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Sure, You Can Earn a Science Degree Online - But Should You?

Oct 15, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

It’s not hard to earn an online science degree. There are plenty out there—ranging from an online bachelor of science in clinical laboratory science  to an online master of engineering in biological chemical engineering. With all the degree programs out there, it’s likely demand for online science programs is high.

But should you earn your science degree online? The reality is that employers and graduate programs are typically not very accepting of online degrees in the sciences. Many academic institutions are reluctant to accept students for Masters and PhD programs who have online Bachelor’s degrees in this area. And private employers tend to prefer those with more traditional degrees as well.

However, if you’re set on studying for your science degree online, here are some tips for picking a school.

Regional Accreditation


It’s not easy pursuing your science career with an online degree. But it can be done.  

This is the absolute minimum requirement you should look for in choosing an online school, no matter what your focus is. Schools in the US are accredited by one of six organizations:

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE)
  • Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission (NCA-HLC)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities (WASC-ACSCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

Graduate programs will likely not accept your application if you do not attend a school accredited by one of these six organizations. There are also hundreds of national-level accreditation programs that are also legitimate, but typically not sufficient to assure acceptance into a graduate-level program on their own. Check the school’s accreditation to be sure it is regionally accredited before deciding to apply.

A hands-on lab component

One of the reasons online science degrees are frowned upon in a variety of fields is that there is a perception that they have no hands-on lab component—considered essential in most fields. For example, medical schools generally require students applying for acceptance to have taken one year each of general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology—with a corresponding lab component.  If you don’t have these classes under your belt—along with the required lab time—medical schools will not accept your application, no matter how good your GPA is. When researching schools, be sure the science program offers an in-person lab component equal to what you would get with a traditional school.

A degree from a brick-and-mortar school—the more well-respected, the better

Even if you have a degree from a regionally accredited university that had a laboratory component, bear in mind that many graduate programs and employers will look down on your application—just because it’s from an online school. This is especially true for those who study at schools that are exclusively online. True, you may have an extremely strong application and get accepted anyway—some people do. But admission is often competitive, and you will be up against some of the best and brightest from more established traditional schools.

You can get around this, however. If you earn your degree at a traditional brick-and-mortar school—particularly a well-known one—that offers a full or partial online degree program, your degree may not say “online” on it at all—and there’s no reason graduate schools and employers need to know your classes were online unless they ask. So when considering degree programs, focus your search on traditional schools with online degree programs rather than exclusively-online schools.

It’s not easy pursuing your science career with an online degree. But it can be done. Be sure to choose a regionally-accredited school with an in-person lab component and a traditional, brick-and-mortar name—and you’ll be more likely to succeed.



JoHart Over a year ago

I think there hs to be a practical component. This may be via a hands on supplied home kit &/or summer school both of which were part of some foundation studies I did with the UK Open University many years ago. Or they may be via workplace evidence from an existing or previous employment or work placement..

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