
In many cases, law schools and medical schools, in particular, are less likely to accept you. These types of institutions have been slower at adapting to the online learning process, so they often prefer applicants who have traditional degrees.
In general, most law schools are open to accepting these types of students. However, it may be harder to get into a more competitive law school if you have an online bachelor’s degree. There are significantly more people applying to these colleges, so admissions officers have to be a bit more selective. This may lead to online degree students being left behind.
The same ideology generally applies to medical schools, as well. Since the pandemic, many schools have been more lenient with applicants taking their prerequisite courses online, but some still have a strong preference for people who have traditional degrees.
Because a medical school curriculum can be very intense, admissions officers want to be sure that you’re prepared. It depends greatly on the intensity of the classes and coursework you completed while earning your bachelor’s degree, and applicants with an online degree are often accepted on a case-by-case basis. As is the case with law schools, more selective medical schools may be less likely to admit these types of applicants.
Every university or college will consider applicants differently, and, in most cases outside of law and medical schools, admissions staff look more closely at your previous institution’s accreditation and curriculum than whether you earned your degree in person or online.
Traditional Graduate School
Because a school will usually have the same accreditation whether you take your classes traditionally or do so online, admissions staff will be aware that you had the same requirements to earn your degree as someone who took classes in person. While there may be certain admissions officers who have a preference for traditional applicants, the way you attended classes and got your degree is usually not a deciding factor when it comes to admissions.
In fact, your graduate school may not even be able to tell how you got your degree. A bachelor’s degree will not specify whether your credits were earned traditionally or online. However, many schools will require applicants to submit personal statements and letters of recommendation from previous instructors with their applications. If either of these documents mention online learning, it’s very likely that it will be the only way the admissions staff can tell the difference.
In the end, your institution’s reputation and accreditation matter the most. Because you have a bachelor’s degree, you’ve already demonstrated that you have the knowledge to move on to the next step. Plus, an online degree could tell an admissions officer that you know better than most how to work independently! With more and more schools relying heavily on remote learning, the fact that you got your degree online likely won’t be an issue.
Examples of Master's Programs Accepting Online Degrees
Contrary to what many people believe, many quality institutions will happily accept students with a bachelor’s degree earned entirely online. Here are a couple of schools that have discussed admitting these types of students in the past.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon is a very prestigious university. Its main campus is located in Pittsburgh, PA, but it also offers 20 different regional locations worldwide. Although it’s primarily known as a STEM-focused school, they also offer excellent fine arts, business, and humanities programs.
With Carnegie Mellon’s impressive historical reputation, highly-coveted programs, and a low acceptance rate of approximately 15%, you may be surprised to hear that they do not discriminate based on how an applicant earned their degree!
Cindy McCauley, the Director of Admissions at the university’s Tepper School of Business, told US News:
“We’re looking at the reputation of the school itself, the rigor of the coursework they took, the grades they got in that coursework – but the delivery method would not really be a factor there.”
This is excellent news for anyone worried they won’t be able to get into a competitive school with an online bachelor’s degree. With nearly 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled, Carnegie Mellon is seen as one of the best universities in the nation.
Pennsylvania State University
Many students with online bachelor’s degrees have succeeded in gaining admission to Pennsylvania State University, a college that’s consistently ranked within the Top 25 Public Colleges in America. It’s regarded by many as the best public school in Pennsylvania, and it’s a leader in both business and computer science research.
This competitive college offers cutting-edge education, boasts many famous graduates, and is part of the “Big 10,” the oldest and one of the most dominant athletic conferences in the country. Pennsylvania State University’s main campus is located in University Park, PA, but has 23 other campuses located across the state.
University Park is the largest campus, with a whopping 46,000 students, and the most selective, with an acceptance rate of around 49%. It’s a large, competitive university that offers students a quality education, as well as a variety of athletic opportunities.
Like most graduate schools, your past academic experience will be a more determining factor in your acceptance than the type of degree you have. To increase your chances of admission to this prestigious university, you may want to have a professor speak about your past performance or write a letter of recommendation. Make sure to choose someone who knows you well and gave you good feedback in their classes during your undergraduate career.
Although some universities will be more likely to accept you than others, the fact that you earned your bachelor’s degree online will likely not be a problem when applying to graduate school. To increase your chances of admission, make sure to highlight any academic experience that’s relevant to your desired field of study and have a professor who knows you well write you a positive letter of recommendation to give you a leg up.