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What is a Degree Completion Program?

By Tim Stobierski
September 11, 2019

Generally speaking, most people who pursue a college education do so with the intention of completing their courses and graduating with a degree. As many people know, however, life rarely goes according to your original plans. 

Financial, family, and personal circumstances can change unexpectedly, forcing some students to slow down the pursuit of their degrees or put their educational goals on hold indefinitely. If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), fewer than 40 percent of all students enrolling in four-year colleges graduate within four years, and more than half of students who start college drop out within six years.

Fortunately, if you weren’t able to complete your degree as originally intended, you still have options should you decide you’d like to finish what you once started. One such option is to enroll in a degree completion program.


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What Is a Degree Completion Program?

A degree completion program is an academic program specifically designed for students who have started, but not finished, a four-year undergraduate degree. By accepting some or all of the credits that a student has already earned from their previous education, degree completion programs offer students a faster and often less expensive alternative to starting over an undergraduate education from scratch.

In addition to accepting students who have started and not finished a bachelor’s degree, some degree completion programs cater specifically to students who have already earned an associate degree.

Degree completion programs come in many different varieties in order to appeal to different kinds of students and learners. In order to maximize the likelihood of completion, it is important for students to choose a program that best aligns with their personal learning preferences. 

For example, in-person courses might be best for students who need the added structure of a classroom setting. Online courses, on the other hand, offer increased flexibility. Thus, they may be a better fit for students who are completing their degree while working or caring for a family. Hybrid options, which merge in-person and online courses, are also often available.

Who Should Enroll in a Degree Completion Program?

Degree completion programs offer a viable path forward for anyone who has started a college education and maintains a desire to finish it, regardless of background or personal motivation. Some examples of the kinds of students who often enroll in degree completion programs include:

  • Community college students who have earned an associate degree and wish to further their education
  • Those who started their bachelor’s degree but did not finish it 
  • Adult learners who already have years or even decades of career experience, but who have never attended college
  • Veterans and servicemembers who want to leverage their existing experience to graduate faster

“Finishing a bachelor’s degree can be valuable for many reasons,” says Vanessa Bush, senior assistant director of enrollment services for Northeastern’s Bachelor’s Degree Completion program. “It can translate into additional job opportunities and more dollars earned over time. It can also be a source of pride and accomplishment. Our students come from different backgrounds and experiences and usually have other commitments that they are trying to balance, so earning this degree can mean so much more than just a credential on paper.”

How to Choose a Degree Completion Program

If you are considering applying for a degree completion program, it’s important you choose a program that aligns with your unique personal goals and learning needs. 

According to Bush, students should always ask the following questions of any program that they are considering: 

  • Do they offer the specific degree option and area of study I’m interested in?
  • Do they offer flexible learning options?
  • Will they accept my transfer credits?
  • What does student support look like?

Explore each of these considerations in greater detail below.

1. Do they offer the specific degree option and area of study I’m interested in?

Not all universities or colleges offer degree completion programs, and those that do often have a limited catalog of programs. Often, these degree options will be dictated by demand—from students and the industry. 

“Our degrees are industry-focused,” Bush says, speaking of the Bachelor’s Completion programs at Northeastern. “This means that we only offer programs that align with current market trends and needs. By doing this, we’re ensuring that our students are in a valuable position upon graduation.”

Business, management, finance, and liberal arts are all very common degree completion program options. If you have goals of graduating with a particular focus, it is critical that you find a program that aligns with those goals.

2. Do they offer flexible learning options?

It is not uncommon for bachelor degree completion students to be juggling multiple competing responsibilities while pursuing their degree. Depending on your unique circumstances, these commitments could include part-time or full-time work, family obligations such as caring for children or aging parents, or personal health issues that make a traditional classroom schedule difficult or impossible to pursue.

When evaluating degree completion programs, you should investigate whether or not the program offers flexible learning options, such as online or hybrid courses, that will allow you to learn when and where is most convenient. 

Bush says that while Northeastern offers a range of program options, including several programs that are 100 percent online, some programs are offered on-ground only, as they require specific coursework that must be completed on campus. Science degrees, for example, require lab work, which typically takes place in the evening.

3. Will they accept your transfer credits?

Degree completion programs are designed to help students earn their degree faster and more inexpensively than starting over from scratch. As such, all will accept at least a percentage of your previously-earned credits. 

In order to retain the most value from your past educational experience, you should seek out the program that will offer you the best possible education while also accepting the highest number of credits. 

“The overwhelming majority of our students are transferring credits into our programs,” Bush says, “which alleviates the time and reduces the overall cost of earning a degree.”

It is also important to note that previous educational experience is not the only way that you may be able to earn credits towards completing your degree. Some degree completion programs, like Northeastern’s, also allow students to earn credit for their professional work experience or military service

While the exact number of accepted transfer credits will vary by applicant, some students (such as active servicemembers) can transfer up to 75 percent of their required credits for completion—significantly reducing the time and cost of their degree. 

4. What does student support look like?

As previously mentioned, many students who enroll in degree completion programs often do so while juggling other responsibilities and obligations that many “traditional” students do not worry about. This often means that these students require additional support in order to graduate successfully—and there is no shame in that. It is important, though, to ensure that any program you are seriously considering offers adequate student support to get you to that graduation stage. 

At Northeastern, student success is a top priority. That’s why students work closely with academic and career advisors in order to develop an individualized career and academic plan that outlines the degree completion progress and sets students up for success after graduation. 

Coaches work with students to establish a plan based off their previous school and work experiences—identifying knowledge and skills gaps and determining the best path for addressing them. Together, the student and advisor chart a realistic, achievable, and timely path to graduation, before the student’s first class even begins.

Other Factors to Consider

The factors listed above are, according to Bush, the basic requirements of any degree completion program. If a program does not meet these requirements, you should look elsewhere in order to find a program that does.

Beyond these characteristics, though, there are other factors that students can use to evaluate their options and find the best possible fit for their personal, professional, and academic goals. Financial aid options are, for example, an important factor for many degree completion students, as is knowing that the degree will translate into real, hands-on learning.

“At Northeastern, the experiential network team works diligently to offer projects with employers that match students’ needs and interests,” Bush says. “These projects are often conducted virtually (online) and allow students to engage in learning opportunities with our real-world partners.”

Other options include paid co-op and research opportunities which allow students to learn the skills that they need, and which potential employers want. 

Do you think that a bachelor’s degree completion program could be right for you? If so, we assure you that it’s within your reach! To learn more, explore Northeastern’s bachelor’s degree completion programs or get advice from an admissions counselor today.


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About Tim Stobierski
Tim Stobierski is a marketing specialist and contributing writer for Northeastern University.